Freedman: The Labyrinthian Returns in the Coronavirus Era

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Claudia Beretta/Archivio Claudia Beretta/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images. Pictured: Villa Lante at Bagnaia

Mar 14, 2020, 08:08 PM EDT

Years ago, about three times per week, I used to write a piece called The Labyrinthian. As the name suggests, the article was usually more of a winding walk than a purposeful exercise.

Essentially, it was a series dedicated to exploring random fields of knowledge in order to give unordinary theoretical, philosophical and strategic guidance on daily fantasy sports at first and then eventually sports betting and ultimately life.

To me, there’s really not much of a difference between DFS, sports betting and life. They’re all avenues of investment. The methods that work for one will probably work for the others.

Right now, almost every major sporting event in the United States has been canceled or optimistically postponed because of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

So now seems like as good of a time as any to bring back the Labyrinthian and take the opportunity to reflect on life and just maybe what it can teach us about DFS and sports betting.

The Importance of Reading

I used to be an avid reader. After college, I went to graduate school in English essentially because I wanted to read more books.

But over the past couple of years I haven’t been able to read on a regular basis. Or maybe I haven’t forced myself to make it a priority. Either way, nowadays I always feel as if I am behind on my reading.

There’s a scene in Season 2 of The Good Place in which Michael (Ted Danson) is told he will be eternally tortured via a stack of New Yorker magazines: No matter how many of them he reads, the stack will never get any smaller, because they will just keep on coming.

I have a stack of New Yorkers.

But now that we no longer have daily sports events to cover, I might just be able to get through some of the magazines and a few books as well.

I believe that reading is incredibly important, and there’s one book in particular I’m very happy I’ve had time to peruse over the past couple of days.

Some Words About My Wife

Maybe the most popular Labyrinthian I’ve written was about how I knew my wife was the one: She told me her favorite movie was Annie Hall, followed by The Lord of the Ring and The Godfather trilogies.

That was it. I was all in.

We weren’t even dating yet, but I knew she was the one.

Life is not unlike dynasty fantasy football: It’s all about finding the player who completes your roster for the long term.

For me, that’s my wife.

If I screw up everything else in my life, I’ll be OK as long as I don’t screw up my relationship with my wife.

She encouraged me to pursue fantasy sports writing. (In fact, I’ve just realized that it was exactly seven years ago today that I submitted my first fantasy piece — an outright banger on wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.)

With the coronavirus spreading and quarantine precautions intensifying, I think it’s important to remember what we have to be thankful for.

I’m incredibly thankful that I got an opportunity at RotoViz years ago to publish content and grow there as a writer and podcaster.

I’m thankful that my wife supported me as I devoted an incredible amount of time into a hobby that amazingly has turned into a career.

And right now I’m especially thankful that I have time to celebrate her by reading her first book: Reading Testimony, Witnessing Trauma.

Reading Testimony, Witnessing Trauma

My wife is a professor of English, and her area of specialty is American Literature, specifically that which touches on trauma, race, gender and/or violence.

And if you think about the great American books, almost all of them have something to do with trauma, race, gender and/or violence.

Not to brag too much, but what’s amazing about her research is that she has mapped out a theory for how people respond to trauma and traumatized people in general and in literature in particular.

And although she confines this theory to literature, I think it’s particularly applicable to our present-day situation with the coronavirus and to life in general.

In application, her theory isn’t just about how to read or react to trauma in literature. It’s really about how to interact with people, perceive the world and make informed decisions.

When confronted with traumatic narratives, people tend to react in at least one of seven different ways, whether they’re reading about it on Twitter or in a book or hearing about it through conversation with a friend.

Blame the traumatized person: Let’s say you hear about a guy who was mugged in the early hours of the morning after leaving a bar, where he had spent much of the evening drinking.

If you immediately think something like, “Well, he shouldn’t have been drunk and out that late,” then to some degree you’re assigning some blame for what happened to the victim.

And even if you are right to see how the victim’s actions created the circumstances in which he was mugged, it’s probably not best to have this accusatory perspective as your first reaction.

Act like a voyeur: If you’ve ever watched reality TV and taken delight in seeing someone melt down, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Ignore the trauma: This is a really common response. It’s human nature to try to shut out everything that’s bad in the world so that we can focus on the good and be productive people.

Of course, whenever the status quo is bad for some people but those who are unaffected choose to ignore the situation, that enables the problems to persist.

Negate the narrative: This response is also pretty common. Instead of ignoring the traumatic narrative, some people will outright deny it so that they don’t need to deal with it.

They’ll say something like, “It didn’t happen that way,” or “I doubt that’s the whole story,” or — to highlight an extreme instance of this — “The Holocaust never happened.”

Of all the ways someone can respond to another’s story of trauma, this one strikes me as the worst.

Overempathize with the victim: Imagine hearing from a friend that his identity has been stolen. He has lost his entire life savings and now has a mountain of debt. He is depressed and can’t see a way out of the darkness. He is afraid he might harm himself.

Now imagine saying to him, “Man, I know exactly how you feel. I once lost my wallet. It was a pain to get a new driver’s license and new credit cards.”

Yeah, don’t do that. Don’t imagine that just because you have experienced something sort of similar you can totally understand how others feel about the traumas they carry.   

Co-opt the story: This is the classic move of a politician. It’s not unusual at all to hear something like this in a campaign speech: “Yesterday, I met a single mother of four who works three jobs just to make ends meet, and she’s had such a hard life — she used to be in an abusive relationship — and now she’s out there struggling, and there are lots of people struggling, and it’s for her and all those people that I want to be President of the United States.”

Using someone else’s traumatic story for your own personal gain: At best, it’s unfeeling. At worst, it’s downright horrible.

Respond like a perfect human: It’s hard to know how to respond to people in the world, especially when their vulnerabilities are exposed.

But as long as you don’t …

  • Blame the traumatized person
  • Act like a voyeur
  • Ignore the trauma
  • Negate the narrative
  • Overempathize with the victim
  • Co-opt the story

… then you’re probably doing alright, or as well as any human can.

Whether it’s reading a book or talking to a person, whether it’s a traumatic story or just general information, if we respond to what we take in with openness, willingness and humility, we will be better observers. Better people.

We will probably help to make the world better for ourselves and others.

And eventually, with a transformed way of viewing the world, we might be better — more nuanced, more fulfilled — sports bettors and fantasy sports players.

How to Live in the Era of the Coronavirus

Whether you’re reading, betting, investing, thinking or talking with someone, it’s all basically the same.

Even though some circumstances are beyond your control, ultimately your perspective will dictate how much success and happiness you have.

I believe that thinking about how we interact with people can have numerous long-tailed benefits, especially now in the era of the coronavirus and the pandemic.

If we each evaluate the ways in which we can be better at responding to and treating people, that interrogatory process might lead to improvements in other areas of our lives, some of which might be unexpected.

It also might give us all a better chance to survive.


Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs, part of The Action Network. Previous installments of The Labyrinthian can be accessed via his FantasyLabs author page.

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