Women stepping up in fantasy football

It’s that time of year again.

Sundays are blocked off on my calendar for a full day of football watching, my endless support for the Chicago Bears is constantly called into question, and defending myself against the guys in my fantasy football league is a daily occurrence.

Last year was my rookie year in fantasy football, and I played as the only female in two separate leagues, both with guys from work. To their surprise (and somewhat mine), I finished both leagues in second place with a 9-6 record in one and 11-3 in the other. I had watched for players I wanted to draft in preseason, paid attention to NFL analysts’ reports, got some advice from my brother and friends, and ended up with a pretty solid team that made me a threat to the guys I was playing against.

Afterward, though, it was excuse after excuse from them: “It’s just beginner’s luck; Your brother managed the league for you; You had no idea what you were doing.”

Unfortunately, these don’t seem to be excuses coming just from the guys in my office. For some reason, many men can’t seem to wrap their minds around the fact that women are part of the fantasy football world now, and not only that, but we’re actually good at it.

Like Jenny from the FX sitcom The League said, “You all just back off, all of you. I’ve worked really hard this year to put together an amazing team. I have studied the waiver wire; I know all the sleepers; I have done the bye-week plug-ins—I have done it all. And all I want to do is watch the game and find out how my team does.”

In the last year, several articles came out about the growing number of women playing fantasy football. In November, the New York Times reported that the number of women playing fantasy football in the United States and Canada more than doubled since 2007, to 8.3 million in 2014, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. Yahoo!’s ThePostGame.com published a video about the surge in female participants, saying that women made up 20 percent of all fantasy football players last year.

Still, though, some media outlets weren’t catching on to the fact that a lot of women (myself included) are playing because they actually like football and know their stuff. Even ESPN came under fire when an article on ESPNW used relationship-based rankings to simplify NFL stats for female fantasy football players.

Luckily, there are women like Stephania Bell (an injury analyst and co-host of ESPN’s podcast Fantasy Focus), Melissa Jacobs (a former Emmy-Award winning ESPN producer who founded TheFootballGirl.com), and Sarah Spain (a Chicago-based ESPN Radio reporter making a name for herself nationally). I admire these women for their knowledge of the game, their reputation in the sports media industry as reputable sources, and for their relentless work that helps women be taken more seriously in the world of sports.

Sure, women aren’t as prominent in football as men, but women like Jen Welter and Sarah Thomas are making waves in the NFL and are making the conversation of women’s involvement with football one that’s not so unexpected anymore. Their involvement is clearly worlds above fantasy football, but having women as a significant part of football in general can inspire and impact even the lowliest fantasy player.

While I know fantasy football, and the trash talk that goes along with it, is all in good fun, I’m out to prove to these guys I’m playing with that being a woman in our otherwise all-male league doesn’t mean I’m not as informed, capable or savvy as they are. I can, and will, compete on just as high a level as they are.

Last year I was just in it for fun, but this year I’m gunning for the title.

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