BOSTON — The National Football League should stop offering fantasy sports competitions to children because the games could lead some young sports fans down the path of gambling addiction, two nonprofit groups said in letters sent to Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The two groups — the National Council on Problem Gambling and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood — said in letters Wednesday that the NFL “aggressively marketed” a fantasy sports game on “NFL Rush,” its website and smartphone app for children, as well as on SIkids.com, Sports Illustrated’s website for children, and through an elementary school curriculum based on the contest.
The weekly “NFL Rush Fantasy” games ran throughout the football season and were open to children ages 6 to 12. Each week, an Xbox One console and Madden NFL 2016 video game was awarded to the contest’s top performer.
The two contest participants with the highest number of points at the end of the 17-week promotion also won a $5,000 check — which the league called a “scholarship” — plus a four-night trip to Hawaii to attend the Jan. 31 Pro Bowl game with up to two guests.
Like typical fantasy sports contests, the games required the young players to pick teams of real life athletes in order to rack up “fantasy” points based on how well those athletes did in games.
Keith Whyte, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Council on Problem Gambling, wrote in his letter to Goodell that the contests “may encourage children to spend excessive amounts of time trying to win these prizes, thus planting the seeds of addiction.”
Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a Boston-based group that opposes child-targeted marketing, called the league’s fantasy sports-based curriculum “particularly egregious.”
“NFL Rush Fantasy—Learn, Play, Score!” was a math and language arts program that required students to sign up for the NFL’s fantasy football game in order to access lesson materials and complete assignments.
“Educators should not be called upon to assist the NFL in promoting an activity which is potentially harmful and addictive when engaged in by children,” Golin wrote to Goodell.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, in response to questions from The Associated Press, said the curriculum initiative ended after the 2014 season. He declined to provide further details.
Of concerns about the contest, McCarthy said parents had to provide consent before their children could play the games.
He also maintained that the contest, which just completed its seventh year, is more like the free, season-long fantasy sports games familiar to many Americans than the daily versions that have increasingly come under scrutiny from some policymakers as illegal sports betting operations.
“Whether or not it constitutes daily fantasy sports, there is the bigger issue that it indoctrinates young children into a potentially harmful and addictive behavior,” David Monahan, of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, responded.
In its five-page letter to Goodell, the campaign also suggested the contest’s parental consent was easy to circumvent.
The NFL asked each child to provide an email address of a parent or guardian so it could send them a form to verify their child’s age and permission to play for prizes.
McCarthy didn’t address the campaign’s concern and declined to provide details about how many children participated in the contest. Instead, he noted that parents also had the option to let their child play without a chance for a prize.