How Fantasy Sports Explains The World

Saturday, Jul 30, 2011 at 12:00 pm ET

It is pretty amazing when you think about it. The skills you learn and master playing fantasy sports can easily transfer over to other areas of your life, and vice versa. I just finished reading How Fantasy Sports Explains The World by ESPN fantasy sports analyst AJ Mass. I had an opportunity to chat with AJ recently about the book and the upcoming fantasy football season.

It takes a pretty talented author to weave fantasy sports into analogies involving Jesus Christ, Wall Street, Star Wars, Stephen Hawking, America's Founding Fathers, Harry Potter, Shakespeare, Allen Iverson, casinos, and more - each with a lesson to be learned.

A portion of the book deals with something very close to my heart and the core of predicting the future performance of athletes. Face it - every single one of us tries to predict the future when we are drafting our teams and setting our lineups. We all have "rules of thumb" and "do's and don'ts" that we follow. We try to take the best information that we have at the moment and make the best decision possible. The difference between us and someone like AJ Mass is that while we do it in front of a dozen close friends, he has to do it in front of millions. I liken AJ to the CIA in that their successes rarely get noticed, but their failures are remembered. "You can't let it bother you," AJ said. "Everybody has a different opinion. 2 GM's can look at the same guy and one says 'Yes' and the other says 'No' and that leads to a trade."

This led to the first piece of advice from AJ for users who may be new to the game. Make the best decision you can but don't get married to that decision. "Don't get hung up on labels. Just because you drafted someone with your first pick doesn't mean that this person is off limits for trades down the road."

There are a ton of great anecdotes in the book for fantasy football newbies, but there are even more for veterans. I found myself chuckling a number of times throughout the book, but none more so than when he talks about the right mix of people to have in your leagues. If you've participated in more than one league before, you're going to instantly recognize these folks. From the Diplomat who can reach across the aisle and find a consensus between two arguing parties to the Mad Scientist who, like Doc Brown in Back to the Future, will come up with unsolicited, crazy new concepts like "Why don't we all draft umpires and get points for ejections?" From The Idiot Savant who makes a decision deemed ridiculous by everyone else only to end up being brilliant to Captain Loophole who will always try to find a way around the rules by interpreting them as loosely as possible to reach the conclusion that he wants.

We can all think of someone who could fit any of these roles or perhaps even the Cheerleader or Narcissist, but a great mixture of these people makes for a great league. I'm reminded of Steve Carell (as Evan Baxter in Jim Carrey's Bruce Almighty) when he steals Bruce's line and says "and I think, in a lot of ways a great city is like a great recipe. You take some hardworking citizens, some caregivers, maybe a few nuts ... all sprinkled with the love and support of our good families. Ultimately that makes one sweet place to live." You need these different types of people to have a successful league. AJ has played the role of the Diplomat ever since he took Dan Marino with his first pick in his first draft. This trait is clearly evident throughout the book as he takes a balanced approach to every topic presented and ends up drawing logical conclusions.

Is there such a thing as a magic formula for winning your fantasy league? AJ tackles this question and I think you have to have put yourself out there to really appreciate it. Just as Al Roker can tell you what the weather will most likely be this weekend, folks like AJ (and every site represented on do the exact same thing for fantasy sports. Computers and data modeling help us achieve a higher percentage of accuracy than what has ever been achieved before, but it will never be perfect. He comes to the conclusion that "people, as a whole, simply do not intuitively understand - nor are our brains equipped to understand - probabilities". While the odds that Adrian Peterson will either rush for 100 yards or score at least once are probably quite high, that doesn't mean that it's going to happen. Conversely, the odds that Tim Tebow will throw for 3 TD's and 400 yards are slim to none, but that doesn't mean that it couldn't happen. Both of these examples highlight the law of probability and it's something that each and every one of us deals with each week of the NFL season. It's what makes the game both gratifying and maddening at the same time!

How Fantasy Sports Explains the World"Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Go with your gut and learn. Don't let fear hold you back, and above everything else, have fun. This game is meant to be fun," said AJ when I asked him for any other advice for new users. Do your research, mix it up with the different people in your league, and take chances. If you do all of that, you're bound to have a great time.

Fantasy sports is a lot like the game of golf in that it takes one perfect shot to make it all worthwhile. The memories and the comraderie is what the game is all about. Winning the league is great - winning in general is obviously preferred to losing - but nobody ever says "hey, remember that Week 14 game where I won by 20 points?" It's about the moments where everything lines up just right in your favor. For me, it was Brett Favre hitting Greg Jennings for an 82-yard touchdown on the first play of an overtime game and giving me the win in a game that I was certain I had lost. For AJ it was watching the last play of the last game of the year and Terry Kirby coming up 2 yards short sealing the win for him. It's those kinds of memories that you'll talk about for years to come. That's why we do this.

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