Tag Archives: Nonfiction

How Fantasy Sports Explains the World: What Pujols and Peyton Can Teach Us About Wookies and Wall Street

Author: AJ Mass

Pages: 216

My biggest complaint about AJ Mass’s book is that, quite frankly, it is well ahead of its time. Authored in 2010, Mass writes about fantasy sports like only a true expert can, with knowledge and candor. However, because it is in 2010, it is firmly rooted in a context of fantasy sports being popular, but far from the cultural phenomenon it is today. Reading in 2016, you can see the seeds that were planted for fantasy sports to break out, and if anything, Mass’s exploration of how the activity blends with our lives might show us how exactly this game became so popular.

While AJ Mass is a Newhouse alum (lots of fun ‘cuse references in the book!), I had heard of him long before Syracuse was even on my radar. I am a die hard Survivor fan, and it turns out, so is Mass. In his book, he discusses the 12 types of personalities a fantasy league needs to succeed, which in reality is a look at the various social patterns of a group, any group. Thus, Mass would come on my favorite podcast, and when there were 12 contestants left on Survivor, or later Big Brother, he would assign each contestant a personality. More so, he would predict how successful the contestant would be strictly based on which archetype they fell in, and watching the show, the predictions would be scarily accurate. When you read, it’s fun to apply these types to any group, whether it is the obvious (your fantasy league), or the not-so-obvious (maybe your fraternity).

I have heard Mass plug his book on this podcast for literally years, so I figured now was the time to dig in and actually read it. I was pleased to find more Survivor references, with heavy discussion on one of the most controversial moves the show has ever seen (won’t give away any spoilers). One section of the book that seems particularly prescient is the discussion of electoral voters abandoning their states’ popular votes. I do not need to discuss the relevance of this chapter (just look at the blog title), but Mass’s inclusion of the topic just goes to show you that yes, fantasy sports might just explain the world. He discusses this principle as something that is technically legal, but it is not necessarily just or right, similar to  the idea of benching your defense when you’re guaranteed to win your matchup, in fear of getting negative points and losing. Yes, you’re allowed to do it, but that’s not the real game.

Essentially a freakanomics for fantasy sports, this is a quick and fun read with lots of popular culture and sports references for any fan. I cannot help but be biased towards Mass, as his combination of Survivor and Syracuse love make him a favorite of mine. There are a lot of baseball references and acronyms in here, which I personally find a bit dense, but if you like baseball, you’ll have no trouble at all. Overall, Mass uses our fantasy leagues as a framework for decision making, interacting with each other, and making personal decisions. In fantasy, we create our own little communities, so fantasy sports do not only explain the world, but in a way, they also create one.