How fantasy can better NFL reality

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The email arrived this month, as it does every year, like clockwork: “Welcome to another year of the HBFFL.”


“FFL” stands for “Fantasy Football League.” I’ve never been a big football fan — 11 minutes of action for nearly four hours of time isn’t enough of a return on investment for me — but I enjoy the competition and banter with my siblings and cousins. From a sentimental standpoint, “HB” are my late grandfather’s initials, and he would have enjoyed all of us doing something fun together.


Lately, though, I’ve been having second thoughts. From vicious brain injuries on the field to domestic violence and child abuse off it, the NFL is a particularly brutal and at times shockingly awful business. Yet I get obsessed with it on Sundays, and the league counts on that. It makes me feel squeamish and dirty, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it and hoping I win money.


Just watch the parallel conversations unfolding about Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension over allegations of domestic violence. The concern for most fantasy owners is not the well-being of Tiffany Thompson, but rather the potential impact on upcoming league drafts and our teams’ prospects.


There are nearly 60 million fantasy sports players across the U.S. and Canada, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, a number that has tripled over the past 10 years. That includes the growing numbers who participate in daily fantasy sports, where players get a new team every week.


Add up all the league and entry fees we pay, plus associated spending on everything from draft parties to championship belts, and we outpace the gross domestic product of several countries worldwide. We could make an impact on this sport, if we wanted to, that goes beyond filling the NFL’s coffers, driving its television ratings and lining our own pockets.


There’s a way to make it happen. Call it The 10% Rule.


All fantasy players should donate 10% of total league fees — or, if you play daily fantasy, 10% of what you typically spend annually on entry fees — to Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Research Center.


That center has been on the front lines in shining a spotlight on the connection between repeated hits to the head and related brain injuries. Its studies are all the more remarkable considering they have often been conducted in the face of the NFL’s — and the National Hockey League’s — self-serving attempts to downplay, hide or even deny the connection.


Donate another 10% to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. According to the most reliable statistics on this still hidden-in-the-shadows crime, one in three women experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. For the vast majority, there are no elevator cameras to document their abuse and finally persuade people to act. Victims are often painfully alone; escaping their circumstances is often difficult, if not impossible.


Average annual spending for each fantasy player is an estimated $556, meaning all together, we pump $33 billion into the economy. Sending one-tenth of that to the domestic violence coalition would dwarf their typical annual donations, which totaled just over $1 million in 2015. Sending an additional one-tenth to the CTE Center would replace, several times over, the millions of dollars the NFL refused to provide BU’s Dr. Robert Stern that same year for a major head injury study.


Fantasy sports players have gotten too comfortable in recent years looking the other way. We may express some disgust around the office water cooler from time to time, even post something righteous on Facebook in response to something particularly egregious. But then we move effortlessly back into setting lineups and counting points on Sundays. We convince ourselves that we’re exempt from having to care because we’re just playing pretend.


How about we put our money where our mouths are? We expect players and owners to care about their larger communities; we ought to have the same expectations of ourselves.


The consequences of pro football aren’t fantasy; they’re reality. Let’s make this the season when we decide to give a damn about it.


Zimmerman is a communications consultant in Rockville, Md.

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