With fall comes football. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the postponement of most college sports seasons, the NFL appears committed to proceeding undeterred, meaning the all-digital version of America’s most-watched sport is already ahead of the curve. Yep, it’s that time of year, when your inbox is met with email invitations and reply-all threads from friends asking you to join their fantasy football leagues.
For sports fans, fantasy coverage can feel like the pre-season of the pre-season as your favorite sites, channels, and podcasts begin to feature tips, cheat sheets, and mock drafts for the season. But for some of us (what I expect is an increasing number, honestly) this year might offer the best opportunity we’re going to get to dodge the stress of the game.
Of course, if you love fantasy sports and want to play, that’s great! Fantasy sports—football in particular, given its weekly format—can be a fun, structured way to keep in touch with friends and family. If this sounds like you, well, we’ll see you on the virtual gridiron, and there are plenty of internet articles for you. This isn’t one of them. But if the thought of taking part in a pretend draft and juggling your lineup every week for the next four months hits you with a pang of anxiety, consider this my permission to say no to fantasy sports.
You don’t need my permission, but again, in case it helps: you don’t need to play fantasy this season. Or next season. Or ever! You don’t have to play in a house, with a mouse, in a chair, here or there… No fantasy baseball, no fantasy basketball, nor any other fantasy sport that you once thought would be a cool, passive adventure before you realized it can be a little too serious or in-depth for your enjoyment. Once fantasy sports tip the scale from being majority-fun to becoming a genuine source of stress, you can—and should, I argue—let them go.
The strongest obstacle in the way of you adopting a fantasy sports-free lifestyle is social pressure. I’ve been on both sides of that game, and I know what it’s like to scrounge for players in your work league, casual friend league, close friend league and beyond. At my worst, I was involved in four fantasy leagues at once. It was, to put it plainly, terrible. But while the volume I took on was obviously extreme (you might know someone even worse, or be that person yourself), any number of fantasy leagues can be more trouble than they’re worth if you’re not invested, unless that number is zero.
Personally, I accepted most invitations for two reasons: I either underestimated the time commitment involved, or a friend was asking nicely and I didn’t want to let them down. You’re no doubt especially familiar with the latter feeling if you’re known for being a sports fan, as the expectation from your friends is that you’ll be more than happy to join in. But there are realities here worth facing: fantasy is a stressful, is a time-suck, it requires significant buy-in, it can sometimes ruin your enjoyment of the actual sport involved, and brings you more anxiety than actual fun.
Let’s hit on each of those, and explore how you can use them to say no to fantasy football:
Fantasy is stressful
Plainly, fantasy sports can be anxiety inducing. Take fantasy football. It takes a significant amount of time to play well, and your odds of winning are low and, unless you’re a data scientist, quite unpredictable. You could always sign up and play without proper effort, sure—but then you’re that person. The one who ruins the balance of the league by serving as a doormat to those other players who have the benefit of a free, unfair win against your skeleton roster of benched quarterbacks, bye-week receivers and running backs on injury reserve. You’re not doing your friend or the league any favors by saying “yes” if you’re heart’s not in it. You are doing the league a favor by saying no, whether they realize it at the time or not.
Fantasy is a time-suck
Fantasy is an investment, so ask yourself if the return is worth it. As someone who’s won several fantasy championships, let me tell you: nobody cares. When bowing out of a fantasy league, it’s more than acceptable to be honest about your unwillingness to spend time on it. Politely decline, and keep it short and unapologetic. Don’t fall into the game of listing your competing priorities, which will only give them somethin to push back against. You’re busy, and that’s okay; or you’re not busy and would rather spend your time napping than investigating whether Ezekiel Elliott is listed as questionable or probable, and that’s okay, too.
Fantasy requires buy-in
And I don’t mean financial (although that’s another way out as well—I’ve successfully bowed out of many fantasy leagues by citing finances, which most league managers gracefully accept). But fantasy requires emotional buy-in for months, and maybe life is a bit stressful right now, given… everything? Now more than ever, a simple “I can’t handle the stress of that right now” is more than enough. Maybe you’d rather enjoy the game of football with a little less stress.
Fantasy can ruin football for you
One of the most insidious side effects of fantasy, particular if you’re a team-based football fan, is the shame that comes with cheering against your team when your fantasy player is on the wrong side. This is an especially useful excuse if you’re known to be a sports fan and the previous offerings (“fantasy is a time suck” and “fantasy is stressful”) ring hollow. You waste your time and emotional energy on sports, sure, but this year you want to focus those resources entirely on your team.
Of course, you could be that team manager who drafts only from the Detroit Lions to avoid conflicts of interest, but let’s refer back to the doormat problem: You’re not helping the league by sabotaging your team with a losing strategy.
Remember that you’re doing your friends a favor by being honest and upfront about your buy-in (or lack thereof). Their league will be better off with a substitute. And then you can enjoy other things this fall, minus the stress of fantasy. Once you’ve set this precedent, you’ll be free to only play during the seasons in which you’re invested. Who knows—you may never want to play a season of fantasy ever again.