I’ve been thinking about my fantasy football team a lot lately. A lot. Draft strategies, player rankings, stats, injuries, line-ups, trades. These are the things that occupy my mind nowadays. Truth be told, this is my first year as a fantasy “owner” but I really want to win. So I spend hours going over stats and figures, trying to figure out if drafting running backs in the first two rounds is better than drafting a QB like Drew Brees or Aaron Rogers. Which defense do I want? And don’t even get me started on tight ends.
Players have become for me a line of numbers–all boiled down to one: “Total Fan Points”. Ultimately this is the number that determines the fate of all fantasy football owners. Then I read an article in ESPN The Magazine’s 2012 Fantasy Football Issue (August 6, 2012), an interview with Arian Foster, star running back for the Houston Texans (and hopefully future member of my fantasy team).
Foster is outspoken about his thoughts on Fantasy Football and those, like me, who participate. More precisely, Foster is a critic of fantasy owners who, like me, begin to see him and others in the NFL as just a line on a stat sheet, as just a number. Last season fantasy owners even took to twitter to criticize Foster for ruining their season after he pulled a hamstring in the preseason. In the interview with ESPN Foster says, “I don’t mind being entertainment. What bothers me is when people dehumanize their entertainers. And that’s what people don’t get”. On the blowback from his injury Foster continues, “…how could that be the first thing that pops into your head? To a kid. And that’s all we are. Who has it all figured out when they’re 24 or 25 years old?”
This article gave me a rare glimpse behind the curtain of an industry that, like film, TV and music, encourages its stars to “brand” themselves, to set themselves apart from the rest by creating a character or persona that is more than human. This is why the world will forever idolize Michael Jordan as a basketball player and will consistently forget he is also a father, a businessman, and…an actual person. Nearly 10 years after retiring, in our minds Jordan is still, even after having a family and becoming an NBA franchise owner himself, the famous ‘Jumpman’ logo. He will always be soaring, basketball in hand. He isn’t human…he’s a basketball player.
So we need these little reminders that thoughtful guys like Foster give us. We need them because people aren’t just athletes, singers, actors or socialites. Whether they grace our TV screen or, more importantly, our youth groups, we have to be the ones to recognize that the persona is just that. The students we serve have also branded themselves or are in the process of branding themselves, be they middle school, high school and even college students. But they are not their brands and they are not the sum of what they produce.
I’m probably telling you what you already know, but I needed this reminder from an unlikely source to remember it again. It is way too easy to turn kids into stats to report to the Church Council and to forget that a particular student isn’t the socially awkward guy who consistently says absolutely the wrong thing at the wrong time. These are people God has entrusted us to care for. These are people who Christ died for. Because God has created them and Christ has redeemed them we cannot see them, even the most fringe or awkward, as anything less.
Don’t get me wrong. I am still going to play fantasy football. And I still want to win. But Arian Foster, my soon to be star running back, has also forced me to reexamine myself and my motives and, by God’s grace, to continue to see the students I am blessed to know through that same lens of compassion through which Christ saw the hungry crowd in Mark 6:34 and through which I know He sees me.