When Albuquerque native Arian Foster speaks, people listen.
When he says something controversial, his family certainly hears about it. And much isn’t pleasant.
Since Foster’s admission last week that he took money “on the side” while playing college football at the University of Tennessee, his relatives have heard plenty of nasty remarks.
But the family of the Houston Texans’ star running back is fully supportive of the statements, which are included in the forthcoming documentary, “Schooled: The Price of College Sports.” They say they’re proud of his stance to try to change the way the big-money world of college athletics treats student-athletes.
“I’ve gotten some angry calls, and my son Abdul has, too,” Foster’s mother, Bernadette Sizemore of Albuquerque, says. “My daughter has gotten anonymous messages on her Facebook about what he’s saying. There is a lot of anger. I know a lot of Tennessee fans were upset, but Tennessee didn’t do anything wrong. What Arian did was against the rules.
“Tennessee wasn’t responsible, so him bringing this up is not to throw the school under the bus. These were choices he made. It’s not the school, but just the system itself that needs looking into. I understand the anger, but I stand behind my son’s decision to come out and take a stand.”
Last week, Sports Illustrated picked up clips from Foster’s interview. He said: “I don’t know if this will throw us into an NCAA investigation – my senior year, I was getting money on the side. I really didn’t have any money. I had to either pay the rent or buy some food. I remember the feeling of like, ‘Man, be careful.’ But there’s nothing wrong with it. And you’re not going to convince me that there is something wrong with it.”
Foster didn’t say who paid him the money.
Foster’s sister, Christina, is a recent UNM graduate who lives in Albuquerque.
“I’m not sure who the people are” who posted angry quips on her Facebook, she told the Journal . “It’s just been a couple messages with some explicit words. That is a little frustrating. What freaks me out is how do people know who I am? And what are you doing with your life that you have enough time to go out of your day and harass other people?
“When times like this happen with Arian, I try to avoid watching too much media or reading too many articles.”
One national pundit’s comments, however, she has seen are those of ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale. Via Twitter, he compared Foster to a prostitute.
“I find it funny when you, Dick Vitale, make thousands and thousands of dollars because you get to talk about these college students on television,” Christina Foster said. “It’s the idea that they’re supposed to be there for our entertainment purposes and do what we want, and anything adverse is wrong.”
Arian’s stance is that college student-athletes should get paid, and not just get a stipend and a scholarship. College football and men’s basketball are multimillion dollar industries, but student-athletes don’t receive a piece of the pie.
In the documentary, Foster says it was frustrating to play a game at Tennessee, only to return to his dorm room and not have anything to eat. Sizemore says the dorm cafeteria would be closed many times by the time he returned from games.
“I go to my dorm room, open my fridge, and there’s nothing in my fridge,” Arian says in the documentary. “Hold up, man. What just happened? Why don’t I have anything to show for what I just did? There was a point where we had no food, no money. So I called my coach and I said, ‘Coach, we don’t have no food. We don’t have no money. We’re hungry. Either you give us some food, or I’m gonna go do something stupid.’ He came down, and he brought like 50 tacos for like four or five of us. Which is an NCAA violation. But then, the next day I walk up to the facility, and I see my coach pull up in a brand new Lexus. Beautiful.”
Sizemore says times were tough for her and then-husband Carl Foster, a former University of New Mexico football player, and their three children growing up in Albuquerque. All three kids graduated from Valley High.
“There are times his father and I struggled financially,” Sizemore said. “I always had a job, but they weren’t always the best-paying jobs. I always told the kids: ‘If you want to go to college, you have to find a way to get there, because we just can’t afford that.’ And they’ve done that, and I’m very proud of that.”
Arian’s older brother, Abdul, had a track scholarship at Florida A&M. Sizemore says she tried to help them when she could.
“There were times I would call the Knoxville pizza parlor and order and have them deliver to Arian,” she says. “I used to do the same for Abdul at A&M. But a lot of times, I couldn’t help. They were different times for us, that’s for sure.”
While times have changed drastically for the family – Arian signing a five-year, $43.5 million contract in 2012 – it feels Arian’s stance can help current student-athletes.
“I hope it does,” says Abdul, who owns Elite Life Training in Houston and is a personal trainer for Arian and other pro athletes. “I know it kind of appears like robbing the rich to pay the poor, but the reality is what (the NCAA is) doing is wrong.
“It goes far behind a college-athlete issue. It’s about being a human being issue and taking a look at how the NCAA works. They are exploiting kids and doing it for money.
“I’m surprised more athletes don’t come out and say something. They talk about it in their inner circle. The problem is they’re all afraid of the NCAA, and I can’t figure out why. But what they’re doing, this is really like a form of slavery. I know that sounds like it’s pushing the bar, but it’s true.”
Abdul, a 2002 Valley grad, says he knows firsthand the struggles of being a student-athlete and making ends meet.
“I was homeless like the last two years I was in college,” he says. “I was living on people’s couches, bouncing back and forth, scraping money together to try and get food. All the while I was trying to run track. I wasn’t close to being at a prestigious university that garnered any type of benefits whatsoever, and I wasn’t in a sport that had any money floating around it either, so it was tough.”
Christina, 31, was not a student-athlete. She says having Arian and Abdul as brothers gives her a different perspective than most.
“I know how hard it can be as a student, but I see all that student-athletes have to endure,” says Christina, who plans to attend graduate school. “A lot of people forget how hard they work. According to public opinion, you’re supposed to do X, Y and Z, and you’re supposed to say and do certain things as a college athlete.
“People always equate: ‘You’re getting an education and that should be enough.’ But the quality of education, especially for college football and men’s basketball players who bring in so much money, isn’t comparable to the amount of work they’re putting in for the university and the money they are making it.
“… We place no value on education,” she says. “We have a poor, terrible educational system within this country. And Mr. Dick Vitale, you wouldn’t have a job if these students placed all their time and focus and energy into their education.”