Weekly Fantasy Football -- A New Gateway Drug?

by Brett Clemmer


Have you noticed the deluge of weekly fantasy football websites you can play on lately? As football season kicks off, there are several of these sites that let you pick a new team every week in hopes of winning money. The upshot, you have to pay to play.

So let me get this straight – I am paying money to pick players whose performance will determine if I win more money than I payed. I’ve done this before. At the greyhound track when I was in college. It’s called gambling.

I’m not being legalistic about this. Fantasy football is a blast. It gives you a totally new way to enjoy the game, which can be a great diversion when your team is horrible. (I'm a Patriots fan so that's just not an issue for me. I know, #spygate #deflategate #headsetgate #WeWon4SuperBowlsAndYourTeamDidntGate.)

But there are a couple of hidden dangers inherent to the fantasy football trend that we need to guard against.

First, it can suck up a lot more time and emotional energy than intended. Watching and rooting for one team can be captivating enough. Paying attention to multiple players on multiple teams can become consuming.

Playing in a fantasy football league can be a fun hobby. You might tweak your lineup week-to-week based on who’s playing well and who’s injured. But when you start from scratch every week, it’s bound to take up a lot of time. If money is involved, even small amounts, the allure to play multiple teams on multiple sites becomes strong. It’s easy to see how, for many men, a hobby has turned into an obsession.

Gambling in and of itself is probably amoral. The only gambling I can recall in the Bible were a couple of times when people cast lots to distribute something – Joshua 18, when Joshua used it to distribute land to the tribes of Israel; and John 19 when the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothes, which also fulfilled a prophecy. Neither seems to have a moral statement attached to it specifically – although the Roman soldiers were despicable in their treatment of Jesus in general.

But the Bible IS very clear about our attitudes toward money. Here are a few verses that might guide us on gambling:

He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 5:10, ESV)

No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Luke 16:13, ESV)

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10, ESV)

If you expect to win, gambling is a fool’s pursuit. It’s a “zero-sum game.” There is a winner and a loser. And all gambling is set up so that, over time, there is one consistent winner–the house. If you gamble, you will eventually lose. And that’s when it becomes a stewardship issue.

When $20 leads to $40, and that leads to $100, and pretty soon you’re trying “just one more time” because you were “so close” last time—not only are you not being a good steward of the money God has trusted you with, your hobby is becoming a compulsion.

And this is a real issue with gambling. For many, it’s an addiction. Three percent of Americans (that’s more than 9 million people) are addicted to gambling, and research suggests that young males are the most likely to engage in online gambling.

Online gambling is a young men’s problem. And Fantasy Football targets young men. Alarm bells are going off in my head.

I’ve never played Fantasy Football because, frankly, it just seemed like too much work. (And again, Patriots.) That’s where these weekly fantasy leagues scare me a little bit; it brings the barrier of entry down so far. After all, it’s just a few bucks for a single week. If I screw it up this week, I’ll just play again next week and pay more attention.

And when a little of something leads to a need for more and more and more, it starts looking like that “little bit” was in fact a gateway drug. For some guys, it may be a gateway to ignoring your family or stealing from your employer by checking your fantasy team instead of doing your job; for others, it may lead to a full-blown gambling addiction.

I’m not trying to be incite a puritanical panic, and I’m not saying Fantasy Football—online, office or otherwise—is a sin. But Christian, be careful. The lessons of Ecclesiastes show the futility of putting your hope in anything other than God.

If you’re involved or planning on getting involved in fantasy football, here is an activity and some questions I would encourage you and your Christian fantasy-football-playing brothers to ask yourselves and each other.

Group Activity:

Take out a piece of paper and write down all your priorities, e.g., marriage, kids, work, small group, daily time with God, Fantasy Football league, etc. Now, place them in the order of importance you think they should be in your life. Is this consistent with how you are actually spending your time and resources? Share your lists with each other and discuss.

Discussion questions:

  1. Am I playing to have fun or to win money?
  2. Am I spending more than I can afford to on this hobby?
  3. When I lose, does it affect me emotionally for longer than just a few moments?
  4. Is playing fantasy football affecting any of my key relationships? For instance, is my wife jealous of the time or money I spend on it? Am I checking my FF league and being distracted from being fully present with my kids?
  5. Is the rest of my life balanced? Am I compromising any of the priorities in my life that should be above my fantasy football league?
  6. Which am I pursuing more: success in my fantasy football league or a relationship with God?

Guys, let’s watch each others' backs on this one. Don’t get sucked into an empty weekly pursuit of fantasy football success at the expense of your relationship with God, your devotion to your family and friends, or the stewardship of what God has entrusted to us.

With you in the Great Adventure,

Brett Clemmer

For additional practical information, check out this article on Fantasy Football Addiction at addiction.com: http://www.addiction.com/4356/fantasy-football-addiction/


Brett Clemmer is our VP of Leadership Development, training, speaking and writing on behalf of the ministry since 2000. Along with Patrick Morley and David Delk, Brett is the co-author of No Man Left Behind. Brett married Kimberly in 1991, and they have a daughter and son, both in college.