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Doug Wolter: JuJu reminds us, it's OK to be a video games geek

I can remember back to my high school days, back to the 1970s when it was a major insult to be called a geek. So we tried to be tough. We went around hitting each other on the forearm muscle so we could watch the bump form, and it was considered manly fun.

We didn’t have video games back then, which is probably good. Without that distraction, I was able to graduate on time.

Today, of course, it’s OK to be a geek. And if you’ve developed a strong attachment to video games, you probably are one.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is one, indeed. He is an outstanding wide receiver who plays for the very manly Pittsburgh Steelers, but he’s also an avowed video game junkie. He spends his free time playing “Call of Duty” and other shoot-em-up stuff, and he has no intention of limiting himself and choosing, instead, to get enough sleep so that he’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the next day’s Steelers practice.

I used to be slightly amazed at so many professional athletes losing themselves in the fantasy of video game frenzy, but I probably should have taken it in stride. I used to think that grown men who play professional football for real shouldn’t be Madden NFL Football video addicts -- that their real-life on-field exploits should be enough of an adrenaline rush.

But these days, being a geek is cool. There are a lot of pro athlete geeks who, like Schuster, admit it freely. In fact, he was recently asked if his coaches ever complained about his gaming habits, to which he replied:

“They know I play video games all night. It’s what I do.”

There may, of course, be a few Steelers fans who’d like to see him tone it down on those off days where he drops a pass. But what the heck?

I saw a story the other day about a Madden ratings adjuster who attends NFL games and gets a lot of attention from the players. The players complain about the ratings applied to them by the video game. If they’re given an 87 out of 100 for their “awareness,” they complain. “I should get a 96, at least,” they might say.

You’d be surprised to know how many NFL players obsess on Madden football in their free time.

It only goes to show that in 2018, fantasy trumps reality. How many of you, for instance, have learned not to obsess so much on whether your NFL team wins or loses? But if you lose your fantasy game because your star running back gets hurt in the second quarter, you’re furious.

My long-suffering wife knows that I, too, am a video game geek. I waste a lot of free time playing computer-simulated football and baseball games, and I have learned to rationalize that decision even if Sandy might be struggling with it. The way I figure it, it makes no less sense than sitting in front of the television watching who-knows-what inane drivel.

The completely fictional teams and players I’ve created have become almost as real to me as the real-life pros I watch on TV. And because I can edit their ratings myself, I can make them perform pretty much to my liking.

For instance, if I give my quarterback an accuracy rating of 95 out of a hundred and a per-pass average yardage number of 9.86, he’s very likely to have a good year.

It’s good fun. And it keeps me from throwing my remote at the TV set every time my favorite NFL quarterback, on my favorite NFL team, throws an interception with two minutes remaining in a 21-21 game.

I’m not going to tell you which team I’m describing here. If you knew, you’d understand.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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