Friday, October 10, 2014

One of America's Best Football Players is an Atheist

Recently I got an opportunity to meet, rather by accident, an outstanding college football player. After chatting for several days he told me he secretly confided he was an atheist. I, personally, am slightly less interested in the discussion about what someone believes and more interested in the discussion on why they believe it, how does that fit into American culture, what are some of the things you've experienced as a result? For me, that's the interesting part of the discussion.

He agreed to grant me an anonymous interview.


Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. So the reader is aware, you have asked to remain anonymous, and also for the school you play for to remain anonymous. But the reader should know that not only do you play for a major program, as in a program that's at least in the national title discussion each year, but you also are a starter for this football team. Is that correct?
(A) - Yes, I am a starter at the D1 level.

And I'm not trying to embarrass you or anything, but as I understand it you're also up for a college football award this year! I only mention that because I think it's important for people to know that you're one of the best players in the country, not just an anonymous atheist on some small-town division III team. Are you comfortable conceding that you're one of the best college football players in the country?
(A) -  I am not sure that saying I am one of the best football players in the country is the right way to put it. However, at my position, I feel like I am competitive and can compete with anyone at my position.

All right, well to business. First, I want to ask you some general questions about football and then I'd like to chat about your beliefs and how that fits into football culture. And finally I gathered a few questions from Twitter if you have time for those.

First thing I'd like to ask is kind of a selfish question. I'm a college football fan and I have been my whole life. What's playing college football like?
(A) - Playing college football is by far the most exciting and exhilarating experience that I have been apart of.  There is nothing like being able to compete in front of a national audience and do something you love at such a high level.

What's the biggest difference between college football and high school?
(A) - The biggest difference between high school and college football is probably the workload. My whole life in college revolves around football, including my schoolwork; I have devoted basically my whole life to succeed in football. In high school, and there isn’t that level of work. Being on a national stage is also a huge difference. In college, everything you do, on and off the field, is being watched and monitored.

I'm sure you're a bit of a celebrity around campus. How does it feel being recognized by everyone, everywhere you go?
(A) - I definitely am not recognized by everyone around campus, sure there are some people who recognize me, but its not as much as everyone thinks. I am still generally new to it, so I think its kind of cool.

Ok, now in regards to your atheism I think this is the most poignant question I can ask. Why did you request for your identity and your team's identity to remain anonymous?
(A) - I requested my identity to be anonymous because the sad truth is that I cannot share it with the public on the stage that I am on. If I were to publically “come out” as an atheist, fans and the media would have frenzy. The idea of atheism in the south is a taboo in itself, and we as student athletes are not supposed to bring attention to ourselves through anything other than football.

Have you always been an atheist?
(A) - I grew up in a small Christian school in the south and had been a “Christian” growing up. I put the quotes over Christian because growing up in a Christian school, that was the only thing I was taught, I wasn’t ever given a choice at a young age on what to believe, I was, in a way, indoctrinated into thinking that Christianity was the only viewpoint had by everyone in the world. When my biology teacher told me that evolution was a hoax and that there was absolutely no evidence for it, I started to question why virtually every scientist in the world accepted it as a fact. I started to do research and realized that evolution wasn’t a hoax and that it was obviously a real thing and that there is overwhelming evidence for it. After that point, throughout my high school career, I started drawing more and more away from Christianity as I started to question more and more.

A lot of college football programs, players, and coaches are deeply and openly religious. Everyone is well aware of people like Tim Tebow, for example. Also even some programs have been in the news recently about their religious culture and even caught some grief over it. Does a coach or player being outspoken about their faith to the media create any awkwardness for non-Christians associated with the program?
(A) - There really isn’t any awkwardness with any of my teammates; most of them realize that I have reasons why I am not Christian.  Honestly, football is usually the biggest topic of discussion among football players, so I do not talk about it much with them.

It's my understanding that you're not "out" to your team, but they're aware you don't participate in team bible studies, church meetings, or religious ceremonies. Do you feel excluded or chastised by your team sometimes because of that?
(A) - Some of my closer teammates know that I am an atheist, and some do not. I am not afraid to tell them, it’s just a matter of whether they have talked to me about it or figured it out yet. I don’t feel excluded from the team in this way, frankly, because I would rather not be apart of all of the religiosity.

A lot of people view atheists as kind of uppity, coffeehouse philosophers and not as tough guys who have the guts and resolve to do something like play football, let alone be one of the best players at a major college program. Can you talk about that a bit?
(A) - I think overall, especially in the south, atheists have a bad image, and really for no other reason than not conforming to the norms of the “Christian south”.  I do enjoy deep conversations about religion, philosophy, and science; I just also happen to play football.

So why are you playing college football instead of sipping coffee and engaging in Internet debates?
(A) - Most of all, I play football because I love it, there is truly nothing like it. It pays for my college and I have fun doing it.
What's your opinion on players praying after touchdowns, college or NFL?
(A) -  I’m all for players praying after a touchdown or in a game or whatever. I respect everyone’s right to pray to any god they want, but I also respect the right for anyone to look at them and think they look foolish.

Follow-up question. How did you feel recently about the Muslim player being penalized for praying in the end zone after a touchdown when players like Tebow can do that freely without fear of reprisal?
(A) - After seeing the player get penalized for praying to Allah, I got sick to my stomach. I hate how in America, everyone has this awareness of what it is like only for a Christian to pray that people don’t even realize when others are praying. I think society is messed up in the sense that everyone can tell when a Christian is praying, but cant tell the difference between a Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist praying.

Do you envision a time when you can be open an honest about your atheism without fear of it costing you?
(A) - I can envision a time where that would happen. Atheism and freethinking are spreading around America and most of all; people are becoming more and more open minded. America isn’t there yet, but I feel like it will be.

What do you think would change your mind? I mean what, for you would cause you to say, "you know what? I think a god does exist!"
(A) - That’s a tough question, but really any evidence that would prove a god is there, would be evidence for me to believe. Ricky Gervais I think said it best in the documentary by Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss ‘The Unbelievers’ when he said “Beliefs shouldn’t change the facts, if rational, facts should change your beliefs”.
All right, that's all my questions but I have a few from Twitter here. First question from Twitter, during the team prayer, do you die inside a little?
(A) -  To be honest, yes. I never bow my head and usually try to get out of it. I will for no reason pretend to pray to anyone’s god.

Next question, do you attend a school like Notre Dame or BYU, affiliated with a particular religion, where atheism would most certainly cost you your scholarship?
(A) - I do not attend a school like the ones listed, however, where I go to school is in a very southern town and coming out to the public would definitely ruin my rep. I do not think though that my scholarship would be taken because of it.

All right, next question from Twitter, how do you find like-minded friends?
(A) - It’s hard to find like-minded friends, but luckily college is a diverse enough place to where I can find them. Mostly just through conversation and usually I feel like I can tell when someone is. Obviously if I am talking to someone who hates gay people and thinks that only white males should rule the world, then I know I’m not talking to a fellow free thinker.

And finally, what's your field of study in college?
(A) - I came in as an engineer, switched to psychology and now I’m thinking of switching to business.​

Thank you again and I do wish you the very best luck for the remainder of your career and I sure hope to see you playing on Sundays even though that should be a day of rest!