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The Fantasy Doctor

To tap the burgeoning fantasy football market, HCA offers injury updates on players – by an actual doctor.

Dr. Douglas Cutter
Dr. Douglas Cutter, director of sports medicine for Chippenham and Johnston-Willis hospitals, watches the Washington Redskins practice in Richmond in 2014.
By Jim McConnell

Since the dawn of the digital age, it has been all but impossible to whet devoted fantasy football players’ appetite for information.

We all know the type. They’re glued to their laptops from the moment National Football League training camps open in July, poring over seemingly innocuous data with the dogged determination of a CIA analyst tracking a terror cell, searching desperately for even the slightest draft day advantage. 

Once the NFL season kicks off in early September, they can’t go anywhere on Sunday without a mobile device to track their fantasy players’ all-too-real statistics. Travis Miller, a 10-year fantasy football veteran, once found himself playing in four different leagues during the same season. Only after one particularly agonizing Sunday, when one of his teams won and another lost based on the outcome of the same last-second touchdown pass, did he realize that he needed to scale back his commitment before it drove him bonkers.

“It can be rather addictive,” acknowledges Miller, who still belongs to two fantasy football leagues.

A billion-dollar industry has sprung up to feed that jones. Companies such as Yahoo, ESPN, CBS Sports, and even the NFL itself, have created online platforms to manage thousands of fantasy football leagues across the U.S. and track fantasy statistics in real time whenever an NFL game is being contested. The investment in technology is significant but justified by the Web traffic fantasy football players generate; an official with ESPN noted last year that the company’s fantasy sports division accounted for nearly 20 percent of ESPN.com’s 90 million unique visitors each month.

Now a local company is getting into the game. HCA Virginia Sports Medicine has launched an online fantasy football reference guide to help participants stay current on NFL injury news and gain a deeper understanding of how certain injuries are likely to affect the short- and long-term performances of their fantasy players.

The website contains more than 75 minutes of exclusive video content from Dr. Douglas Cutter, director of sports medicine for Chippenham and Johnston-Willis hospitals. In the videos, Cutter offers a physician’s insight into more than 50 of the injuries most commonly incurred by NFL players throughout a season. The website also includes a portal through which anyone can directly pose questions to HCA medical staff, receiving personalized and specific commentary in return.

“We know fantasy players are data geeks and want every piece of information they can get their hands on,” says Margo Catalano, director of marketing for HCA’s capital division, who came up with the idea to produce an online fantasy football resource.

As an avid fantasy football participant herself, Catalano understands the gravity with which many of her counterparts consider whether to keep a certain player on the roster or drop him following a significant injury.  “These are serious decisions,” she adds. “It sounds funny to say that, but people take it very seriously. We want them to be able to get their medical information from a trusted source.”

When it comes to disseminating information about their own players’ injuries, NFL teams have proven to be far less than trustworthy. New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, the hoodie-wearing Obi-Wan of obfuscation, has been known to include half of his 53-man active roster on the weekly injury report all teams must submit to NFL headquarters. That way, the opposing team’s coaching staff won’t have any way of knowing which of Belichick’s players are injured enough to miss the upcoming game.

But while the Patriots may be the NFL’s most infamous rule-bending franchise – the reigning Super Bowl champions were fined $1 million earlier this year after a team employee allegedly tampered with footballs prior to a January playoff game – Belichick is hardly alone in his desire to control the flow of information in a billion-dollar enterprise where the margin between winning and losing is often one play.

“As much as fantasy football is taking off, NFL teams don’t give a rip about that. They’re trying to win games, and they’re going to give their opponents as little information as possible within the rules,” Miller says. “The great thing about [the HCA website] is that the information comes right from a doctor.”

Could injury insight from one of Richmond’s most respected sports medicine physicians be the difference between winning your fantasy football league championship and failing to qualify for the playoffs? Consider the case of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
An intriguing rookie out of LSU, Beckham was a favorite “sleeper” pick by thousands of fantasy owners last season because of his freakish combination of size and speed. Many dropped Beckham after a strained hamstring caused him to miss the Giants’ first four games, only to watch in horror as he racked up monster stats (91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns) for their fantasy rivals. 

This year’s most high-profile injury belongs to the Houston Texans’ Arian Foster, a star running back who would’ve been a first-round pick in most fantasy drafts before he suffered a groin injury early in training camp. The Texans’ initial estimate was that he’d be sidelined for eight weeks, but for fantasy owners, drafting Foster came with the significant risk that they could hold a valuable roster spot for him until he’s healthy, only to see him aggravate the injury and miss even more time.

“The average fantasy owner just hears that their player is injured and might not know the difference between a strain or a sprain,” says Mike “The Fantasy Hitman” Wright, who along with two friends operates the popular The Fantasy Footballers website and podcast. “If you have someone who understands what the terms mean and can help you expect how long a player might be out of action, that’s a big advantage.”

Wright says the field of “injury expertise” is one of the few segments of the fantasy football industry that hasn’t yet become saturated. “If someone could really separate themselves as the go-to source and figure out a way to monetize that information, it could be very lucrative,” he adds.

Catalano insists that’s not why HCA launched its online fantasy football guide. “One of the things we often struggle with in health care is that people rarely seek out our services when they’re healthy,” she says. “This gives us an opportunity to reach an audience with information that’s interesting to them.”

© 2017 Chesterfield Observer