Ethics And Fantasy

While gathering opinions on Twitter about Alex Rodriguez, I ran into an interesting issue – ethical reasons to not roster a player. In the past, it has never really occurred to me to not roster or cut a player based on his off-the-field actions. Certainly, I will adjust my valuations. We’ve seen divorce eat into player contributions, and ill-timed comments can lead to a change in role or a trade. But not until the Adrian Peterson fiasco has it ever occurred to me to boycott a player for ethical reasons. Perhaps I’m behind the curve, but I want to explore the topic in more detail.

The argument for boycotting has two tiers. First, fantasy owners root for their players – it’s inevitable. If a player is reviled for personal reasons, then it makes sense to leave him off your roster. That way you’re free to root against him to your heart’s content. The second reason is perhaps a little more meaningful – money. I’m not entirely sure of the tie between fantasy sports and individual player compensation, but I’m sure some kind of link exists. If a player is boycotted even by fantasy owners, then it may affect how advertisers view the player. To be clear, I’m not saying advertisers take their cues from fantasy owners, but there might be a ripple effect.

In baseball, despite the aftershocks of the steroid era still being felt, we haven’t had too many reasons to avoid a player. Yes, PED’s are the big one, as the return of A-Rod demonstrates. Personally, I have trouble faulting a player for bending or breaking the rules in an effort to improve. My position on cheating to win has always been “if you get caught, serve the time.” My opinions of Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, or Nelson Cruz as people were not affected by their role in biogenesis.

A few other potential use cases for the ethics card come to mind. Miguel Cabrera has multiple DUI’s – a seemingly inexcusable incident for a excessively rich player. If anyone can afford a full time chauffeur to drive him home from a bar, it’s Cabrera. Still, while a DUI is a poor decision that could have terrible consequences, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s an awful human being. Maybe Cabrera is a hot head who doesn’t care about the consequences of driving drunk, or maybe he’s somebody who had a few too many combined with a lapse of judgment. I don’t think my fantasy preferences need reflect my displeasure with drunk drivers.

Other recent cases offer slightly better fodder. Yunel Escobar’s homophobic slurs are exactly the sort of vitriol that perhaps should affect ownership. Unfortunately for us, Escobar is seldom used in traditional fantasy leagues. He fits better in deep roster scenarios as a back up. His fantasy use case is so limited that we can’t hope to apply ethics. Escobar is usually the very last guy an owner will turn to when they need regular shortstop starts.

With a similar issue, John Rocker probably offered a good example back in his New York hating heyday. Rocker may hold the record among MLB’ers for most people offended with a single comment. We liked the quirky reliever when he was just a guy who sprinted from the bullpen to the mound. Once his godawful personality came to the surface, we had enough. There’s a lesson for players here, it can be best to let your quirks cover your personality.

Had I been in a position to care, I probably could have observed some fantasy league resistance to rostering Rocker. His Wikipedia page blames the incident for a downturn in his career, citing “intense taunting” by rival fans. However, I wonder if we’re finding correlation without causation. In any event, Rocker faded from the league within three seasons and an inning of those comments.

The last example is another former pitcher, Brett Myers. The Philadelphia righty struck his wife while leaving a Boston bar. He was a former boxer, so you would think he’d be more careful with deploying his fists. This particular story contained enough did he/didn’t he supposition, contradictory statements, and other such confusion that it didn’t draw the attention of the Ray Rice incident.

For Myers, the mistake became a punch line but not a rallying cry against him. I wonder if the same would have happened with Rice had the elevator footage never became public. In any case, I’m not sure if the fantasy community was ready to react to Myers’ assault back in 2006. He was a mediocre starter that season, but everybody rostered him in 2007 when he turned into a near-elite reliever. Maybe things would be different if it had happened today.

My question to the audience is this: would you ever cut a player based solely on off-the-field actions? Imagine if Peterson were still playing, would you use him? Where is your personal line in the sand?


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I think it’s a huge stretch to say that a player would be impacted meaningfully by fantasy baseball players refusing to roster him. In any case, boycotting players is just giving your rivals an advantage. Finally, I don’t have a problem with rooting for whoever’s on my team, so I don’t really think there is much of a case to boycott players. If you think people are too evil to roster, that’s up to you, but it doesn’t bother me at all.