In the few days since the Houston Texans’ Arian Foster came out as “openly secular” — becoming one of the only public atheists in pro sports — I’ve been surprised by how accepting people have generally been.
It was the most shared story on ESPN’s website for a while last week, and the discussions I’ve seen have been about 1) How people were surprised this was even a big deal, 2) How the NFL (and all sports) should be accepting of non-Christian players, 3) How religious and sports are so often intertwined.
This discussion on the ESPN show His and Hers is a great example of that:
Even right-wing publications like Brietbart had nothing really nasty to say.
Their main frustration lies with the fact that quarterback Tim Tebow received a lot of negative media attention due to his very public Christianity, while Foster’s received mostly praise for his atheism. But those two are very different. Tebow made it a point to bring up God at every opportunity — it was annoying — and his skills didn’t match up to his hype. Foster, on the other hand, was quiet about his atheism until last week, and there’s no indication he’s going to make it the only thing you ever associate with him. Being a four-time Pro Bowler certainly helps.
Outside of Twitter, the worst thing I’ve seen is Foster described as an “anti-Tebow.” While it’s meant to signify how the two are on opposite sides of the religion spectrum, I suppose you could interpret it as something more combative — as if Foster is trying to pick a fight with Christians, which he’s not doing at all.
But mostly, there’s been a general acceptance of Foster’s beliefs. Maybe that’s because coming out as atheist just isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be. Maybe it’s because Foster didn’t come out swinging as if he was the NFL’s version of Christopher Hitchens. For a pro football player to fear talking about his non-belief so publicly? It’s almost endearing in a way. He’s like a gentle giant you just want to hug.
It gives me hope that other athletes will follow in his footsteps.