Joc Pederson-Tommy Pham Fantasy Football Beef is a concern

Objectively, the funniest moment of the 2022 MLB season was when San Francisco Giants outfielder Joc Pederson said, while sharing a relevant backstory to reporters, “He kind of came up and said, ‘Remember last year? ‘ and I said, ‘Fantasy football?’ and he said ‘yes’.”

The “he” in question is Cincinnati Reds outfielder Tommy Pham. The context is Pham Pederson literally punched Pederson in the face before a game on Friday night, in front of other players and apparently at least one camera. During a subsequent rain delay, Pham was dropped from the lineup and reports surfaced attributing the animosity to a joint fantasy football league.

After the game, Pederson confirmed this bizarre report and went on provide more detail than any athlete has willingly revealed. In a group chat for a fantasy football league populated by MLB players, Pham had accused Pederson of cheating by “hiding” an injured player on his bench. Screenshots of the rules have been swapped. Since then there has been no contact outside of the group chat. On Saturday, Pham did not dispute the version of events in which he physically approached another player over a fantasy football dispute, but added that Pederson also belittled the San Diego Padres, who Pham was playing for at the time. MLB issued a three-game suspension and a “misconduct” fine, which Pham accepted without appeal. Reading from the text exchange and showing reporters the exact meme used to mock the Padres’ fights last season.

And seriously – while I’ll turn out to be a humorless rant – I can’t recommend these postgame Pederson videos enough for sheer entertainment value.

The whole scandal is undeniably ridiculous. But – but — in Pham’s utter lack of denial was an explanation that’s hard to ignore.

“We had too much money at stake, so I see it like there’s a code,” he said. “You fuck with my money then you say some disrespectful S-; there’s a code for that.”

money is not funny Maybe it’s related to fantastically wealthy pro athletes squabbling over old fantasy football beef; but unfortunately it is not far-fetched to imagine financially motivated violence. This is the plot of many films and much of human history as well.

And that’s the thing about sports betting – it’s all fun and games until someone loses too much money. For Pederson it may have been mostly recreation. But to Pham – who called himself “a big dog in Vegas” and “a high roller in many casinos” – the economics and ego of winning bets were clearly part of it.

Last summer, Sports Illustrated dedicated an issue of the magazine to the many implications of legalized sports betting. One article specifically looked at the new type of vitriol that players could be exposed to once their actions impact fans’ finances.

“When money is involved, there’s always going to be trouble,” said Green Bay Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. “Imagine losing $5,000 and having the opportunity to throw something at me.”

He was responding to the digital hate mail that had been pouring in in response to how his performance on the pitch was affecting the fantasy landscape. The remainder of the article details concerns about player safety amid the booming sports betting business following the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision to overturn a federal ban on state-sanctioned gambling. Experts recommend digital sportsbooks invest in anti-gambling organizations, as they do in countries where the practice has long been legal — and that leagues invest in more security.

The relationship between betting and baseball seems destined to go in only one direction now that teams and leagues can legally join a multi-billion-dollar-a-month industry. Along with incessant in-game commercials and eyebrow-raising endorsements, there was much hand-wringing about the game’s integrity and some nonsensical accusations of hypocrisy from Pete Rose. This discussion of betting on baseball is reminiscent of Rose and the Black Sox, which makes sense, but there doesn’t have to be a cheating scandal to gamble on games to get ugly. The money that is definitely at stake goes a long way towards raising the stakes. And someone always loses.

Tommy Pham has been banned for three games after beating Joc Pederson over a fantasy football disagreement.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

Tommy Pham has been banned for three games after beating Joc Pederson over a fantasy football disagreement. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

Admittedly, the Pederson-Pham kerfuffle is an imperfect illustration of this particularly unsavory side of sports betting. Fantasy sports were legal before the 2018 ruling, Pham isn’t a disgruntled fan, and his frustration wasn’t directed at Pederson’s own athletic performance. And besides, there’s no need to rely on reach: a year ago, a successful young player was sentenced to 36 months probation for sending threats to hundreds of athletes and their families. Several Tampa Bay Rays players received messages that included, “I’m going to cut your throat, pathetic [expletive]’ and ‘I’m going to kill your whole family.’

The Pham swatter seems inherently silly because it’s taken from a game, a silly overreaction to the kind of pastime you take all too seriously as a comedic bit of sorts. Except, of course, this whole thing is a game. It’s the money that makes it serious, losing a lot makes people angry no matter the method. The “fantasy” football player – and the injured one he replaced – that Pham and Pederson clashed over is a true athlete, just like them.

“Violence is not the answer,” as Pederson said, and harassing players is always wrong. But it’s not hard to see what’s to come as audiences are encouraged to intertwine more and more of their limited resources with sports results. In-game betting numbers to monetize each at-bat, allowing small otherwise inconsequential aspects of a game to carry life-changing stakes for anonymous observers. It’s a full melting pot.

It’s okay to laugh at the obviously absurd manifestation as it plays out like real-time oral history. But keep in mind that “We had too much money at stake” looks a lot more ominous without context.

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