Latinos in Football (The American Kind)

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The 2021 NFL Draft concluded a week ago in Cleveland, Ohio. There were 657 draft eligible players who entered the NFL Draft, and of those, only 259 players were selected throughout the three-day, seven-round draft.

The last pick in the draft, number 259, is known as “Mr. Irrelevant.” That award went to Grant Stuard, linebacker from the University of Houston, who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If you’re going to be last pick, it’s good to be drafted by the reigning Super Bowl champions.

What happens to the remaining 398 players who went undrafted, you ask? Well, some will sign contracts as undrafted free agents and are free to sign with any team they choose. The others will have to get real jobs and put their college degrees to use—if they graduated.

Using my very best analytics and quite sophisticated quantum physic method, racial profiling and stereotyping (last names), I determined that there were only two players of Latino descent who entered the draft. One player was a Venezuelan-American kicker (shocker) from the University of Miami, Jose Borregales. Borregales went undrafted but signed a free agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The second player was Mexican-American Roy Lopez from the University of Arizona. Lopez is listed at 6’2’’ and weighing 318 pounds—that’s a big, bad hombre. Lopez was the 195th overall pick and drafted in the sixth round to play defensive tackle for the Houston Texans.

A 2012 ESPN poll found that there were approximately 25 million Latino Americans who considered themselves football fans, but as you can see from the 2021 NFL Draft, less than one percent of draft eligible players were of Latino descent. According to the NFL, as of 2020, there were approximately 1,700 players in the league but only 16 of those players were of Latino descent—again, less than one percent.

The NFL also says there are more than 22 million fans in Mexico and over 40 million fans in Latin America overall. Since 2016, the NFL has played a regular season game in Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium in order to attract more fans and more international players.

One of the Latinos currently playing in the NFL today is defensive back Michael Davis of the Los Angeles Chargers. Davis grew up in the Los Angeles area and is the son of an African-American father and a Mexican mother. Davis’s mother, Ana Martinez is from Mexico City and forbade Davis from playing football as a child because of its violent nature.

In an interview with USA Today, Davis said growing up his only two loves were his mother and playing soccer. Davis dreamed of playing for the Mexican national team, specifically as a goalie. Davis also said he never paid much attention to the NFL because there were no other players who looked like him, and if they did, they were kickers. In that same interview Davis said most people, including his teammates, are surprised he is of Mexican descent and that he speaks Spanish. Growing up in the rich traditions of Mexican culture and customs, Davis honors his heroes with tattoos of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Emiliano Zapata on his right thigh, and an Aztec warrior on his right forearm.

So, what gives? Why is there so little Latino representation in the NFL when the game of football is beloved by so many of us? Is it the cost of playing football as a kid? Access? Availability? 

Maybe most Latino kids are like Michael Davis and don’t recognize any players who look like them or have the same last names. Maybe it is too violent, and they too are forbidden from playing. Maybe parents want their kids playing soccer because “that’s what Latinos do.” Maybe it’s because of their not big enough. Let’s be honest, there isn’t many Latino’s walking around the size of Roy Lopez or Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, 6’6’’ and weighing 320 pounds.

I believe it’s all of the above.

I grew up playing and loving football, and still do to this day. So do my friends and family. I suffered my fair share of bumps and bruises because of football, but if I had to do it all over again, I absolutely would. There wasn’t a soccer program in my small town growing up, so I didn’t really have to choose between the two sports. And even if there were a soccer program, I still would’ve chose football.

A friend of mine in high school, a Mexican American who was quite bigger than me, had never played football before, and during the first week of padded practices and hitting drills, he went home with so many bruises it was comical. So, of course his Mexican mother fearing for her son’s safety made him quit before the end of the practice week. A lot of my Latino friends didn’t play because they said they weren’t big enough and just weren’t interested.

I also coached football for about 10 years in my hometown, 11- and 12-year-olds. It was way too expensive and quite time consuming. Practices were three to four days a week, two hours at a time, with games on Saturdays. Half of those games were out of town, so you spent all day driving to the game, playing, then driving back home. There’s not a lot of Latinos I know who have that kind of time and that kind of money to spend on football.

Also, the main concern now is player safety and concussions. Is it safe for kids that young to take that kind of pain and violent punishment? Obviously not, when they’re still growing. We’ve seen recently in the NFL a ton of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) diagnoses—caused repeated trauma or blows to the head.

I have a three-year-old son and a one-year-old son. I’m asked all the time if I’m going to allow them to play football. Honestly, as I sit here and write this, my answer is no. But ultimately it will be up to them. Youth programs start as early as five years old—way too young. I think 10 is probably the right age, just to get them used to the contact and hitting.

My wife and I got a ways to go to worry about that though. Right now, my three-year-old is completely obsessed with Bad Bunny. And that’s alright with us.

Featured image: “Football Field” by danxoneil is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Jamie is a sports columnist for the Raider Ramble and the former co-host of an internet radio show 'Overtime with Jack and JRod.' He's been in law enforcement for 19 years and lives near Sacramento.

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