Paul Sullivan: It’s that time of year again — so here are 5 tips to avoid a conversation about someone’s fantasy football team

By Paul Sullivan

The start of the NFL season Thursday night brings joy to millions of people.

But for many others it’s a time of high anxiety knowing what is in their immediate future. They’re seeking refuge in their secret hiding places, putting their smartphones on mute and faking naps at all hours of the day.

These are the unfortunate millions who suffer from the onset of FFP — Fantasy Football Phobia, the fear of being stuck in a conversation with someone who takes part in a fantasy football league.

An estimated 50 million people in the United States play fantasy football, which is an impressive number. But that means many millions more have no interest at all in fantasy football, whether they are NFL fans or not.

Yet every year around this time they are subjected to nonstop mentions of someone’s fantasy team. Like cicadas, they grow louder and louder and just won’t stop.

Typically there are only two options for those on the receiving end: Nod your head in agreement as though you are listening intently or inform the FFB (Fantasy Football Blatherer) you couldn’t care less about his or her roster. Most choose the former option as it’s the easiest way to avoid an argument about the relevance of fantasy football.

These people choose to suffer in silence, realizing it’s impossible to convince someone the rest of the world is uninterested in why they spent their second pick on Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields to stow him on the bench for the inevitable day coach Matt Nagy “wakes up” and starts him.

The COVID-19 pandemic inadvertently alleviated the problem for millions of us last season. Many bars were closed or had limited capacity, minimizing the opportunities for FFBs to endlessly discuss their waiver-wire pickups. And many of us worked remotely from our homes, where there was no water cooler to hang around and listen to their brilliant analysis.

But this fall it’s back to semi-normalcy for many, so it’s best to be prepared to hear someone casually mention that Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. was a no-brainer pick in the third round with Trevor Lawrence at quarterback.

For the silent majority of anti-fantasy football fans, here are five handy tips to help get you through the 2021 season.

1. Wear earbuds

Even if you are not listening to music, an easy way to avoid conversations is to wear earbuds when you suspect an FFB is in the vicinity waiting to let you know how they “stole” Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson last year and have “the same feeling” about Cincinnati Bengals rookie Ja’Marr Chase, Jefferson’s old LSU teammate. A cheaper option is to stick cotton balls in your ears, but earbuds look better and you also can listen to music or podcasts while ignoring the “expertise.”

2. Pretend you are a ‘player’

Sometimes the best defense is to go on offense. When someone is droning on about how they squeaked out a win last season on the “Hail Murray” bomb from Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, inform them you kicked butt with your choice of Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker because you thought his surname “reeks of football.” The FBB immediately will target you as an amateur with no real knowledge of the game, and thus unworthy of having a real conversation about fantasy football. By no means should you pretend to have selected Bears quarterback Andy Dalton or your cover will be blown.

3. Employ the phrase: ‘Well, I was listening to …’

If there’s anything a fantasy football player hates, it’s hearing expert advice on the NFL from an NFL expert who is paid to talk about the NFL on TV. There are many of these alleged experts, and they all know more than the other alleged experts.

But no one needs their advice when it comes to selecting players. The whole point of playing fantasy football is being the expert yourself, then having bragging rights when your expertise pays off in the playoffs. It’s difficult to know which NFL TV expert your blatherer dislikes, but if someone starts yakking about the rehab of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, try going with: “Well, I was listening to Skip Bayless, and …” That usually ends the conversation mid-sentence. (Also works for Stephen A. Smith, Colin Cowherd and others).

4. Do not question the name of anyone’s fantasy team

If there was as much thought put into fixing the economy as there is in creating clever names for fantasy football teams, we all would be rich. According to the internet, some of the “funniest” names for 2021 are “Haley’s Kmet” (after Bears tight end Cole Kmet) and “The Big Trubisky” (Buffalo Bills quarterback Mitch Trubisky).

There also figure to be many pandemic-themed names in 2021, like “Vaxxed and Loaded,” “Masked and Proud” and, in some Southern states, “Better Dead Than Jabbed.”

Questioning the cleverness or appropriateness of the name of an FBB’s team is asking for a confrontation. Just smile, nod and walk away.

5. Have an emergency signal with a friend or family member

Sometimes a conversation is unavoidable and you simply cannot get away from a soliloquy on someone’s “sleeper flex pick” that no one else thought of selecting. If you are alone with the FBB, you’re probably out of luck. But if there’s someone nearby you know and trust, have a handy signal to let them know you’re under siege.

A fantasy-football-phobic friend of mine has a go-to move in which he strokes his goatee and nods enthusiastically as though he’s very interested in the “under-the-radar value” of Tua Tagovailoa. That sends a message to someone nearby to quickly text him, providing an excuse to leave the conversation to deal with “this important text from my boss that I’ve got to get.” Switch up signals on a weekly basis to avoid being detected and always be on the lookout for a friend in distress.

It’s a long season, people. Better to be safe than sorry.


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