A Fantasy Football Odyssey

Leo Paciga


Editor’s Note: DLF is extraordinarily proud to bring you this unique story today. We hope you enjoy it and look at fantasy football a little differently after reading it. In fact, we believe it may be a call to action to promote more equality and take a step forward in the game we love. We fully support the community doing just that.

In recent years, fantasy football has morphed into a living, breathing diorama placed comfortably on a coffee table in the family room of mainstream America. Everyone is acquainted with fantasy football in one way or another. Most people have either tried it or know somebody who has played it. A good many folks are passionately obsessed with it. The online hobby in today’s market is especially enticing and doesn’t discriminate; you’re welcome regardless of gender and/or experience as long as you have the cash and the internet access. There are daily leagues, seasonal leagues, two quarterback leagues, redraft leagues and dynasty leagues all backed by some of the biggest powerhouse corporations in the sports industry. Come one, come all to the greatest statistical show on earth. A show, not coincidentally, tied directly to the most entertaining hired gladiators on the planet – the players of the National Football League.

As common place and accepted as fantasy football has become in our society, there was a time – say 15 years ago – when the landscape of fantasy football was much different. If today’s industry mirrors a modern day Las Vegas, then a decade and a half ago, it resembled a back room on the strip in Atlantic City, filled with cigar smoke, con artists and other potentially shady characters. Don’t get me wrong, even in the infancy of this industry there were some very solid players fortified with moral fiber and strong integrity. The overall atmosphere, however, in the early days of the fledgling fantasy football community was very different from today’s climate.  I’ll also add this isn’t some second or third hand recollection. I was obviously much younger back then, yet I vividly remember some of the earliest sites and the tones and attitudes that went rather unchecked on most message boards.

The beginning.

Twelve years ago, not everyone with a passion for fantasy football could venture out onto the World Wide Web to test their NFL acumen in a welcoming environment. More specifically, female football fans in search of stat geek nirvana often found an uninviting, close minded community resembling an old boy’s club serving up unlimited shots of testosterone instead of cigars and whiskey. Sexism seemed prevalent on almost every message board. Many threads started off discussing football related topics but often devolved into arguments with male combatants heaving derogatory slurs at one another – each sexist slur charged with the single minded task of stripping away one’s masculinity. Young men, chest thumping over sports knowledge and any type of individual skill, often have a way of blinding common sense and rendering good judgement mute.

[inlinead]The few women who actually ventured into open discussions on these early message boards were often met with a particular reaction….a reaction that always seemed to manifest itself in two stages. The first part was an acknowledgement. Not an acknowledgement that a potential knowledgeable visitor had dropped by the site, but rather a confirmation that a female had stumbled into their lair, an affirmation saturated with an immediate lack of respect or acceptance. The second reaction which transpired was usually instigated by a small percentage of the message board rabble, but it still happened like clockwork all the same. Inevitably someone would post the, “hey pull up a chair, tell us what you’re wearing and we’ll let you join our reindeer games” comment or, “you can hang out with us if you post a few pictures.”  Crude behavior for sure, but true all the same. As long as the sexism was right out there in the open and as long as the inappropriate comments appeared with regularity every time a woman visited a thread, then, somehow, in some strange ethical way, it was acceptable.

It was this very type of toxic atmosphere that looked a diehard Bears fan named Carla square in the eyes over a decade ago, somehow staring her down while simultaneously sizing her up and challenging her very moxie. With a love for statistical nuances, Carla had set out to immerse herself in what seemed like the most wonderful of hobbies. Unfortunately, the closed door reality she discovered was certainly not the football paradise she had envisioned.

As disheartened as she was by the lack of respect afforded her and the rest of her fantasy football sisters, Carla knew she could outplay most of the trash talking men, or at the very least, hold her own. She simply needed to gain a seat at the table. The key, unfortunately, would require somehow attaining that chair as a perceived equal and not as a woman. What happened next was a move born out of desperation and desire. Carla decided to “catfish” the fantasy football community – not to gain an unfair advantage like others have done in the past, but instead to gain that proverbial seat at the table, to secure a level playing field and to erase any preconceived limitations. Carla created the online name “CoinFlip” because it wasn’t truly gender specific yet most folks would likely assume that nickname belonged to a man. She then set out on her journey by knocking on the door of more than one online fantasy football community, letting assumptions fall where they may.

It wasn’t long before “CoinFlip” became an established, recognizable name throughout the online community. Whether it was through message board discussions or league winning percentages, “CoinFlip” had staked a claim as one of the community’s more knowledgeable, savvy players. Even though there wasn’t an official hierarchy to most of those online sites, “CoinFlip” was rapidly ascending through the unofficial ranks, taking on various leadership positions be it a forum moderator or league commissioner. In fact, to this day I’ve yet to meet a better league commissioner…but I’m getting ahead of myself. Bottom line, “CoinFlip” was a name associated with integrity, level headedness, keen insight, fairness and compassion. On the occasions when she was pushed for her real name, Carla simply used her husband’s name Rich and any curiosity ended then and there.

“CoinFlip” and I became good friends…well, as good as friends can really be in an online setting with no real interaction. I was in at least 20 leagues with Flip as the commissioner and we often touched base via chat or emails. About five years ago we started an exclusive fantasy football message board together, an invitation only hangout for some of the best FF players we knew, both men and women. To this point, I had no idea the “CoinFlip” I was dealing with was actually Carla and not Rich.

The story unravels.

There were only two folks in Carla’s timeline who knew the truth about “CoinFlip.” It was one of these two fantasy football confidants from her past who recently shared the truth at a FF draft party.  Carla doesn’t believe the secret was revealed out of spite or malice, nor was it an act of bitterness or animosity. In fact, the confidant who divulged the information contacted Carla to apologize for betraying a friendship, for telling a story that wasn’t his to tell and finally to warn her the cat, or in this case the catfish, was out of the bag. Carla’s secret was in the wind and her angst was building with each passing second. She knew she needed to reach out to a select few and she needed to do it immediately.

I woke one Saturday morning to find an email waiting in my inbox, pseudo-camouflaged among a handful of other fantasy football related updates. The contents of that email were shocking and as Carla explained the truth of the matter, it felt like a close friend had died while I was cooking breakfast. The email started, “I wanted to share something with you I probably should have shared long ago” and went on to be as sincere and painfully awkward as anything I have personally read in my lifetime. The Rich I knew over the past 12 years never really existed….or maybe he did, but just as Carla. My head was spinning.

No one likes getting duped. No one enjoys being lied to. The fact it took someone sharing Carla’s secret to get her to divulge the truth to me was tough to digest. If I take the time to walk in her shoes, however, I see the reasons, the risks and the difficulties associated with sharing the truth at any point in our relationship even as I strike each letter on my keyboard while writing this article.

The aftermath

Now that the dust has settled, the same things keep reverberating in my head. A false identity was created without any malicious intent, an illusion crafted not for a chance at cheating the game itself, but rather to create an opportunity just to be included in the contest. A person’s love for the game seemingly blocked at every turn because sexism played a major role in determining who played and who didn’t.

And yes, I realize we’re talking about fantasy football, but this story speaks to an even larger audience and, more importantly, sexism in our society. So often we’re quick to critique by gender or appearance and lose sight of a person’s real value. I’m not going to judge Carla for creating the “CoinFlip” persona, but moving forward I will judge myself, making sure my actions or comments don’t give rise to inadequate feelings in someone because of race or gender.

The point in sharing this story is to emphasize just how far we’ve come in this industry and as a fantasy football community. Today, the landscape of fantasy football is filled with talented female writers and personalities. Liz Loza, Allie Fontana and Renee Miller are just a few who continue to impress at every turn. What was once a boy’s club with myopic vision and little tolerance has become an eclectic smorgasbord of gender, ethnicity and varying levels of experience. We need to continue on this path, collectively perpetuating an atmosphere of acceptance.  Regression cannot be an option.

Over the past few weeks, Carla has shared her story with some of her closest league mates. The responses from those she’s talked with have been overwhelmingly supportive and understanding. Deep down, Carla has no doubt if given the chance to do things all over again in today’s fantasy football environment, she would be herself unequivocally. For what it’s worth, I wholeheartedly believe her. Now that the secret is out, she’ll have her chance.

Heading into the 2015 football season “CoinFlip” is still playing in and commissioning the same number of redraft and dynasty leagues as in the past. The difference this year is that “Rich” is no longer a necessary disguise for the best commissioner I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing fantasy football with. “CoinFlip” may have started out over a decade ago as a desperate response to an intolerant and hostile environment, but the legacy built by Carla over the past 12 years resonates loud and clear.

As far as I’m concerned, she will always be “CoinFlip” and she will always be my friend.

Editor’s Note #2: Now that the story of “CoinFlip” has been revealed, we again hope you use it as a call to action. In fact, we’ve been looking for a long time to add a female writer to the group at DLF and are accepting any and all applications!


leo paciga