It’s a feeling that probably 20 percent of American sports fans have experienced. You’re at a cool place doing a fun thing, maybe you’re on the subway or at dinner. It hits you like a freight train—there’s a fantasy draft going on, your fantasy draft, and you’re not there to do it. This happened to me last week as I was drinking one of those pre-mixed party cocktails that Bacardi sells and watching Eat, Pray, Love on 49th Street in Brooklyn. My fantasy draft was nigh, and I had absolutely zero computers in my vicinity. It’s that sinking feeling, followed by “OhfuckohfuckohfuckohfuckohFUCK” running through your head, and in my case, more Bacardi Zombie.
I’m in a league with a bunch of other writers, including VICE associate editor Harry Cheadle and fellow contributor Luke Winkie. For obvious reasons, my team’s name is Skrillex Montana. Other team names include “Stiff Little Nipples,” “Teriyakiavelli,” “Jesus Christgaus,” and my personal favorite, “Grimes.” The way our league (as well as many others) is structured, if you don’t show up on the internet for your draft, the computer just picks whoever is ideal from a points-generating standpoint, kind of like how the A’s did it in Moneyball.
So, instead of being able to pick who was on my team, the computer just autodrafted a bunch of random dudes for me, and now I’ve got what I’ve got. My initial plan was to get a badass running back and two ace wide receivers, then fill in the other positions as needed. I was probably going to get my quarterback in the last couple rounds, because I have an irrational hatred of quarterbacks—it’s my opinion that any team with a quarterback who knows how to control the pace of the game and make smart decisions can win the Super Bowl and then invade Hoth. The only difference between a quarterback and a middle manager is arm strength; QBs just get the spotlight because they touch the ball the most. The rest of that shit is just flash. My plan was to draft Tim Tebow, because I think he’s funny and maybe God would help him by having Mark Sanchez get steamrolled by some terrifying defensive end. I ended up with Eli Manning, who's the best of the not-best guys. God damnit.
The thing is, my roster is actually pretty good. Manning can fuck around and throw for four thousand yards in a season like it’s nothing, and on top of him I’ve got Greg Little at receiver, who I’m pretty sure I took a college class with, and at running back I’ve got LeSean McCoy who is so good that in VICE’s Fantasy Football prep course, Ben Johnson joked that over 70 percent of people would end up owning him (or his clones Ray Rice and Arian Foster). I have the Packers on defense and David Akers as my kicker, but no one cares about defenses and kickers in fantasy football. I’m going to get all my points from Manning, McCoy, and some dude I went to college with, and I am fine with this.
One thing that autodrafting doesn’t account for, unfortunately, is injuries. I have four running backs on my team, and all but McCoy are injured because they get paid to absorb the sort of human-to-human contact that if performed on someone at a bar would result in that someone’s hospitalization and at least one arrest. It throws the whole “computers vs. humans” debate into sharp relief. Statistically, my team is the best it could be, provided that my running backs were all healthy and non-maimed. As an experiment, I’m just going to run with what the computer drafted me and see what happens. I don’t have high hopes. Just as the Deep Blue chess computer and most of the boring episodes of Star Trek taught us, computers are deeply flawed and probably evil. They use logic, but that only gets you so far. They can’t feel feelings, and they have the intuition of a pile of sharpened sticks. If we’re going to advance as a civilization, we have to learn to work with technology rather than using it as a crutch.
Lest we forget, being an NFL player is often a Faustian bargain where you may get several million dollars very quickly but then might die before you’re 60, and it’s sort of fucked up that we put these guys on imaginary teams and hope that they produce numbers for us that will give us an opportunity to lord our powers of sportsitude over our friends. Letting the computer draft for you breaks a social contract of some sort, but it’s probably a better idea in the short term. The more we rely upon technology to do shit for us, a future where robots take over and enslave us all becomes more and more feasible. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that future. Unfortunately, I am part of the problem. We all are.