A Letter from Howard Bender
Howard Bender shares some intimate thoughts about what is happening in sports and the world today.
When I first sat down at the desk this morning, my intent was to do a simple write-up of a SiriusXM Fantasy Football Host Draft in which I had taken part. Made myself a hot mug of tea, turned on some music and pulled up the draft board, ready for analysis. But as the words “what a long, strange trip it’s been,” were sung in the background, I felt overwhelmed. I’m not even sure that’s the right word, but the fact that these last four weeks have felt like four of the longest years of my life, I do feel overwhelmed by everything that is happening right now.
It is important to stay informed. Education is paramount to our survival as a society. But we are also in dire need of distractions. The soul can only take so much reality in a time like this. Why else would everyone be freaking out over Tiger King and desperate to know what happens at the end of the third season of Ozark?
Sports can help us. Whether you’re a fan or not, they can serve as a much-needed distraction. They are filled with excitement and there is always some form of drama taking place. There is also a strong history upon which to fall back. And believe it or not, sports can also bring a semblance of hope.
While panic was prevailing and every major sport was in shut-down mode in mid-March, the NFL came to the rescue with the opening of free agency. DeAndre Hopkins landed in Arizona via trade, Tom Brady left the only NFL home he’s known to join the Buccaneers and Melvin Gordon started his own Mile-High Club in Denver. Todd Gurley is now a Falcon, Jordan Howard is a Dolphin and Breshad Perriman is a Jet. The flurry of trades and signings received blanket-coverage and in a world turned completely upside-down by the COVID-19 pandemic, sports fans’ hunger for normalcy was satiated.
Unfortunately, the excitement was temporary and after a week’s worth of sports news and “what-if” scenarios, the sounds of sports were again drowned out by the nightmare our world was facing. And rightfully so. Let’s be honest – the state of any sport should pale in comparison to what is happening today. People are dying. In my near half-century of existence on this planet, I have never seen anything like this. From dejection to desperation; from rage to resentment; from fearful to downright panic-stricken, the world in which we live is more than just turned upside-down. But while we sit in our homes, living in fear, perhaps an eye on sports can continue to deliver even just the promise of hope.
It was, again, the NFL to the rescue as almost two weeks ago, Commissioner Roger Goodell informed all 32 NFL teams that the draft, originally scheduled for April 23-25, will continue as such, though without all the usual pomp and circumstance which normally comes with the event. No big Las Vegas extravaganza; simply a televised broadcast with remote looks into the different war rooms across the country. Hopefully with coaches and team representatives socially-distanced from each other in proper fashion. And while that may not seem appealing to those who have attended the NFL Draft in previous years, it is both a sign of the times and proper reflection of our society’s current situation. Better safe than sorry, right? And a downscaled draft is way better than no draft at all.
I choose to take this as hope. I believe in our world’s recovery and I will hold dearly onto any piece of information that points toward legitimate optimism. We now have rumored timelines of MLB, NBA and NHL starting back up over Fourth of July weekend and regardless of which side of the political fence you sit, President Donald Trump came away from his conference call with all the major sports commissioners believing the NFL season should start on-time in September. Obviously, an informed and educated wait-and-see approach is necessary, but I will continue to look forward with the belief that we will eventually prevail.
As this war continues, it is here where I lose my sense of being overwhelmed and not only accept, but also understand my role. I am your distraction. I am not just the author of an article or a voice you hear on the radio. I am that gateway to a distraction so many people are craving right now. I can sit on my ass and lament the way of the world or I can reach out to all of you somehow and inspire some sort of interactive discussion.
I realized that when we all got together for our SiriusXM Post-Free Agency Fantasy Football Draft. When technical difficulties prevented us from recording and people began leaving the Zoom meeting created, Lisa Ann, Jeff Mans, Brad Evans, John Hansen and I all stayed. The draft was still taking place, but the five of us still wanted – probably needed -- the social interaction a video-stream provides.
The results of the draft itself actually seemed secondary to the five of us. I don’t even know if they were even that high a priority. It was about being present with a group of friends. Yeah, that’s right – we are all friends. The Twitterverse may pit some of us against each other because we work for rival companies, but there is a resounding level of respect and admiration I have for each one of them. I believe the feelings to be mutual. We may not be gathered together every night at a coffee shop somewhere, but this group is tight in its own way and I am grateful to be a part of it.
I’m not sure how the draft experience went for those outside our group of five, but ours was fantastic. Jokes, laughter, nostalgic stories, tequila shots, CBD oil pens, a tour of Hansen’s front porch, missed picks, you name it. By the end of the two hours, I was sad to see it go. And isn’t that what playing fantasy sports is all about? Isn’t that why we started playing? We played for the camaraderie. We played to have fun. I’m not saying money doesn’t add a little fuel to the fire, but it was never the reason I started playing in the first place.
I have no idea what these next three months are going to be like. I don’t think anyone really does. But I do know that we all need to be there for each other. It doesn’t matter if your job is deemed essential or non-essential. People are essential. Being there for someone else is essential. The fantasy sports arena has provided that to me and I will do my best to pay it forward.
Stay safe and sane out there.
Oh yeah. And if you were actually looking for the results of the fantasy football draft we did, here’s the draft board. My team, of course, rules.