Temple University Press Fantasy Football Returns!

This week in North Philly Notes, Temple University Press acquisitions editor Ryan Mulligan writes about this year’s Fantasy Football League, COVID, and masculinities. Let the games begin!

In March 2020, a month when certainly nothing else happened in the world, Temple University Press released Whose Game?: Gender and Power in Fantasy Sports by Rebecca Kissane and Sarah Winslow. The book looks at the online world of fantasy sports. The authors argue that while the disembodied space of online gaming might theoretically provide an opportunity for men and women to engage in sporting competition and fan culture on a level ground not found in in-person competition and fandom, in fact, male participants have a tendency to overinvest in the activity and gender it as male. The authors find that many men find in fantasy sports an opportunity to live out boyhood values that they feel increasingly out of their reach as they grow older: a proximity to highly masculinized activities and figures, the illusion of managing other people (in particular athletic bodies), a performance of coldly weighing statistical value over emotional investment, and a competitive play that invites bragging. Thus, while men and women both participate in fantasy sports and enjoy it, the authors found that many of their subjects described their leagues as masculine spaces and the men in their leagues as obsessed to the point where their league distracted and detracted from other aspects of their life.

Against these somewhat foreboding findings, Temple University Press decided last year that in order to prepare to publish this book, Press employees might become more familiar with its subject if the Press were to have its own fantasy team. Who would a university press compete against in fantasy sports? Why not other university presses? So as the 2019 NFL Season kicked off, Temple took to the Association of University Presses email listserv to recruit other university presses to compete in a University Press Fantasy League. The response was enthusiastic. A great many people wanted to show that their nerdiness extended from academic publishing into sports nerd-dom. Unfortunately, some presses had to be turned away. The league opened with fourteen teams. Given the findings of the book, it was heartening to see that four of those teams boasted at least one female manager. The league was highly competitive and all teams remained extremely engaged throughout the season, but there was no trash talk to speak of in the league’s forum. Bonnie Russell and Julie Warheit of Wayne State University Press were crowned champions.

A month after the close of the NFL season, as baseball players prepared to take the field, Whose Game? released. And suddenly, sports were put on hiatus as the world confronted COVID-19. Baseball was postponed, the Olympics were put off to another year, and basketball and hockey were interrupted. Moreover, workplaces closed, shoppers stayed home, and families went into quarantine. (Temple University Press continued to operate with all employees working from home, which continues to this day and seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future.) The virus shut down working life and recreational life all at once. Many academic books will emerge about this unusual period of American life and as a sociology editor, I am hopeful that some of them will look at how hegemonic American masculine identity complicated families’ adaptations to domestic life in this period. Denied work, and denied sports, what was left to do and still be a man? Is it any wonder fireworks sales spiked? Is it any wonder an American president driven by a tragically inflexible sense of masculinity would encourage sports leagues to restart as quickly as they could? Is it any wonder that Dr. Fauci would applaud the move as important for Americans’ sense of normalcy, purpose, and even mental health?

The pandemic has thrown a curveball to academic publishing as well, through our buyers, readers, and other stakeholders. Many of the events and mechanisms that we normally rely on to sell books are still unavailable, and while we’re doing as well as we can, control feels fleeting at best. So as sports returned and a new NFL season rolled around, I started getting emails from managers of last year’s participants in the University Press Football League. The University Press Fantasy League is back for year two of fantasy football. Three new teams would replace competitors from last season and some presses passed managing duties between colleagues. In this moment of controlling the uncontrollable, Fantasy makes a game of uncertainty and adaptation. And it feels normal and rewards a little bit of extra insight in a way that is fleeting outside of the league. The league is not exactly the same, though. Compared to last year’s 10 out of 14, this year, 12 out of 14 teams have only male managers.

Announcing the University Press Fantasy League

This week in North Philly Notes, Ryan Mulligan, acquisitions editor for Temple University Press’s sports and sociology lists, writes about the University Press Fantasy Football League he began in honor of our forthcoming book on fantasy sports.

In March 2020, Temple University Press will be publishing a book on the sociology of Fantasy Sports, entitled Whose Game?: Gender and Power in Fantasy Sports, by Rebecca Joyce Kissane and Sarah Winslow. The topic is sociologically interesting because unlike most sports cultures, Fantasy Sports are online games where players should be on relatively equal competitive standing regardless of gender or other embodied inequalities. But, in fact, the authors argue, many male participants in fantasy sports leagues invest their participation with a lot of meaning because it serves them as a place to enact a hegemonic masculinity they feel is denied to them in other aspects of their life, one often bound up with boyhood ideals. This investment leads them to make the online interactive spaces less than welcoming to competitors who do not resemble the identity they are trying to perform. It can also lead them to concentrate on their Fantasy Sports teams at the expense of other priorities in their lives.

Kissane approved_061319My coworkers at Temple are excited about this book, but they are newcomers to the idea of Fantasy Sports. As we launched the forthcoming book into production, we decided one good way to learn about its subject and become better advocates for the project would be to start our own TUP Fantasy Football Team. And as long as we were starting a Press team, we thought it might be fun to compete against our fellow university presses, in a University Press Fantasy League, or UPFL if you will. Hopefully, it would prove a more fun and welcoming environment than some of those described in the forthcoming book and allow us to build some friendly ties with our fellow university presses.

Fantasy Football is an online game in which teams score points each week based on the achievements of real-life players in NFL games throughout the season. Each team maintains a roster of players by drafting, trading, and starting virtual analogs of real players, who earn points each week based on the performance of the real player. In our league, each participating press will maintain one team throughout the season and go up against a different press each week.

FantasyLast week, 13 teams representing our colleagues at different university presses joined Temple University Press in our UPFL. My colleague Ann-Marie Anderson and I crafted an invitation that we sent out to the Association of University Presses e-mail listserv. I was, frankly, taken aback by how much interest there was immediately, with many responses coming in within minutes with the general gist of, “I don’t know how I’m going to work this out with my colleagues but yes, I want to be a part of this.” I had not been sure that there would be enough interested presses for a respectable eight-team league, but we ended up with a fourteen-team league and had to turn people away. Reading Whose Game?, though, I should have expected the interest: many people find fantasy sports a particularly accessible way to compete and connect with others in a sporting culture, even if they may not be athletic themselves. In fact, many nerdy men in particular, turn to fantasy sports as a way of investing their nerdier instincts with associations with hegemonic masculinity from not only sporting cultures, but also from the performance of analytic decisiveness and managerial power. Knowing this, I was glad to see that the fantasy players we’d recruited included a number of female managers.

Screenshot 2019-09-04 17.03.39In my opinion, all participants acquitted themselves well at the League’s draft on Wednesday September 4, on the eve of the NFL season opener, with the arguable exception of Yahoo’s draft servers, which were slow, a feature that consequently stifled in-draft conversation between teams. My colleague Ashley, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, was pleased to see Temple select Steelers running back James Conner with the Press’s first round pick, the ninth of the draft. She was disappointed to see Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster go to Trinity University Press’s team, so she suggested we offer a copy of Temple University Press’s book, The Steelers Encyclopedia, in exchange for Smith-Schuster. After several attempts thwarted by the aforementioned busy Yahoo servers, I threw the offer into the in-draft chat window. Daniel Griffin of Duke University Press astutely pointed out that the fairness of this offer would have been easier to evaluate if I’d included the specifics of the Encyclopedia’s binding and illustration program. At the end of the draft, Temple’s team looked respectable, if skewed somewhat towards players with connections to the Philadelphia Eagles, including Alshon Jeffrey, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Nick Foles (the last of whom was unfortunately injured in the season’s first week of action). Colleagues crowded around the computer to see what this game looked like and how players think about it, which will hopefully help as we pitch the book to its audience. I’d like to thank all the fantasy players and presses who are participating, listed below, as well as the players we had to turn away when the league filled up for their interest.

Wishing all a happy season, in publishing and in fantasy.

Participants:

Columbia University Press

Duke University Press

Longleaf Services/UNC Press

LSU Press

Purdue University Press

Temple University Press

Texas Review Press

Trinity University Press

University of Illinois Press

University of New Mexico Press

University of South Carolina Press

University Press of Colorado

UP of Mississippi

Wayne State University Press


Update on our team–1st week’s results: 
Temple University Press won our matchup this past weekend against Duke University Press by a score of 112.14 to 91.76. (Scores in fantasy football with a lineup of this size and standard scoring are typically around 100 points.) Our team saw excellent performances from Indiana running back Marlon Mack (25.4 points) and Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker (17.5 points) and was further aided by our move to take advantage of the Jets matchup against the Bills and start the Jets defense for a week. You may have heard that the Eagles’ wide receiver Desean Jackson also had an excellent week (27.4 fantasy points) but unfortunately I left him on the bench this week, so those points did not contribute to our total. Depending on how he and our other wide receivers do next week, I’ll have to consider moving him into our starting lineup on a more permanent basis. Unfortunately, former Eagle and current Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles, who we’ve rostered as a backup quarterback, broke his collarbone on Sunday. So I’ve gone ahead and replaced him with the Chargers’ Philip Rivers. I also added San Francisco running back Raheem Mostert, who has an opportunity since San Francisco’s starting running back was hurt last week. He gets the Jets’ roster spot and we’ll go back to our default defense of Houston this week, facing the Foles-less Jaguars.
This week we face off against J Bruce Fuller, managing editor of Texas Review Press. Yahoo projects a close game.
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