The Classical Players' Tribune Fantasy League

When life gives you a mildly narcissistic post-retirement venture from a celebrated athlete, make lemons (or fantasy leagues.)
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If you’re reading The Classical, and you clicked on this article, chances are you’re Internet-savvy and most definitely spend your valuable time online looking for the next great sports read. Using those assumptions, you most certainly have heard about Derek Jeter’s new website venture, The Players’ Tribune, which Jeter described in his introduction post at the site as “a place where athletes have the tools they need to share what they really think and feel. We want to have a way to connect directly with our fans, with no filter.”

On paper, the premise had potential, but of course any athlete-driven venture raises immediate red flags. A website that promotes itself as a place to eliminate the barrier between the athlete and the fan is, in fact, only acting as nothing more than another platform for these players to promote and run their PR as they wish. In short, The Players’ Tribune seems destined to be the sports version of Life+Times, a site curated by Jay Z and that calls itself “a digital experience covering art, sports, music, fashion and culture.” You’ve never visited that site? Exactly.

In its fourth month of existing on the World Wide Web, the content at The Players’ Tribune has been a mixed bag. Upon its launch, the site introduced a series of athlete pieces and assigned the senior editor title to every person who wrote for the site, leading many a freelance writer (or, at least just me) to feel very insecure about our LinkedIn profiles. Russell Wilson revealed he was a bully growing up, Danica Patrick told us what it’s like to have a relationship with a fellow NASCAR driver, Blake Griffin called Donald Sterling “a weird uncle”, and so on.

The writing at the site isn’t particularly exciting or informative most of the time—to the point where the only thrilling aspect of even following The Players’ Tribune is to find out who will be the next person to contribute to the site. At times it seems like only I and fellow Tribune enthusiast/Classical contributor Sean Highkin care about this particular, perhaps pointless, guessing game.

But there’s a way to change that: The Players’ Tribune Fantasy League.

It’s the tried and true formula of “take anything in life and find a way to create a fantasy league out of it with your friends.” Reality television shows are a great example of this, and standard sports fantasy leagues have gotten so popular that daily leagues at sites like FanDuel have taken over the industry. At the fantasy league’s most extreme end, you find the people out there either in the Dark Web or with wicked senses of humor who participate in death pools. The Players’ Tribune Fantasy League, true to its classy Jeterian origins, is not so crass.

Here’s how The Players’ Tribune Fantasy League would work:

Number of players: The beauty of this, and any fantasy league you’re making up, is that this rule is flexible. Welcome as many players as are interested, though through the data I’ve collected from my focus groups, four players in a league is the preferred number.

Monthly drafts: On the last day of each month, organize a group meet with your league, or if you’re seriously having online addiction issues or don’t like to socialize in public, start an email thread. The latter is always a great place for drafts and doubles as a place where bad puns go to be executed.

Draft format: Each team gets four players. The most preferred format is an auction, wherein each team gets an imaginary $200 to spend on four players. Each participant in the league takes turns nominating a potential Players’ Tribune contributor, and everyone has a chance to submit a bid on that player. The highest bid wins. The auction format appeals because certain players are worth more of your $200 limit, and it’s also fun to consider buy-low candidates (Note: the Tribune appears to have recurring contributors now. For maximum excitement, do not allow anyone who has contributed to the website previously to be part of the draft).

Scoring: Once you’ve selected your team, the scoring is very simple. For every player on your team that appears on The Players’ Tribune, you get a point. If you want a more complex scoring system, consider a scoring scale where you receive more points if that player’s piece at the website exceeds a particular word count. For example, if Barry Bonds appears on The Players’ Tribune, and you’ve drafted him, perhaps you get one point because he wrote for them, and an extra point for every 1,000 words he writes. Other scoring tweaks: bonus points for anyone who is assigned a senior editor position, which has become increasingly rare. (Lately, writers on the site have received the “guest contributor” tags and others. I miss the flat organizational chart of the Tribune.)

At the end of each month, the league resets and you do the draft again for the next month. At the end of the year, you can tally up who has the most total points, who won the most months, who were your favorite and least favorite picks, and have another joyous email thread about it.

Now, what are some tips and strategies, straight from the guy who has spent a lot of hours thinking about this? Here are a few:

Consider the narratives: This one is simple, but something you mustn’t forget when you’re drafting for the month. Create a checklist across the major North American sports leagues of what is happening. What are the key games, who are the teams and players who are getting the mainstream buzz, and, most important of all, who might have something to say?

  • Recent example: Kobe Bryant passed Michael Jordan on the NBA’s all-time scoring list earlier this season. That’s a storyline you have to be aware of weeks in advance and potentially spend a lot of your $200 budget on him for that month.
  • Future example: The NBA All-Star game is coming up soon. Depending on who wins MVP, could someone like Kyle Lowry have a post at The Players’ Tribune? Jot down all the sporting events going on, and make your picks. If you’re going to do this, you need to be committed.
  • Diversify your portfolio: A quick browse—just a few hours of my time—of The Players’ Tribune website reveals that, as you can imagine,  the collection of athletes who contribute is very random. There are young players like Michael Carter-Williams of the Philadelphia 76ers; there are retired pros like Warren Moon who previewed the NFL playoffs for the site. Make sure when you’re targeting your four players that you mix things up. It might help your odds of landing some points.
  • Beware of the obvious trap player: I was certain in December that Little League World Series sensation Mo’ne Davis would be a great Players’ Tribune fantasy league pick. After all, who better to pen a piece at the end of a sports year in which we needed to remember a few feel-good stories amidst all the horror? But Mo’ne was named Sports Illustrated’s “Sports Kid of the Year,” which made it unlikely she was going to appear at multiple publications. It’s a key lesson: review the other key publications and websites in circulation before you create your draft wish list each month. If someone recently appeared in a profile piece elsewhere, like SI, or GQ, or ESPN Magazine, give them time to cool off before making that pick.

So, here’s a (non)comprehensive list of people who you might want to consider for this year: Serena Williams, Emmanuel Mudiay, Kevin Durant, Hope Solo, Klay Thompson, Corey Kluber, Andrew Wiggins, anyone in contention for a golf major, Vince Young, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Joell Embiid, Marcus Mariota, Andy Dalton, any jockey in contention for the Triple Crown, Anthony Davis, Steven Stamkos, Andrew McCutchen, Jon Lester, C.C. Sabathia, Victor Oladipo, Zdeno Chara, Antonio Brown. 

Start a league, try it out, and please invite me if you do.

One last piece of advice: don’t even think about drafting Alex Rodriguez. Or do. It’s fantasy—give it a shot.

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