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A welcome home

One fantasy sports league is connecting war vets

Posted: Friday November 9, 2007 4:19PM; Updated: Friday November 9, 2007 4:19PM
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We want to believe in the happily-ever-after. That when the troops come home to the local high school band playing, families waiting, flags waving, the worst is over and they are finally free to begin tending to their lives, families and lawns. Everything that the American dream and the flag they've fought under is all about.

But pretty wives and cute kids aren't the only ones waiting for many of our service men and women when they come home. So too, are disproportionately high incidents of unemployment, divorce, and post-traumatic stress disorder are often standing behind the welcoming committee.

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That's where fantasy football comes in. Hire A Hero, a non-profit Web site that aims to help returning veterans transition back to civilian life and find quality employment, has teamed with RotoHog.com, a relatively new portal in the fantasy sports arena, to create the Military Fantasy Football League (MFFL). On Sunday, the fantasy league designed specifically for the military community will launch with draft parties scheduled at military bases and online.

While drafting LaDainian Tomlinson or trading for Peyton Manning may seem like an odd way of tackling unemployment and post-traumatic stress disorder, the underlying premise is quite conventional: It's all about connecting.

"What you're trying to do is push people to meet each other," says Dan Caulfield, founder and executive director of Hire A Hero.

According to 2005 figures supplied by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most recent available, veterans had a higher jobless rate than non-veterans (17.2 versus 10.4 percent) among men 18-24. The National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder estimates that 12 to 20 percent of vets from Iraq suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. What's key for alleviating both those ailments?

Social networks, like those found in rotisserie sports communities. While trading for a left tackle, veterans can also trade job leads and referrals. "Putting people together with a shared interest is often a great way for them to make a connection. That connection can last a lifetime," Caulfield says.

RotoHog.com's platform allows unlimited users who can be grouped according to military branch, battalion, and/or town, which means MFFL players can connect and compete with more than just 10 buddies in traditional leagues.

There is no science that says this will work, but RotoHog.com will ensure that there is at least a financial benefit to Hire A Hero. RotoHog.com says it will donate a portion of all ad revenue from MFFL to the charity, as well as 100 percent of the $10 premium statistical service fee players can register to receive the latest news, injury reports and advance scouting reports from the site.

The idea for MFFL was hatched about two months ago when a venture capitalist with RotoHog.com worked with the Hire A Hero program. He thought the social networking and job-hunting mission of Hire A Hero and the social bonds formed through fantasy sports could work in tandem. Despite the midseason start and the quick league formation, more than 500 service members and their friends or family members have registered for the league. Scott Philp, vice president for business development at RotoHog.com says that the league's goal is to register 2,000 MFFL players by Veteran's Day, and 10,000 by the season's end. The platform allows for a week-by-week play, meaning there's no penalty for starting the season in Week 10 or Week 10,000.

Jared Hansen, a Marine who completed his service earlier this spring, signed on mainly to bring back that same sense of camaraderie he had on those Sunday afternoons stationed on Parris Island, S.C., when he'd drink beer and catch the games with the fellas. Now living with his wife in Hicksville, N.Y., Hansen hopes some of the contacts he makes with other fantasy football players will help his fledgling graphic arts business.

"The last time I played I stunk terribly," he says. But this time it's about more than standings or scores, but about forming friendships. "Having that kind of outlet available to you is invaluable."

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