I wrote two articles for this week’s issue. You’ll only be reading the fluffy one. But I want to quickly acknowledge the other one that, for the foreseeable future, is stuck in my Google Drive.
Last week was a particularly emotionally charged week in American politics. What transpired—like many of our current political challenges— had plenty to do with sports. Even for someone as privileged and relatively unaffected as I am, watching the Kavanaugh hearings was nauseating. The hearings prompted me to do some thinking and writing on masculinity as it relates to sports.
Kavanaugh’s professed love of sports took on an outsized role in the hearings. During his morally depraved youth, his love of sports rested at the intersection of fierce competition (between mediocre, doughy white kids) and bonds he developed with a group of boys defined most accurately by their striking similarities to Vineyard Vines t-shirts drenched with too much Axe body spray.
Kavanaugh’s favorite sport—and it pains me to say this—is basketball.
What passed for basketball at Georgetown Prep in the late ’70s was surely some sort of under-the-rim, chestpass-heavy, slow-paced nonsense that featured as many crossovers as it did people of color (I couldn’t get a picture in this article, but go ahead and type “Brett Kavanaugh Georgetown Prep basketball” into Google Images).
During the hearings, Kavanaugh rambled about his days as a high school athlete and reified his love of the game. He did so because he thought that this sort of appreciation for sports and the camaraderie that comes with them is antithetical to the credible allegations he is facing. He was, and is, wrong.
Among other things, Brett Kavanaugh is a lens into the largely unexamined world of prep-school sports, a world I know intimately. He gives a glimpse of the twisted form of male bonding that seeps into almost every part of its culture.
As much as I love sports, not acknowledging the toxic masculinity located at the very heart of male, sports-based camaraderie is counterproductive. Indeed, erasing the hateful aspects of sports aids in perpetuating the normalization of many of the core characteristics of all-male spaces. Kavanaugh’s past is an extreme example of the byproducts of the deleterious way prep school sports culture grooms its boys. But it is not an aberration. #MeToo has not fully hit the world of sports yet. When it does, however, it will hit hard.
For now, I’ll leave that be. For now, I’m going to write about fantasy football.
I’m going to write about fantasy football because it sits at the heart of what makes sports so helpful and so problematic. I’ll be grappling with the Janus-faced qualities of sports for the rest of my life. That does not mean I cannot also revel in the beautiful, frustrating monotony of wishing I started John Brown over Mike Williams last week. As in all things, a desire for critical consciousness should not preclude us from enjoying what makes other aspects of life liveable.
This past week in my increasingly rancorous fantasy football league, I faced kind person and Vassar-men’s-basketball-captain-turned-DraftKings-employee Tony Caletti. My buddy Tony, a die-hard Warriors fan (judge as you see fit), is not a football guy. Caletti is so not a football guy that if you put shoulder pads on him he’d look like a lollipop. In our texts back and forth regarding the matchup, he noted that he has watched fewer than 10 minutes of football this year. (I am both jealous of this fact and appalled by it.)
I, conversely, spend every Sunday reading with football on in the background. I have won the last two fantasy football leagues I have been in. I am rated as the gold standard by Yahoo Fantasy. This is obviously a very big deal. Unfortunately, this fantasy football season has not gone particularly well for me.
This season I drafted Leonard Fournette in the second round. What I did not know when I drafted him was that his right hamstring was about as sturdy as my self-confidence in seventh grade. I drafted Russell Wilson in the fifth round. What I did not know was that the most exciting part of the Seattle Seahawks season would be Earl Thomas waving the same finger I wave at any pseudo-woke Vassar student who treats campus workers like service-delivering automatons.
Mr. Caletti, on the other hand, stumbled into Patrick Mahomes in the ninth round. For those of you who haven’t been following football, stumbling into a player as good as Patrick Mahomes in the ninth round is like stumbling into Noam Chomsky in Bacio’s at 2 a.m. on a Friday night; it’s just not supposed to happen.
Despite this, heading into Monday night, I was leading Mr. Caletti by a whopping 45 points. The only problem was that his Chomsky was playing Monday night.
I was unnerved. I was obsessed. I was immersed in a world with seemingly no real consequences (as long as you play along with the dominant narratives of what NFL labor is supposed to be—read last week’s article). I wasn’t thinking about all the real things that make me anxious. I was thinking about whether or not the Denver Broncos’ defense could get enough pressure on Mahomes to prevent him from torching their secondary and burying my hopes of bumping my fantasy record up to 2-2. What a world.
The Denver Broncos defense, it turned out, could not contain Patrick Mahomes.
I lost to Tony Caletti in fantasy football.
I was humiliated.
But at least that’s what I’m thinking about. For a few moments.
Fantasy football could not wholly numb my visceral reactions to the past week of American political news. Yet there were moments when the glee and mysticism of it all were so immersive that, when I snapped out of my myopia, I felt refreshed. Lending this sort of emotional significance to a distraction like fantasy football is silly, but so are a lot of feelings that I harbor.
As I continue critically exploring intersections of sports, politics and philosophy in my writing, I want to remind myself of the undeniable, virtuously distracting joy that sports often bring me. This past weekend reminded me of that to the fullest extent possible. It would have have been nice to win, though.