A preface: I am a lover of capitalism. However, I detest those who conflate “management” with “capitalism.” For the last three decades, this confusion has hollowed out America’s middle class, imposed glass ceilings on a meritocratic system, and, even worse, has led to the creation of fantasy sports leagues.
“Wait,” you say. “I play fantasy sports leagues. I’m not a neo-conservative! It can’t be!?!?” Don’t be so sure.
I begin with an essential distinction that probably falls apart upon closer inspection: the “manager” vs. the “entrepreneur.” Of course, this distinction was helpfully crystallized by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, in an old article for the WSJ that I couldn’t track down. Basically, the entrepreneur, which may or may not have a second “r” after the p, is for me the lifeblood of capitalism. The entrepreneur takes risks. The entrepreneur innovates. The entrepreneur starts a small business but grows it through blood, sweat, tears, and often time maxed out personal credit cards. When you talk to an entrepreneur, you know it. They are sweating. They are busy. They are focused but overwhelmed. Their passion seeps into you, even if you have no clue what their new product is or what their business does.
The manager, on the other hand, can be the strangler of innovation. The manager basically the individuals who produce goods and tries to squeeze or coax a bit more production out of them. In that sense, a manager can be either an intestinal warm parasite or those cool colored birds who follow around rhinoceroses. Yes, some people need managers. Not everybody is inspired. Not everybody can see their own blind spots. Yet it bothers me when people conflate management with entrepreneurs. It also bothers me whenever management ignores the fact that they depend upon producers.
Ronald Reagan was a President of the United States who often conflated management with entrepreneurs in order to philosophically justify his neo-conservative agenda. He basically set up the current premise of the Republican party: push a political and economic system that is stacked for management, but give enough token talking points to entrepreneurs who may or may not be in the same tax bracket. Recycle. Repeat. Rinse.
And that is why I hate fantasy sports.
First off, fantasy sports are largely based on a fictitious world in which you become a general manager of a team. Of course, the concept of the game and even a “general manager” is, duh, a fetishization of management. You assume no risk but for a pittance of an entry fee (perhaps higher in a big stakes pool) and have no opportunity to succeed beyond fantasy points (unless you have winnings and thus gamble, which is illegal, you scoundrel!). Basically, the risk of loss associated with owning a team, the entrepreneurial aspect of a sports franchise, is neutered.
Second, your very limited role is basically treating players and athletes as chattel. You only care about a player’s game day statistics. In that sense, your fantasy management is easier than real life: no behind the scenes “contract disputes,” no locker room animosity, etc. Some fantasy video games, like Football Manager, do their best to take these real life things into account. However, this critique is largely directed at run-of-the-mill fantasy sports leagues operated at many major sites. My problem is of course philosophical and larger than tossing blame at any particular site. Still, you know of what I speak.
Third, fantasy leagues eliminate one of the only redeeming qualities of real life management: developing an interpersonal relationship with a person, assisting him or her, and then watching him or her succeed. Yes, we are so fucking happy you picked up Tom Brady on a free waiver after Drew Bledsoe got injured a decade ago, but that’s not the same thing. In this sense, the fantasy league’s removal of a personal link between management and “producer” mirrors the 21st century obsession with outsourcing and internet sourcing. We tend to view the “producers”, be it workers or in this case athletes, as burdens to be avoided, mapped, reduced, or replaced.
Fourth, management gains but no sharing the spoils with “producers.” One of the things I detest are management bonuses for enhancing productivity. Why not just directly offer bonuses to the folks who do the work? These bonuses can create perverse incentives: like tricking employees to work off the clock. Fantasy leagues are the ultimate incarnation of the “spoils only to management” philosophy: if you win your league, only you get the credit, not the fantasy players. You and you are alone are, like, totally hot shit. No need to thank nor reward the excel spreadsheet incarnations of athlete celebrities.
Of course, folks can respond that 1) Some folks do take a personal interest in their fantasy players’ well-being and 2) Statistics as quantifiable measures of tangible production can be used without de-humanizing players. If you think so, and you like fantasy sports, then I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. However, next time you set your weekend lineup, realize that you are participating in an institution that perpetuates the “status as manager is ideal” myth at the cost of ignoring entrepreneurs and “producers.” And are you really having all that much fun?