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Mario Was a Fire-Breathing Vegan


The Laid-Back Wisdom of Arian Foster

What I’ve learned from a running back’s Twitter feed

@BreakTheHuddle

To play running back in the NFL is to endure car-crash level collisions 20-40 times per week. Even if he carries the ball a mere 15 times, pass-blocking duties and receiving opportunities bring more chances for the runner to receive punishment. The productive lifespan for pro halfbacks is notoriously short; the average one is out of the league in fewer than three seasons. Big contracts come only to the most supremely talented, and even then, they aren’t fully guaranteed. For the sacrifices made to their bodies, their short-term and long-term health, even the best modern-day halfbacks can only expect to make $30 – $40 million in a career – not exactly chump change, to be sure, but hardly a sum reflective of the whupping they endure.

It’s no wonder, then, that many running backs are self-serving egotists, shallow, undeniable narcissists, or naïve, yet supreme, athletes. The position is one of the least cerebral on the field – it doesn’t require the analytical skills of quarterback, the spatial reasoning of receivers, the complex management of a linebacker, or the mental toughness of a defensive back. It is the game’s most basic position: take this ball, run toward the end zone, try to avoid being tackled.

Despite these assuredly oversimplified realities, the most vibrant, intelligent guy in the league is a running back for the 4-0 Houston Texans. His story, as far as his position goes, is not unheard of. Under-utilized and unwanted during his senior year in college, undrafted when he came into the league, his unparalleled skill has made itself manifest ever since the forgettable Steve Slaton went down with an injury during the first week of the 2010 season. Evaluating talent at the running back position is extremely difficult to do, and all 32 teams missed out on Foster, who wound up signing with the Texans as a practice squad hopeful in 2009.

Anyone who participates in fantasy football knows what Arian Foster has morphed into. From those humble beginnings, he’s become a dominant fixture in the league. He’s the boogie man, one of an elite group of players who can single handedly win the week for your opponent: twice in 2011, he posted two 30+ point efforts, and five other times he topped 20 points. In 2010, those numbers were three and six, respectively. Was that confusing? I’ll put it simply – he’s a star. A superstar, beloved by fantasy football players and Texans’ fans everywhere.

Know what else? He doesn’t like fantasy football. He doesn’t like to focus much attention on himself. He’s soft-spoken, and thoughtful. He reads and writes poetry. He’s interested in new age religion. He’s a vegan. He’s the antithesis of many of today’s stars.

You may be wondering how I know all this. I don’t cover the NFL, I’ve never interviewed, met, or been around Arian Foster in any capacity whatsoever. Yet I feel 100% confident that everything I asserted in the previous paragraph is true. How?

Twitter.

Most of the people who read this blog are missing out on the best social media tool available to us. Just about everyone (including my mother) has a Facebook page; conversely, I know approximately four people personally who are active users of Twitter. I try to explain the difference between the two, how Twitter is a million, billion times better, but most people just shrug.

Fact is, Twitter is a tool, and Facebook is an idle pastime. Twitter can be used to learn interesting things about the people you are interested in, but don’t know personally. Facebook exists to learn all the mundane details about the boring people you already know. Twitter is an engine, a massive, evolving social conversation. If you’ve got a voice, if you’ve got something important to say (and you can do it in 140 characters or less), it will be heard.

Here are the things I’ve learned about Arian Foster (from Twitter, of course):

When he gets grief for being a vegan, or when he is asked, “How can a football player be a vegan?”, he has a pretty solid response, featuring a video game character:

He knows exactly how to respond to people who criticize him:

Arian occasionally gets philosophical:

and:

and:

Foster has a grasp on the English language (and a dislike for “grammar nazis”:

His taste in mid-90s television shows is impeccable:

And finally, from time to time, Arian Foster has some important advice he’d like to dispense to you:

Admittedly, there’s a fair number of people who’d consider everything above little more than psychobabble nonsense – but I’d like to take a moment to ask those folks to rethink their position. It’s rare to find self-aware, open, self-deprecating individuals in the world; I’d argue it’s even rarer to see them in the world of sports. Money, fame and success quickly changes people into brands, scared to take a side on issues, afraid to be open with the public. Here, in Arian Foster, we have an example of an elite athlete giving everyone a glimpse into his brain – relatively unfiltered – for free.

In a time where fantasy football ownership clouds the perception we have of athletes, Foster can be a breath of fresh air… if you open yourself to it. Instead of appreciating the personalities and intricacies of the people involved, too many of us look at football players as extensions of ourselves, wrapped up in our successes or failures, output generating machines rather than fellow human beings playing a game. Chuck Klosterman (who is a trillion times the writer I’ll ever be) address all this (a ka-jillion times better than I ever could) in a recent article on Grantland. In it, he says:

The moment you start looking at the lives of public figures as a hobby is the moment they stop existing as people.

Allow me to jump off my high horse for a second – I know I’m guilty of what the previous sentence accuses. However, I’m beginning to understand more and more (with the help of Twitter) that some of these guys are sentient, intelligent beings. Even if you disagree with his life philosophy, his veganism (Lord knows, I do), his taste in television – it’s refreshing to know that not every athlete is a dumb jock. A few of them deserve more attention than they get.

And perhaps our appreciation and understanding of the game, and those who play it, would be better served by recognizing that the big people wearing helmets inside our televisions every Sunday are, in fact, people. Arian Foster has quickly become one of my favorite people in the NFL.

 

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!

*The full explanation for Foster’s disdain for fantasy football can be found here:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/peter_king/08/28/preseason.week.3/index.html

*Chuck Klosterman’s piece on the dehumanizing aspects of fantasy football can be found here:

http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/8424339/fantasy-football-destroying-our-perceptions-nfl-athletes

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