Arian Foster doesn’t believe in God. And an ESPN The Magazine feature story titled “The Confession of Arian Foster” is framed as the Houston Texans Pro Bowl running back’s coming out as an atheist.
Raised Muslim by a well-read and freethinking father, Foster was encouraged to “go find his truth,” and what he settled on was atheism. His exploration of the Bible, the Quran, and other religious books left him empty. He maintained his unbelief in a sport, the article argues, inextricably linked to Christianity: during pre- and post-game prayers in high school, in the heart of the Bible belt at the University of Tennessee, and while playing in overwhelmingly churched Houston. Foster is portrayed as articulate, thoughtful, independent, and offbeat in a “conservative and image-obsessed” league.
. . .
ESPN devoted countless hours to covering Christian football poster boy Tim Tebow. Could it re-create that fervor, or at least imitate it with an atheist version? Could there be two sides to the religious coin (and the viewers it garners)?
The answer is no. ESPN misunderstood both the entertainment value and the religious distinctives.
Religion is not, in fact, a football characteristic . . . Teammates don’t care, so there’s no conflict on which to report. Coaches don’t care. Even the media hasn’t concerned itself with unbelievers, until now. What somebody doesn’t believe is a non-story. What fans want to know is whether Foster will recover from his groin injury in time to help their fantasy team, or whether Houston has any shot at the playoffs this year. (The answer to both is “probably not.”)
We shouldn’t expect a sports and entertainment company like ESPN to understand the particulars of Christianity . . . While some atheists see unbelief as a cause, for most it’s simply a vacuum—it’s nothing. For Christians, though, there’s an uncommon familial bond. Our faith is the antitheses of a nothing—it’s our everything.
. . .
No matter how good a media outlet is—and ESPN is excellent—it cannot create a story where one doesn’t exist. A dozen excellent articles could have been written about Arian Foster. He is smart, interesting, and a great football player, after all. But he cannot be made into the atheist Tebow. Nobody can. It just won’t work.
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