FFG: Summer Sanders

Summer Sanders is known for many things – being an Olympic gold medalist swimmer may come to mind.  Or her more recent turn on Celebrity Apprentice.  But, besides her family, Summer’s biggest passion these days may very well be fantasy football.

Summer is an avid, knowledgeable fantasy player who participates in multiple leagues, both as a commissioner and an owner.  As we started our interview, I could sense her excitement over talking about the “sport” in which women are joining in droves.   Check out the entire interview for Summer’s dream fantasy team for 2010, how she plans to improve her drafting strategy, and her advice for women intimidated by fantasy.  And when you’re done, follow her on Twitter at @SummerSanders_

The Football Girl:  I’m so happy to be joined by Olympic gold medalist – and fantasy football guru – Summer Sanders. Thanks for spending a few minutes with me.

Summer Sanders:  (Laughing) Ah, my husband would love that you just called me a fantasy football guru.

TFG:  I’m sure you’ll soon prove that moniker correct.  Before we get into all the fantasy goodness, talk about all the exciting ventures on your plate.

SS:  Well, really I’ve just been busy with my kids.  My two-and-a-half year old, Spider and my four-in-a-half year old, Skye are both at dance camps right now, actually.  And I’m getting busy with football, preparing for my drafts!  In terms of the professional side, I’m involved in a non-profit called Safe Kids USA, sponsored by Johnson and Johnson where we encourage children to get involved in sports of all kinds, but make sure they are participating with all the proper safety precautions. I’m also involved with Right to Play, the charity I played for on Celebrity Apprentice that uses sports to enhance disadvantaged regions all over the world.  I was also able to do some spots with Rachael Ray recently.  And I’m now trying to get one of the morning shows to follow my all-girls fantasy football league.

TFG:  Great, well let’s move on to actual fantasy.  What prompted you to become such an avid participant?

SS:  I’ve always been a football fan.  Having grown up in the Bay Area in the 80’s, it was all 49ers. And growing up in a family where sports was such commonplace, made it even more of a football home.  Still I wouldn’t say that I was the biggest football expert or anything.  I know the rules and whatnot, but thought fantasy would just be fun and take it to the next level.

TFG:  So how many leagues are you in?

SS:  Three. The all-girls league that I’m the commissioner of and two other leagues with my husband.

TFG:  Do you find the spilt-rooting interest of being in three leagues difficult?

SS:  Not really because I made sure I wound up with much of the same roster in all my leagues last year. For example, I had MauriceJones-Drew in all my leagues, which was great since he was such a consistent scorer – my nickname for him is “Mr. Consistent.” It did get tough when my quarterback was playing my defense, though.  You just have to throw your hand in the air sometimes.

TFG:  Please talk about your all-girls league.  Are the other women as passionate as you?

SS:  Oh gosh, definitely.  I am the commissioner and we’ve had the league for three years.  When I first started I’ll admit some of the owners weren’t that active, but they’ve been replaced by a crop of women who are super into it.  I’ll tell you, my 63 year old mother is in my league and she’s hilarious because she used to pick based on loyalty.  She’s from Nebraska and you know how Nebraskans are so passionate about their football?  Well, she’d pick players simply because they played there. But she’s become wiser now.

TFG:  I’ve heard your husband is a big Bills fan – please send him my sympathies – are you now a fan by association or do you still cheer for the 49ers?

SS:  Oh no, it’s all changed.  I still like the 49ers, but when I married Erik (Olympic skier, Erik Schlopy), I knew I marrying Erik and the Bills. It really was like ‘I take thee Erik and I take thee Bills.’ That was our deal.  He became a Kings fan, because I’m from Sacramento and love the Kings, and I become a Bills fan.  It’s really fun to watch them together. We usually go to a game in Buffalo together. In fact, last year was the first we didn’t make that trip.  Obviously they haven’t done so well in recent years, but they’re the lovable underdog.

TFG:  What’s it like being in leagues with him?

SS:  Actually, we have our own teams, so generally we help each other with advice and injury tips, but when we play each other we avoid camaraderie until the games are over. It’s funny, though, because I recently enlisted Mark Schlereth to give me fantasy advice, and when I sort of bragged about that to Erik, he said ’Oh yeah, Schlereth’s helping me out too.’  Go figure.

TFG:  How do you guys watch games at home?  What’s your Sunday set-up?

SS:  Oh, we are hardcore.  We have Sunday Ticket on all day, and the RedZone channel.  Plus, we have two computers tracking all my fantasy stats. It’s awesome!

TFG:  Talk about playing in the Chris Mortensen celebrity fantasy league a couple of years ago. What was that like?

SS:  It was weird, actually.  They had us do a live draft, but then there were no interactions. No owners communicated and we weren’t allowed to make roster changes all season long. One league I was in a few years ago, actually I was the commissioner, was for the NFLPA.  It was so great because Maurice Jones-Drew and Larry Fitzgerald were two of the owners. And guess what, Maurice Jones-Drew didn’t even draft himself. I couldn’t believe it.  It was so fun playing with the guys and made me wonder how often they think of fantasy in the midst of their games.

TFG:  Allow me to play Freud for a second.  I saw on the psychological wasteland, Twitter that had a dream over whether to take Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers? So, have you decided?

SS:  That’s so tough, isn’t it?  Obviously you can’t go wrong with either, but if I was picking one, it would have to be Brees.  He has all those weapons, and I’m a big believer in chemistry and Drew clearly has it with his receivers. Look how quickly they put points on the board last year.

TFG:  So Brees is your dream QB.  Who else is on your dream team, you know, in our fantasy land where only you get to draft.

SS:  Yes, while the other owners are asleep I’m taking Brees, both Johnsons, Andre and Calvin, Maurice-Jones Drew, Ray Rice. How’s that so far?

TFG:  Um, awesome.

SS:  And how about Antonio Gates as my tight end and Rob Bironas.  I always like Bironas since he’s accurate and the Titans have to settle for a lot of field goal attempts.

TFG:  That’s a pretty sick team.  I’m sure that’s the roster you’ll wind up with.  So you really have proven yourself to be a “fantasy guru.” How would you improve your fantasy skills?

SS:  Number one, I’ve never won before. I always lose in the first round of the playoffs, so I don’t even make my money back.  I think I might draft a tight end too late.  I’m always dropping and adding new tight ends during the season, but I never get one of the premier guys.  I also tend to have my running backs and quarterback before my wide receivers, so I get stuck with the 10th or 11th best wide receiver left.

TFG:  Sounds like you’re a fantasy troubleshooter.  In closing, what would you say to women and other fans who want to participate in fantasy but find it intimidating?

SS:  I would tell them that not to be intimated because it’s really almost all about luck. I mean, so much is uncontrollable.  Look at Tom Brady a few years ago having the monster season and then getting injured in the first game of the season. No expert could have predicted that.  As long as you participate and set your lineups, you’ll be fun.  And you really should play because it’s so much fun!

TFG:  Thanks for the time, Summer.  Good luck this season and we’ll be checking in on your teams.

SS:  Definitely. Would love to talk fantasy again.  Thanks for what your site is doing, and thanks for having me on.