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September 23, 2003|Larry Stewart

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, heard, observed, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here. One exception: No products will be endorsed.

What: "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel."

Where: HBO, tonight, 10.

Frank Deford, in the lead segment of tonight's "Real Sports," quotes a critic saying, "In the minds of many, fantasy football players are dweebs, nerds, shower-loathing, Star-Trek-convention-going recluses who sit about two notches above the Unabomber on the great chain of social being."

The concept of the fantasy football league has been around for decades, but it wasn't until the mid-1990s, when major Internet sites began sponsoring leagues, that their popularity erupted. Now about 12 million people participate.

For his report, Deford attended the second "World Championship of Fantasy Football" convention in Las Vegas in September.

But Deford's report goes beyond profiling the "geeks" who participate in fantasy football. It also looks at how fantasy football is affecting businesses in general and what is being done about it.

According to the report, the Zix Corp. in Boston has designed software to help bosses ensure that their employees do not spend all day on the Web reviewing their fantasy league action.

Says Steve Irons of Zix: "We have the ability with Web Inspector to identify every click of the mouse [to see] where they go and more importantly how much time they spend on fantasy football.

"It is getting worse. From my standpoint in the industry, they will be blocking this category very soon."

Writer Daniel Okrent is considered one of the original founders of the fantasy sports craze. So how does he feel about his creation?

"Now I know how J. Robert Oppenheimer felt having invented the atomic bomb," Okrent says. "You know, really kind of morally mixed, I think."

-- Larry Stewart

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