Man or Machine: Fantasy Football and Dehumanization of Professional Athletes

in Journal of Sport Management
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  • 1 Merrimack College
  • 2 Virginia Commonwealth University
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Fantasy sport has seen substantial growth over the last several decades, provoking research on how participation impacts the perceptions of teams and players. Following research in the field of economics, which has found that contexts promoting the assignment of economic value to humans result in dehumanization, the authors explored the dehumanization of professional athletes among fantasy football participants. Specifically, given that fantasy football requires participants to view players in terms of value in drafts, trades, and waiver claims, this should theoretically force participants to view them as commodities more so than humans. Across three implicit association test experiments and a qualitative study, the authors found fantasy football participants to be more apt to associate humanness with athletes on their fantasy roster(s) than non-fantasy-eligible athletes. Furthermore, qualitative insights indicate that participation in fantasy can serve to humanize players in a way that traditional sport consumption does not. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Larkin is with the Marketing and Sport Management Department, Girard School of Business, Merrimack College, North Andover, MA. Dwyer and Goebert are with the Center for Sport Leadership, School of Business, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA.

Larkin (larkinb@merrimack.edu) is corresponding author.
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