Donald Rumsfeld’s Advice For Your Fantasy Football Team June 5, 2013  |  C.D. Carter

Accepting fantasy football for what it is, rather than what we want it to be, is perhaps the most important – and most gut wrenching – aspect of a winner’s mindset.

It’s when we demand that the game bend to our every whim and wish, our every demand and protest, that we adopt fear-based decision making that might offer some short-term success, but cannot and will not lead to winning over the long haul.

Accept fake football for what it is, a game subject to the machinations of luck, rather than what you want it to be – a malleable game in which the best lineup wins, every week, every season.

No one, strangely enough, can teach this lesson better than former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who waxed poetic about two phenomena we should become familiar with: “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns.”

I’m as guilty as any fake footballer in refusing to accept the game as it is. That’s why I wrote “How To Think Like a Fantasy Football Winner,” which, I hope, helps my fellow fantasy degenerates better deal with the psychological part of our stupid little game. It’s so often an overlooked piece of our game, and yet, without understanding how to think about fantasy football, all of our ungodly amount of preparation isn’t useless, but it’s close.

“How To Think Like a Fantasy Football Winner,” available for $3.99

Rumsfeld’s circular words of wisdom acknowledge a plain and hideous truth about fantasy football, or any game in which luck is involved: we know there are things we cannot predict. We hate this truth, but that makes it no less true.

“As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know,” Rumsfeld said during a February 2002 Defense Department briefing in a valiant attempt to explain away the absence of evidence linking Iraq’s government to the development and planned use of weapons of mass destruction. “We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” What are our weekly “known knowns,” as Rumsfeld put it? Well, we know we know the starting lineups, the weather forecast, and general trends of teams and players headed into the day’s contest. We know what players and coaches said about the weekly game plan. That’s about it. Now for our “known unknowns”: we think we might know a team’s offensive game plan headed into a Sunday afternoon. Local newspapers and national media outlets might report a new wrinkle in the previous week’s practices. Sometimes a head coach makes it easy on us and vows to force feed the ball to an underused player. We know we don’t know exactly how that player might be used. We’re aware, in other words, of our own ignorance.

With “How To Think,” I hoped to open minds to the realization that with intense preparation and avoidance of fear-based decisions that ruin so many good teams every year, we can achieve long-term results, despite the short-term hiccups, which – as you know – might include a mind-numbing championship loss now and then.

You can’t establish a winner’s mindset until you understand and accept that the best poker hands – and the best, seemingly unbeatable fantasy lineups – will lose. That keeper league team with three top-15 running backs? That team will lose. It might lose quite a bit. … Knowing that you’re going to lose, even after making the right decisions, is the essence of understanding that fantasy football is an uncontrollable game. ACLs will tear. Balls will take inexplicable bounces. Kicks will hit the upright, guys will fumble at the one-yard line, and lopsided scores will put fantasy studs on their team’s bench as coaches show their disdain for your fantasy team. … It doesn’t sound fair, does it? Well, it’s not.”


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