Arian Foster Retires With Little Fanfare -But Did It His Way

One of the most outspoken proponents of paying college athletes to play sports has retired from the National Football League.

In an unconvential move,  30 year-old Miami Dolphins running back Arian Foster announced his retirement in the middle of the 2016 – 2017 season.

But Foster is anything but a conventional NFL player. In fact, I would dare say Foster pushes the boundaries of what defines an athlete.

Foster grew up in New Mexico as a Muslim but was raised by his father to question everything. A way of life which led him to be an atheist – a belief that isn’t talked about much in NFL standards or for that matter even openly endorsed by stars in the league.
Outside of Foster how many NFL players have you heard of say they are atheist?

In a 2015 ESPN The Magazine article detailing Foster’s life and career, Todd Stifel, the head of Openly Secular, a group trying to end discrimination against secular people, said “he is the first active professional athlete, let alone star, to ever stand up in support of gaining respect for secular Americans.”

He’s called “a devil worshipper,” “different,” and even “wrong.” The new criticism is that “he was raised Muslim.”

Like that makes any difference.

Instead of celebrating Foster as a human or an individual – people throw stones at him for what makes him different.

Foster wondered if there is a God why does he let you lose and help me win? Why does he care about football why people are dying? In college he didn’t want to be a part of the University of Tennessee team-building exercise of going to church because he did not believe. He wasn’t let out of it because no one understood where he was coming from nor did they take the time to learn.

It’s different for him because he’s understanding what it’s like to be a someone who believes in science rather than religion. A world where he is judged based solely on the label “atheist.”

That label doesn’t go any further than his set of beliefs – at his core he’s still a human. We still should respect that he’s a human just like us.  We all have our own set of values and thoughts.

Why can’t he believe the way he does? Is it any different than a non-football player?

My favorite thing he says is something we all should aspire to, “The more empathy you have toward people and their belief system, the more productive the relationship will be. I get it. I understand why people believe.”

I may not always like what you have to say but I can respect that you feel that way. I can be open to your feelings and beliefs.

Foster challenged things in many of the same ways that Colin Kaepernick is at this very moment. Although Kaepernick is taking more heat for his much more outward yet non-violent protest.

What I found so appealing about Foster was when he talked about how he would look around while he was on the field and question how there could be so many people there to see them playing a game. It was just a game to him.  Or when he would be in a team meeting and he would feel out of place because he can’t admit to any of the coaches that missing an assignment doesn’t really matter. Does it? Not when there’s homelessness and poverty?

I remember reading the interview with Foster and thinking that he questioned many of the same things I did.

How could one be “helped” to celebrate while the other was “let” to lose?

This makes no sense.

How could a game be more important than people dying around the world?

This makes no sense.

Foster’s questions resonate within me as they are questions that I’ve asked for quite a while. In fact, I’ve been asking questions for as long as I can remember because I wanted to know as much as I could. But at some point no one could answer some of those questions.

Much like Foster that’s made me different but unlike Foster not as outspoken. Until I learned that it was okay to be me – not a label – I was uncomfortable in my skin. Maybe Foster’s questioning came from being uneasy in his own self too. Being different isn’t easy. Feeling like everything “normal” shouldn’t just be accepted is difficult when you start asking questions.

Trying to play sports and asking “why am I focusing so hard while all this happening around me,” is even more difficult. It’s very rare for athletes in their prime to come out with a statement such as this. However it’s a brutally honest statement for a deep thinker such as Foster.

As Foster retires, most football fans will tell you he won’t be in the Hall of Fame, he never won a title and was slowed by injuries. However, I can tell you he’s walking away from the game, the game isn’t walking away from him. He’s doing what he wants to do and not what someone else wants him to do. He’s questioned and asked to the point that he found the answer. His answer is in himself and now it’s time to find something new.

It’s a brave person that can question themselves and find peace while walking away from such a life. However, it takes a lot of courage to ask when we know we won’t like the answer.