It was kind of hard to believe, watching MSNBC's "All In" Wednesday when the lead to the story in the next segment was last week's Draft Kings/FanDuel miscue where it was revealed that employees of those two companies have access to data not privy to the public when playing DFS contests.
It made me think of 1988, when I played in my first local league, and then of 1993 when John Benson hired me to write in and edit his annuals (it is where I met Steve Moyer, in fact), three years before I went live on the Web with CREATiVESPORTS.
As we largely know, those were the days of the "USA Today" posting weekly team and individual statistics on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and shortly thereafter one could expect his or her league's weekly standings.
In '96 I did launch the site that merged with Mastersball a number of years back, and that got me the notice of a real pioneer in the industry, Rick Wolf, for Rick hired me to be the first minor league and fantasy analyst for the fledgling CBS Sportsline (my boss back then was another name known to all, that of Scott Engel).
It was good fun in those early days; a tight and small community that bonded during the .com boom, but just before blogging and tweeting and Facebook became the norm. In those days, we did bear the scorn of fans and the industries--primarily baseball and football--that we loved and modeled, who said we destroyed fan loyalty and were just a bunch of geeks who embraced the clear brilliance of Daniel Okrent's Rotisserie model, and ran with it.
AL-only and NL-only expanded to mixed leagues, then to ultra leagues, and now to daily contests, showing the game has certainly evolved in the 27 years I have been part of the wave.
And, now as we all know, being a fantasy geek is among the coolest things one can be on earth, and there are commercials for games and especially DraftKings and Fanduel on the tube, all the time.
Everyone plays fantasy something. There are shows on all over the place, and when you think about our virtual universe, it kind of makes sense. It also proved that as counter-intuitive as broadcasting games over the radio in the 30's, and on TV in the 50's, that rather than limit the focus of fans who listened to, or played games, the fan base actually grew.
Fantasy has grown such that every major sport now owns a chunk of some kind of game, show, vendor, or some combination thereof, and that means there is a lot of money involved in all of this.
And, that means potential problems in a lot of ways as witnessed by last week's fracas.
In the wake of the initial charges, and pending investigation, it is easy to be judgmental and act superior, just as it is easy to get uber-defensive about both the problem (privileged access to information for employees) and the subtext (is it gambling or not, and save five of our 48 contiguous United States, the answer is "no, it is not gambling").
The truth is we can all have a myriad of ideas and theories and opinions on the above, but to me the reality is they don't really matter. What does, is that the eccentric little industry that Wolf, and Engel, and Greg Ambrosius, Ron Shandler, John Hunt and so many others (and amazingly me included) started to push publicly 27 years ago has indeed made it as a powerhouse game and market, and what that means is, like it or not, those of us who play and provide games and content for fantasy have to act like objective grown-ups about this, and work as much as we can with the powers that be to keep the games we love to play as straightforward and above board as our local league would be.
If you think this "scandal" has let you and the industry down, remember that the bulk of the crazy growth that has put fantasy commercials on a visibility par with those of car insurance and Viagra, has really just been over the past four-to-five years, and that, to quote Yegraf (Alec Guinness), about the post-WWII technological advance in the Soviet Union in Dr. Zhivago, "we have come very far very fast."
For some reason, within all of this, I think of cell phones and their ridiculous impact and intrusion into our lives as analagous to fantasy's suddenly loony explosion into the mainstream.
In 1988--the year of my first league--think of what kind of cell phone you owned? Probably none, but then the first few giant clunky ones that came in a sort of plastic looking shoe box were produced. The phones did start getting smaller, but then there were reports and studies that the phones might be emitting radiation and causing brain damage to the users holding the receiver near their heads.
So rules and policies and procedures and guidelines emerged, but nothing like the fallout from the 2006 accident in which a Utah youth, while texting and driving, ran into a pair of nuclear scientists, killing both (see the book A Deadly Wandering, by Matt Richter for information on this and other like cases), for that was the start of the rules and laws and campaigns around texting and driving.
Now, I am not trying to say that texting and playing fantasy are the same, nor is the death of a pair of innocent scientists comparable to cutting corners to win a Sunday fantasy contest. But, note as well it took almost 20 years within the growth of the cell industry for texting while driving to simply become a campaign, something we all think now should have been built in from the start.
I am suggesting that there are not always said rules and guidelines to govern new and burgeoning industries because we are largely unable to foresee potential fall out until it hits. And, for the fantasy sports industry, now is this big public test of endurance and viability.
I do realize the investigations that are now taking place are working at a level far beyond that of meager site operators like me, let alone luminaries like Greg and Rick, but, it is similarly true that all politics really are local, whether we choose to admit it or not: rather, it is whether or not we choose to engage as individuals. That means supporting our products with integrity, being open and honest, and maybe even contacting our Congressmen/women and Senators, letting them know that we support reasonable patrolling of the fantasy game.
It doesn't matter whether you think in terms of games of skill, or hate daily, or mixed leagues or Strat-O-Matic (though that is so hard for me to understand): the issue is, if you like to play sports simulation games, and want to keep the industry growing and alive, rather than bitching, or questioning, or saying "I told you so," how about working at making fantasy, which for now is as legit a concern as there is, work so we can continue to play in the broad daylight, away from the cloaked shadows and basements of nerdom.
Either that, or in the words of Larry (fantasyhead Robert Wuhl) as noted in the great "Bull Durham," it might be time to find a job at Sears selling major home appliances.