National Columnist

In fans' twisted fantasy, Arian Foster isn't a real person


Arian Foster's mistake was one of naivete. That guy really thinks fans care about him as a person. Or he thought it, anyway. He probably doesn't think it anymore. He probably learned his lesson this weekend, when he grew up in a way that doesn't enhance your life, but steals from it.

Children eventually discover Santa Claus isn't real.

And professional athletes discover fans don't care about them as people.

Arian Foster discovers his true value to football fans after tweaking his hamstring over the weekend. (Getty Images)  
Arian Foster discovers his true value to football fans after tweaking his hamstring over the weekend. (Getty Images)  
Neither do sportswriters, for the record. This isn't a diatribe against soulless sports fans. It's not a diatribe against soulless sportswriters either. It's not a diatribe at all. It's merely a recap of the lesson learned this weekend by Arian Foster, a lesson that can be summed up with the final few words of his tweet heard 'round the world:

You people are sick.

Yes we are.

Look who just discovered Santa isn't coming this year?

Foster, a running back for the Houston Texans, was moved to contemplate the meaning of life after he injured his hamstring Saturday in an exhibition against the 49ers. Sports fans went nuts, gathering around the news on Twitter, holding a vigil for Arian Foster's hamstring.

Only, they weren't concerned about his actual hamstring.

They were concerned about what his hamstring meant to their fantasy football team.

And listen, as an employee of one of the finest fantasy sports providers in the business, I'm all about fantasy football. Talk about immersing yourself in the game in a whole new way. Twenty years ago we collected baseball or football cards, and that was special. Today that's nothing. Collecting cards is like playing Space Invaders on Atari. Playing fantasy football is the Xbox 360. No comparison.

So anyway, I get fantasy. And I get fantasy players' freak-out over Arian Foster's hamstring, because he is the Holy Grail of fantasy sports. A year ago Foster singlehandedly won leagues all over the country for folks who picked him up as a late-round afterthought, never dreaming he would lead the NFL with 1,616 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. But now, with fantasy teams being built around Arian Foster, he hurt his hamstring. One year after winning leagues by himself, might Arian Foster now lose them? That was the question.

And so this was the lesson learned by Foster, who was pelted on Twitter by fans wanting to know how his leg was feeling. Eventually Foster figured out their motive. That noise on Christmas Eve? It's not Santa -- it's a rat. Hence his tweet on Sunday morning:

"4 those sincerely concerned, I'm doing ok & plan 2 B back by opening day. 4 those worried abt your fantasy team, u ppl are sick"

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Twitter exploded anew. Fans can dehumanize Foster, but did you see what he said about us? Foster caught wind of that freak-out as well, and followed up his "u ppl are sick" tweet with another that drove in the nail deeper:

"I put nothing but positive thoughts and energy out on here, but look at what gets the attention. This reiterates my original point."

At some point -- and we've reached it here in this story -- this isn't about Arian Foster. It's about us and the way we look at athletes. You as fans. Me as a sportswriter. By and large, we see athletes through the same prism. They're not subhuman, no, but they're not exactly human either. Superhuman? That's not exactly it either, but it's closer. They're above the fray, incapable of feeling emotional hurt, and therefore incapable of being emotionally hurt.

And so we treat them as such. A guy like me, I get behind my laptop and pound out 1,000 words on the NFL prospects of Tim Tebow. He's a person, yes, but as I write that story he feels more like an insect -- a fascinating one, a praying mantis or something that slides right under my microscope and sits there as I dissect it.

Don't tell me Tebow might read it himself, because that would make it more difficult to dissect another player tomorrow.

Athletes as people? That's no fun. If they were people, we wouldn't send our thoughts directly to their Twitter feed, telling Jay Cutler that he is, in fact, a p---y. But since Cutler isn't a person, only a quarterback, fans sent him scores of those tweets, and burned his jersey in the parking lot, after he was knocked out of January's NFC Championship Game with a knee injury.

If athletes were people we wouldn't trash them on talk radio in their home city, where their friends and family listen. Kurt Warner's wife used to call into radio shows in St. Louis to defend her husband. Ken Griffey's agent used to call into my (short-lived) radio show in Cincinnati to defend Junior.

If athletes were real people with real reactions to real feelings, we would never boo them at their home stadium. That won't help him improve -- it'll make things worse. By the time Yankees fans were finished booing Alex Rodriguez in 2006, this all-time great was hitting eighth in the lineup. Fans got into his head and stayed there.

Athletes are people? Not at Ohio State. When ex-Buckeyes quarterback Kirk Herbstreit said this spring on ESPN that coach Jim Tressel probably would lose his job, OSU fans made life so miserable for him and his family that Herbstreit moved everyone to Tennessee.

Which is where Arian Foster played in college, now that I think about it. This past week Foster learned what Herbstreit, Cutler, Warner and most other professional athletes figure out eventually: Fans are fans. Media are media. Athletes are athletes.

And none of us is human.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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