Examining Gender and Power in Fantasy Sports

This week in North Philly Notes, Rebecca Joyce Kissane and Sarah Winslow, co-authors of Whose Game?, discuss fantasy sports and a COVID-19 world without sports.  

Over the last few weeks, sports fans have witnessed the cancellation and postponement of nearly all sporting events and seasons. Colleges and universities took the lead, with the Ivy League cancelling their basketball tournaments on March 10, 2020. Others (e.g., the Golden State Warriors) moved from announcing plans to play games without spectators to pausing, delaying, or cancelling specific events and/or entire seasons. The NBA suspended the 2019-2020 season on March 11th after a player tested positive for the virus, and on March 13th, the NCAA cancelled March Madness and all its basketball championship tournaments; the NHL suspended its 2019-2020 season; U.S. soccer cancelled women’s and men’s national teams matches for March and April; the PGA cancelled its March tournaments; and the MLB cancelled spring training games and delayed the start of the regular season by at least two weeks. All this left sports fans and reporters wondering how to survive a world without sports and suggesting ways to cope with this sudden loss

Whose_GameCOVID-19, however, also directly impacts a parallel sporting universe important to millions of Americans—fantasy sports. The absence of live and televised sporting events also means the absence of fantasy sports, which depend upon the performance of real athletes to determine scoring, and, thus, wins and losses. In our book, Whose Game? Gender and Power in Fantasy Sports, we focus on everyday participants’ perspectives on traditional fantasy sports—those fantasy sports in which the players manage their teams over the course of an entire season alongside people they typically know. A key motivator for playing fantasy sports is entertainment, but we find that the hobby is more than just a simple source of enjoyment for players. This is particularly so for men who numerically, ideologically, and structurally dominate the hobby and often render women outsiders. Fantasy sports offer a personalized, competitive fandom that gives participants more potent and direct feelings of control over and connection to the successes of real-life athletes than being a regular sports fan does. White, highly educated, professional men (who represent the average player) can use fantasy sports to achieve and perform an expanded yet legitimate form of masculinity we call jock statsculinity. Jock statsculinity contains elements of traditional masculinities, as men utilize fantasy sports to exert control, compete, and exercise dominance. But jock statsculinity also has a nerdy quality, insofar as competition and dominance in this space center on testing and demonstrating intellectual acumen and knowledge of statistics and sports. Additionally, jock statsculinity involves a boyish element, as men play, act juvenilely, and relive their childhood dreams of being involved in professional sports. Finally, we find that jock statsculinity is about escape—as men use the hobby to blow off steam and avoid demanding aspects of work and home.

What’s more, fantasy sports provide participants with a reason to interact with others and a valued topic of conversation. Men make greater use of and depend more fully on fantasy sports than women to “stay in touch” and bond with, typically, the men in their friend groups. Notably, this bonding frequently rests upon trash and dominance talk, which further support masculine hierarchies and, at times, create discord. Sometimes, too, men express getting overly emotional, lashing out, and finding their day or week “ruined” by fantasy sports disappointments.

Given our findings, the (hopefully temporary) loss of sports and fantasy sports in the wake of COVID-19 mean more than just a loss of entertainment and a leisure activity. For men, it means the loss of a key vehicle by which they can perform and accomplish masculinity. We see suggestions of this throughout social media as men lament having to spend “the evening with my girlfriend watching Real House Wives of New Jersey” [sic] instead of participating in the appropriately masculine world of sports. Moreover, fantasy sports’ virtual platform make it ideally suited to keeping people socially connected while maintaining physical distance. Without sporting events, this potential is unrealizable. This may be particularly challenging for men, who rely heavily on fantasy sports to bond and keep in touch with family members and friends. This suggests that they will feel the socially isolating effects of COVID-19 more so than women who are more likely to have other outlets for connection. Lastly, Whose Game? demonstrates how fantasy sports provide a key respite from the demands of work and, particularly for men, home. As work and home meld, particularly for the typical highly educated fantasy sports player likely to now be working remotely, the loss of fantasy sports will leave many scrambling for other ways to relax and connect.

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.
%d bloggers like this: