September 21, 2016
By Michael Sayonara
As the Latino influence across platforms in America continues to grow and expand, one thing missing is professional athletes. With the exception of baseball, Latino athletes are rare to be found in other major professional sports, even though a recent Nielsen study finds that 94 percent of Latino males are sports fans and 56 percent consider themselves a dedicated fan.
The NBA is doing its part to connect with its Latino fanbase, holding games in Mexico City the last couple years, in addition to having their 10th annual “Latin Nights” series commemorating Latino heritage with specific jerseys translating American cities into Spanish. The problem, according to Rolling Stone, is we only saw Latinos making up about 1.8 percent of NBA rosters in 2015, even though they’re an extensive consumer audience of the game.
Carmelo Anthony has come to the forefront, boasting his Afro-Latino heritage. Melo’s father, who passed away when he was just two, was a member of the Young Lords, an activist group that fought against social inequality back in the 1970s. Melo doesn’t run from his background, he even has the Puerto Rican flag tattooed on his right hand paying homage to his father. The three-time Olympic gold medalist is active in his involvement with Puerto Rico, building many basketball courts across the country, and he even owns a soccer team there. He was named one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in the United States by Hispanic Business.
More athletes in professional sports could stand to put on for their Latino heritage, as it would make them a role model in the community. We should all know by now how much representation really matters. Instead, many are labeled and/or seen at African American.
The NFL sees a dearth of Latinos in the sport as well, a mere 26 held active roster spots during the 2015 season and only account for 1.8 percent of Division I football players. Roberto Aguayo, who is of Mexican descent, was the highest drafted kicker in over a decade, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him 59th overall in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
There is clearly a disconnect somewhere as Latinos are big sports fans, but that is not turning into having a large professional athlete contingent of their own. One thought is the 4-year college barrier, as only 35 percent of Latino-Americans are enrolled in college, but about half are only at 2-year schools, many without sports teams. Latinos continue to dominate in sports like MMA, boxing, and soccer where attending college is not required, points out writer Juan Vidal.
The Latino community needs more role models to assert themselves and pave the way for future kids who want to play sports like football and basketball. Seeing their heroes on television will push kids to emulate their favorite athletes. That may make a Latino kid pick up a football or a basketball instead of kicking a soccer ball (which is not a bad thing). That kind of change could lead us to see the Latino version of Peyton Manning hoisting up the Lombardi Trophy, or the Latino Allen Iverson winning the NBA MVP.