Language Betterment in Fantasy Football

By: JayWall

Language Betterment in Fantasy Football

Fantasy football is constantly changing when it comes to players and strategies among many other factors. There's been a lot of talk recently about language betterment in fantasy football, and I wanted to touch on a few important words that we as a community need to revise.


I love how Kyle Borgognoni from Fantasy Footballers put it in his “Fantasy Football & the Evolution of Language in 2020” article, "We want to steward the opportunity we have in this space to be forward-thinking, inclusive, and most of all, honoring to the real-life NFL players and people that listen to our podcast each week. Not that our website or podcast is the center of fantasy football conscience, but we want to come alongside others and be part of the change and education that helps foster personal growth to a community willing to listen."


We all love fantasy football, and I think we can all agree that we want to have fun, be competitive, and win, all while being kind to others around us. Just like everything else in life, our words hold weight, and it's important to use them well. Your words matter.

Be Intentional

Change can be uncomfortable, and that's okay. In fact, it's a good thing because from it comes growth. When I first started to hear about these changes with language betterment in fantasy football, it took me some time to make it a habit. To be honest, I didn't understand some of it initially. I knew the important thing for me to do was be intentional not only to change the words I was using, but also to learn more about why they weren't suitable.


What does it look and sound like to be intentional with my words?


Well, reading an article like this is a great step to better understand what language we need to transition from and what to transition to. There are a lot of articles like this one that I'd encourage you to read as well! It's important to find different resources for different perspectives. For example, find someone who will let you ask tough questions to better understand the “what's” and “why’s” behind the language change. Being intentional requires action!


A quote that comes to mind when discussing a topic like this is, "Never stop learning because life never stops teaching." One of the best ways to learn is through having conversations. I wanted to write this article to begin conversations about language betterment in fantasy football.

Be Patient

Patience is a much needed virtue we all need to lean into as we learn and grow. We will all make mistakes, like saying the former name of the Washington Football Team. As long as we continue to develop our language and give grace when mistakes are made, the fantasy football community will become a more inclusive and expanding space for all.


The NFL consists of about 70% of black players, while the fantasy football community is played by white men as the large majority. There's no problem with one side being a majority if it accommodates everyone. Understanding cultures and experiences outside our own are important, but it takes time, grace, and patience. Let's extend a hand to each other as we grow together in language betterment in fantasy football.


You may encounter pushback from friends and frustrations through the process. Similar to going from “How do you do?” to “How’re you doing?,” language changes over time, but some people have a harder time with change than others. Because of this, friends may not want to change how they talk about fantasy football because it’s easier to stay the same. They may even give you a hard time for being forward-thinking.


There also may be pitfalls you run into. People don’t like to be wrong, and asking for others to change their words may feel like an attack on who they are. The goal is for us to evolve our language to make the fantasy football community a more inviting space for everyone.

From Owner to Manager

The last thing we want to convey to someone is the ownership of another player no matter the skin color, especially when we look back on the history of America. No one’s goal when using the word owner was said with this intention, but our words do matter so we need to utilize them.


As a manager, we humanize the players as we play this game that’s just that, a game. According to Webster’s Dictionary, manager is defined as “a person who directs a team or athlete.” This definition proves that using the word “manager” makes the most sense when it comes to your team and players.


Similar to changing owner to manager, let’s change owned to rostered. In the same light, when we look at our team, we look at our roster. If you’ve ever been a coach in real life, you’ve never claimed to own one of your players (I hope). NFL players are also real people who don’t want other people to claim to own them. I know this may just sound like a technicality to some, but this language is important for the players because they want to be respected as people.


Yahoo Sports changed their terminology, among other fantasy platforms, to be more inclusive last year. They changed FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget) to FAB (Free Agent Budget), which is another way to change our language to keep from speaking about players with the sense of ownership but as real people and real players.

From Handcuff to Backup

This may feel like the most nitpicking change in this article, but handcuff is honestly a term that makes little sense for the meaning of a backup to a position. As a white man, hearing handcuff doesn’t necessarily hit my ears in the wrong way, but to a person of color, there’s a high probability it does. This is based on the history of this country and how people of color have been treated. We as a fantasy community want to help be the change, and even though it seems small, we can make an impact!

From Auction Draft to Salary Cap Draft

Switching to salary cap drafts from auction drafts should be one of the most obvious changes that need to be made in our fantasy football language. Slavery was abolished 156 years ago in the US, and slave auctions were held during this time. The 13th Amendment Section 1 says, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Section 2 states, “Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” So, slavery isn’t something that just happened a long time ago, but it still has ramifications today. In a way, slavery is still alive today, it just looks different then it did. Auctioning off people isn't done anymore, but the term still holds a lot of weight considering it wasn’t long ago that those types of auctions were held. Auction drafts in fantasy football should be called salary cap drafts because it humanizes the players, instead of treating them like property. It doesn’t matter the color of the player's skin, and no one wants to be auctioned off to people, even if it’s part of an imaginatory game.


When switching to salary cap drafts, let's also change our verbage to offering instead of bidding. Once again, this is to humanize these real players in this fake game that we play.


In 2017, ESPN held a live auction draft with a crowd of white people bidding on players such Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown, and Joe Mixon. As expected, Twitter blew up in outrage of this happening and the lack of sensitivity and sense in this ESPN sketch. ESPN’s Kevin Ots who is the Director of Communications, Digital Media/Technology released an apology that reads, “Auction drafts are a common part of fantasy football, and ESPN’s segments replicated an auction draft with a diverse slate of top professional football players. Without that context, we understand the optics could be portrayed as offensive, and we apologize.” Clearly, this isn’t the best apology, as it feels like they still didn’t realize why that sketch was so offensive.


My goal isn’t to just bash on ESPN for this, but to show a visual of how the words we use in fantasy football actually could sound to the ears of people of color who play this game. We should learn from ESPN’s mistake and take the word auction out of our vocabulary when talking about people in fantasy football.


From Orphan to Stray

I’ve heard the term orphan used for a while and never thought anything of it because it’s never directly affected me, but this has affected others who play this game. The word orphan means a child whose parent has passed away, which is not an inviting word, but a word that may bring painful memories. As I was reading through comments on an article similar to this, someone named Stephen who works in code branching talked about how they’re looking to stop saying “orphan processing” in their industry. This immediately made me think of how we call teams people quit, orphan teams.


I’m very open to hearing what we should call those teams, but as I talked with friends who play fantasy football, we thought stray teams would be the best way to put it--a term where no one will be directly affected by the word itself. Like a stray dog who was left, these teams were left by their managers and will be looking for someone to come take over as their new manager.


As a community, we want to have fun playing this game, and simple changes like this help create a more inclusive space for more people.

Final Thoughts

This isn't a political article, but an article for everyone to learn and grow, including me. In a time when the world is divided, the last thing I want this article to do is just that. I know some may read this article and think there’s an agenda behind it, but I genuinely want those who read this to feel welcomed and cared about no matter their background.


If we take a look back at the history of this country, a lot of these terms were used in the slave market, and those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Obviously, fantasy football is just a game we all play for fun, but the words we use can make those who aren’t white males feel uncomfortable and unwelcomed, which is the last thing we want. As a community that’s growing in diversity, it’s important to change the language we currently use now, and not wait.


I want to reiterate that this isn’t an article written to divide us, but grow us all closer together. If you have any questions for me, please feel free to reach out. I don’t have all the answers and probably missed some topics of language betterment, but I love having conversations and figuring it out together.

Thanks for reading my Language Betterment in Fantasy Football article; I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and continue the discussion! Make sure you follow me @JayWall_FF on Twitter, join our Discord and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more great content!