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The Blame Game

by Alex Prewitt, SI BETTING


Last October, a little more than four hours before the Week 4 Monday Night Football kickoff at Lambeau Field, Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling posted a public service announcement for his Twitter followers. “Please stop DM’ing about your fantasy teams,” he wrote. “I promise you, I don’t care.”

Valdes-Scantling was responding to more than 200 messages he’d gotten over the preceding days, each of them detailing a version of the same scenario: With star wideout Davante Adams sidelined due to a hamstring injury, the sender had plucked Valdes-Scantling from the waiver wire and thus needed him to perform well against the Falcons. “Those messages are going to come every single day during football season, especially right around game time,” Valdes-Scantling says now. “It’s not enjoyable for the players.” Worse, though, was the blowback that Valdes-Scantling got after he had just four receptions for 45 yards in Green Bay’s 30–16 win. “When you get fans hounding you, saying, ‘You lost me the game because you didn’t get this [number] of points,’ or ‘I lost out on money because of you,’ that’s when it becomes really annoying,” he says. “It’s not about the sport anymore. It’s about the finances you’re making off me.”

By now, tweets like that from players like Valdes-Scantling, like leaves changing color and Bills fans leaping through tables, are annual rites of fall. (A few years ago, a Reddit user compiled “The All-‘I Don’t Give A F— About Your Fantasy Team’ Team,” a full roster of NFL players who had publicly declared their apathy for the hobby in which, according to the Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association, approximately 46 million U.S. adults participate.) Indeed, the dynamic is one of dehumanization and commoditization, reducing athletes to their stat lines in service of Joe Fan competing for prize money.

“Obviously, there’s some good fun out of fantasy,” Valdes-Scantling says. “But when you get people’s money involved, you start getting all sorts of hate mail.”

With this in mind, Valdes-Scantling wonders how he and other athletes will be affected as the U.S. sports landscape enters the age of wide-spread legalized sports betting. On one hand, the financial benefits will be huge for leagues with collectively bargained profit-sharing. “The most obvious positive is that it’s going to drive a lot of revenue, and [players] are our partners, so they’re the recipient of us growing the pie,” says Ted Leonsis, the Capitals, Mystics and Wizards owner whose Capital One Arena in D.C. opened the nation’s first in-stadium sportsbook in May.

On the other, says Mark Griffiths, a professor of social sciences at England’s Nottingham Trent University and the director of its International Gaming Research Unit, “the higher the event frequency of an activity, the greater association it has with problem gambling.” Think slot machines in casinos. Or, in this case, live, in-play wagers available on mobile betting apps.

Here the ramifications are obvious, too. “When you have money involved, there’s always going to be anger,” Valdes-Scantling says. “Especially when fans are close to you, it can definitely heighten the situation. Imagine losing $5,000 and having the access to throw something at me.”

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