Joc Pederson and Tommy Pham’s fantasy football beef is hilarious – and a reminder sports betting isn’t just fun and games

Objectively speaking, the funniest moment of the 2022 MLB season was when San Francisco Giants outfielder Joc Pederson said, telling a relevant story to reporters, “He kind of came in and said “Do you remember last year? and I said, ‘Fantasy football?’ and he said ‘Yeah.’

The “he” in question is Cincinnati Reds outfielder Tommy Pham. The background is that Pham literally slapped Pederson in the face on the field before a game on Friday night, in full view of the other players and, apparently, at least one camera. During an ensuing rain delay, Pham was scratched from the lineup and reports began to emerge tracing the animosity to a shared fantasy football league.

After the match, Pederson confirmed this bizarre report and proceeded to offer more details than any athlete has voluntarily disclosed. In a group chat for a fantasy football league populated by MLB players, Pham had accused Pederson of cheating by “stacking” an injured player on his bench. Screenshots of the rules have been exchanged. There has been no contact outside of group chat since. On Saturday, Pham did not dispute the version of events in which he physically accosted another player in a fantasy football argument, but added that Pederson also disparaged the San Diego Padres, for whom Pham played. at the time. MLB issued a three-game suspension and a fine for “inappropriate conduct”, which Pham accepted without appeal. Pederson, determined to give people even more of what they didn’t know they wanted, dug deeper into the story, read from the text exchange and show reporters the exact meme used to poke fun at the Padres’ struggles last season.

And seriously — though I’m about to come off as a humorless rebuke — I can’t recommend these Pederson post-game videos highly enough for pure entertainment value.

The whole scandal is unquestionably ridiculous. But – but — in Pham’s complete lack of denial was a hard explanation to ignore.

“We had too much money at stake, so I consider there is a code,” he said. “You don’t care about my money, so you’re going to say some disrespectful bullshit; ; there’s a code to that.”

Money is no fun. Maybe it’s against the backdrop of incredibly wealthy professional athletes bickering over some old fantasy football jam; but unfortunately, it is not outrageous to imagine violence motivated by money. It is the plot of many films and also of much of human history.

And that’s the thing with sports gambling – it’s all fun and games until someone might lose too much money. It may have been largely recreational for Pederson. But for Pham – who called himself “a big dog in Vegas” and “a high roller in many casinos” – the economics and ego of successful bets were clearly part of it.

Last summer, Sports Illustrated devoted an issue of the magazine to the many ramifications of legalized sports betting. One piece in particular considered the new type of vitriolic players that could be exposed to once their actions begin to impact fans’ finances.

“When you have money at stake, there’s always going to be anger,” Green Bay Packers catcher Marquez Valdes-Scantling said. “Imagine losing $5,000 and having the access to throw something at me.”

He was reacting to digital hate mail received in response to how his performance on the pitch affected the fantasy landscape. The rest of the article details concerns about player safety amid the sports betting boom following the 2018 Supreme Court decision to strike down a federal ban on state-sanctioned gambling. . Experts recommend that digital sportsbooks invest in anti-gambling organizations, as they do in countries where the practice has long been legal – and that leagues invest in increased security.

The relationship between betting and baseball seems destined to go in one direction now that teams and leagues can legally affiliate with a multi-billion dollar monthly industry. In addition to the incessant in-game advertisements and eyebrow-raising endorsements, there have been a lot of hand twists on the integrity of the game and some nonsensical accusations of Pete Rose’s hypocrisy. This discussion of baseball betting bringing up references to Rose and the Black Sox makes sense, but there doesn’t have to be a cheating scandal for betting on games to get lousy. The money that is by definition at stake does a lot to raise the stakes. And someone always loses.

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

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

Pham’s slap seems inherently silly because it stems from a game, a buffoonish overreaction to the kind of pastime you take all too seriously as some sort of comedic piece. Except this whole thing is a game, of course. It’s the money that makes it serious, losing a lot drives people crazy, no matter the method. The “fantastic” football player – and the injured one he replaced – for whom Pham and Pederson went head-to-head 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 the public is encouraged to tie more and more of their limited funds to sporting outcomes. In-play betting helps monetize every at-bat, allowing small, otherwise inconsequential aspects of a game to carry life-changing stakes for anonymous observers. It’s a heavy crucible.

It’s okay to laugh at the blatantly absurd protest as it unfolds like a real-time oral history. But consider how, in the absence of any context, “We had too much money at stake” seems far more ominous.

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