My friends are so deep into fantasy football that relationships are suffering

Dear Wayne and Wanda,

Fantasy football is turning my friends into crazy people. Most of my friends are in the same fantasy league. I’m not really a sports person, but I get the general idea — everyone picks professional NFL players at the season’s start, they get points based on how those players perform, and they can make changes to their rosters and make trades before each cycle of games begins weekly. Simple enough.

But lately it has completely dominated conversation and has also created some fairly big problems. I can’t remember the last time we were all out for brunch or drinks and most of the group was on their phones looking at fantasy stats or reading about football. It’s like we don’t talk about work or our lives. Instead it’s just who’s playing who and what their stats are looking like and whose “team” is making the playoffs. And forget any social interaction if an actual game is on — all anyone does is scream at the TV and each other.

One of our friends accused three others of ganging up on him by agreeing to trade players just to beat his team, or something like that, and it’s probably true. There’s another ongoing argument because one friend in the league doesn’t really participate in the group chats and texts so others are questioning his “commitment” and want to kick him out. The other night, a few people ganged up on one girl in our league, accusing her of knowing nothing about football and having a team just so her boyfriend can really have two teams and increase his chance of winning the season.

How do I talk sense into these people? They’re acting insane and I’m really over it.

Wanda says:

Fantasy football can be a real downer when it impinges on reality. In your case, it’s distorting your friends’ collective sense of reality, messing up your daily reality, and creating enough drama to support its own reality show! There are so many reasons behind this. Fantasy leagues fire up sports fans’ egos, and create space for an all-encompassing group game that lasts for weeks on end. Plus, the ultimate winner likely wins a cash prize and serious bragging rights.

There are many reasons friends form leagues. Fantasy sports pack potential for crowd-pleasing fun — from league-launching draft nights fueled by pizza and beer, to friendly game-day banter, to providing relative strangers a commonality and conversation starter. It’s also clear that when it comes to fantasy football, with egos, money and boasting involved, things can go so very wrong. Add to that the fact that for many people, sports are inherently emotional and personal, ramping up the potential intensity.

With Super Bowl Sunday still weeks away, this won’t end for you anytime soon. But you can make some small tweaks to help ramp down the energy and conflict around fantasy sports. Choose dining and drink locations that don’t have TVs to help support more attentive conversations less focused on sports. Get together on non-game day dates, which unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your fandom level, is sometimes easier said than done. Finally, I doubt you’re the only friend feeling this way. There have to be others in your group who are just as bored and fed up as you. Seek them out and focus on those football-free friendships during the NFL season.

Wayne says:

It’s reassuring to know that in our current climate of natural disasters, political chaos, pandemic pandemonium, and Santa’s supply chain meltdown, we haven’t lost sight of what’s truly important: like how Aaron Rodgers’ freakin’ COVID case totally tanked my fantasy team a few weeks ago!

Look, there’s a reason why it’s called fantasy sports. Because it’s a dreamland where bozos like me and your friends suddenly feel smarter than billionaire NFL owners and millionaire NFL coaches as we determine the playing time of ultra-talented and ridiculously rich professional athletes in the pursuit of a little purse money and priceless bragging rights from our unathletic and poor pals. It is a great distraction from the craziness in the world, sure, and for sports fans, it makes games featuring teams and players you would normally care less about, or even cheer against, become must-watch occasions in which you practically live and die on every play. That’s fun.

But yes, it’s silly. And yes, people can go overboard. Your friends are among the worst: obnoxiously crap-talking, obsessing, and even cheating. Boo. Sorry, I don’t see this league disbanding anytime soon because they are pretty hardcore. So you’re going to have to either continue living with this ridiculousness every winter or finding other ways to spend your free time to avoid it. But I will say that there could be bridges burned or even literal fights if they continue playing dirty. Maybe a few episodes of friends hurting friends’ feelings over football stats will tackle them out of their fantasyland and back into reality.