The Super Bowl is as much about Coke commercials and wings as it is about actual plays, and football is as much an icon of Americana as apple pie–and cheeseburgers and fries, and pizza, and Doritos, and…you get the picture. But a few NFL players–Deuce Lutui, Arian Foster, and Tony Gonzalez, to be precise–are challenging the status quo, proving with their vegan diets that pro athletes don’t need to live on a steak and potatoes diet. And that’s not just good news if you’re a proponent of veganism; it’s good news for anyone who loves football, but thinks the sport (and its culture) needs to change.
Vegan football players aren’t getting the same press as NFL members heading up the sport’s link to brain damage and depression. And the health concerns that got them to ditch meat and dairy probably aren’t nearly as pressing. But the lifestyle changes they’ve made while staying in the game are strangely inspiring proof that if players can change something that’s such a big part of football “culture” without hurting their ability to play the game or be part of their teams, maybe there’s room for the other kinds of change that we need to see in football, too.
Lutui, Foster, and Gonzalez have gotten various levels of attention for being vegan football players, but all three have been up against the stereotype that athletes need to eat meat–especially ones who play sports like football, which require superhuman strength and, often, physical bulk. And here’s the shocker: They haven’t been shunned from the NFL or benched because they can’t perform without eating meat.
In fact, Tony Gonzalez (whose switch to veganism was spurred by reading The China Study) has even written his own book, The All-Pro Diet, about optimal nutrition for building muscle and losing fat on a vegan or vegetarian diet. And according to an interview with Mind Body Green, his diet is even well received by others in the NFL:
Everyone knows how I eat, and guys are so curious about it which is great. They’ll often come up to me and ask if something is alright to eat. Just the other day one of the coaches came up to me and handed me a plate and asked me to go fill it with good food so he would know what’s good to eat. Everyone knows that we need to make better choices with what we eat. Football players are no different – and they’ve seen me, coming in at year fourteen, which I completely attribute to the dramatic change in my diet. Eating a more plant-based diet has allowed me to bounce back quicker, it’s helped me to stay around the NFL and still play at the high-level I play at – at a physically demanding position. I attribute everything to my diet.
The purpose of this post isn’t to promote veganism or vegetarianism (we have plenty of other content at Blisstree to help you decide of cutting out animal products is right for you); it’s to point out that players like Gonzalez aren’t just rejecting traditional food choices; they’re also pushing back against a big part of football culture. Even though they still love football, play football, and define the sport by virtue of playing.
If players like them can stand up for their unconventional choices, and get other players and fans excited about the way they’re prioritizing their own health and values above the status quo, then I think there’s good reason to believe that the sport will be able to accommodate changing standards in safety and even attitudes towards women.
I get [protein] from the same place the cows get it from: green, leafy vegetables. No one asks the cow or the chicken where it gets its protein. I eat about 4,000 or 5,000 calories a day, and I cook for myself. I also have a line of cooks that work with me — some raw, some vegan.
But for ideas about how to change the negative aspects of football, as both a sport and culture, we don’t have to look further than the players who already define the NFL.