Basketball

Right now, the NBA is considered an urban, inner-city sport dominated by African Americans. This perception is enforced by the media’s constant attention to players who defy what white Americans consider, “normal.” This image broke through during the early 1990s when here at the University of Michigan, a brash and flashy group of five freshman debuted. They were dubbed The Fab Five. 

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While the NBA may carry the moniker of America’s Hip-Hop Sport, it is transitioning toward a more international flair. Here is a sampling of the Latino presence in the ever-changing demographic of the NBA.

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Manu Ginóbili

Due to the lack of exposure of Latino players to the NBA in the early 1990′s, Manu played for the Argentine basketball league and the Italian league before making the jump to the NBA. Due to his up-tempo style of play, his passing, and behind the back moves when attacking the basket it is no surprise that he was a three time all star in the Italian league. He also helped his team win the 2001 Italian Championship , 2001 and 2002 Italian Cups , and the 2001 Euroleague, where he was named MVP.

In 2002, Ginóbili signed with the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA. As an inexperienced rookie in the NBA, Ginóbili used his quickness and resiliency to spark fast breaks and create game changing plays. The Spurs won the championship that year and they also won it in 2005, with Ginóbili losing a close race for NBA Finals MVP to Tim Duncan.

Off the court, Ginóbili has helped raise awareness in Latino countries about the NBA which has led to an increase in the number of Latino players in the league. Through organizations such as Basketball without Borders which has hosted its 2nd annual Americas outreach program, Ginóbili and other Latino players are able to reach out to Latinos in Central and South America and run mini training camp sessions to teach them the fundamentals of basketball. His contributions are opening the doors for numerous Latinos.

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Eduardo Nájera

Nájera, the second Mexican born player in the NBA, is known for his rebounding and tenacity on defense. He was expected to blossom in the NBA, but unfortunately, injuries have left him sidelined for much of the past two seasons. His national identity has made him extremely popular with Mexican Americans which is evident from the spike in television ratings for Denver Nuggets games in which he plays.

Like Ginóbili , Nájera participates in Basketball without Borders, educating youngsters about basketball. In addition, Nájera founded the Eduardo Nájera Foundation for Latino Achievement in 2004, which provides college scholarships for outstanding Latino students facing barriers to their educations. His contributions are opening the market for Latinos in the NBA.

National Hockey League

The Latino presence in the National Hockey League is overlooked when you look at the other three major sports (basketball, baseball, and football) in the United States. Hockey is mainly a regional sport in the United States in the Northeast and Midwest region. In my opinion, the lack of cold weather and ice in Latin American countries is the reason why Hockey is not that big among Latinos.

montoya2Al Montoya at the University of Michigan

Two players that have made a great impact in Hockey were Al Montoya and Scott Gomez. Al Montoya was the 6th overall draft pick in the 2004 NHL Draft. He was the highest Latino draft pick to ever enter the NHL. Montoya is the first Cuban-American to play in the National Hockey League. Montoya went to the University of Michigan and led the team to a post-season birth in the NCAA tournament each year. He was so good that he decided skip his senior year and to go to the National Hockey League. The New York Rangers, one of the NHL’s most storied franchises, drafted Al Montoya as the starting goalie.

montoyaAl Montoya on draft day by the New York Rangers

The first Latino to ever play in the NHL was Scott Gomez. Gomez is an Alaskan native and as far as he can remember he’s been playing hockey. His father was a Mexican and his mother was a Columbian who were both immigrants that met each other in Anchorage, Alaska. Scott played with the Montreal Devils in the National Hockey League. He won the Stanley Cup championship in 2000 and 2003. Scott really believes himself to be a great Latino role model. He believes that tbey deserve to have the same exposure to hockey like he did as a boy in Alaska.

GomezScott Gomez with the Stanley Cup in 2000

 

 

A compilation of Scott Gomez from Montreal Devils to the New York Rangers.

Fútbol

Fútbol other wise known as Soccer is one the most famous sports around the world. Not only is it the most famous for both participant in the sport or spectating. There are more than 30,000,000 people in the world that participate in organized competitions. Ever since I started watching soccer, I would notice how the countries besides the US would be much better. Especially the Latin countries would do great in the World Cups. My favorite team is either Argentina or Brazil and they both have one the of most talented teams in the world. These two countries have so much talent that they are known to export the most players to Europe than any other country. In my opinion the Latin American countries and teams have always played a very important role in the international soccer scene. So much that, every year the best soccer team of Latin America plays the best European team.

The United States had football, basketball, and baseball as the sports that were invented here and were pretty dominated by them. So it took the Latin countries a while to get good enough to play professionally in America. So the US had a slow start to the soccer game but the league in the US, the MLS, is starting to make a name for it self. More and more players from European clubs and Latin clubs are coming here to play. The MLS still has a lot to grow to get to the caliber of the other major leagues around the world.

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Now as for future Latino impact in the MLS, the Houston Dynamo, my hometown team, has about fifty percent Latino fan support. This is definitely what the MLS needs so there is more Latin presence in the MLS so more players would want to come to the United States. Houston isn’t the only one that is trying to get more Latino influence in the MLS. The Columbus Crew, an MLS soccer team, which is located in an area with a great amount of Latino population, is now broadcasting the games on Spanish Language Radio. An MLS team has even changed its name to Chivas USA, which is like the team in the Mexican National League, Chivas Guadalajara.

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So as you see Latinos have a great influence on Soccer and even its greatest stage, the World Cup.

 The video below is a soccer game that is being broadcasted in English but when the goal is scored the famous Mexican way to say “goal” is used:

NFL-atinos

In 1929, Jesse Rodriguez was the first Latino to ever play in the National Football League on the Buffalo Bisons as a fullback-punter. While the Latinos have not taken the National Football League by a huge number, many Latino players are now very prominent. Now days we have players from all over the place. As for the Latinos in the NFL they are from Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Spain, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, and Venezuala. The NFL is trying to include more international players in their league so it can be a sport watch internationally and not just in the States. They even started to celebrate the Hispanic Heritage Month by setting up special events. Each team in the NFL will enhance the celebration with the local efforts throughout the month which included designated home games in honor of Hisanic Heritage Month. 

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Two players in particular are known for the their great play on the field and off. Anthony Munoz who is considered to be one the greatest offensive linemen in the National Football league. Munoz played for the Cincinatti Bengals for thirteen years and had done a lot for them. In this thirteen year career, Munoz won the Super Bowl, which is the leagues championship, two times in 1982 and 1989. Anthony Munoz also won the award for Offensive Lineman of the Year three times. Munoz also was elected to play in the Pro Bowl for eleven consecutive years which is quite incredible. On top of all that he was also named to the prestigious NFL’s 75th Anniversary all-time team. Off the field, Munoz has done aa lot of great things which got him the reputation for one of the NFL’s most charitable players. The Anthony Munoz Foundation is dedicated to give opportunites to children to gain leadership experience in schools in rural areas. After this spectacular work, Munoz was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1998. The next player I will talk about is Tony Gonzalez. Tony was a phenomenal football player who played on the Kansas City Chiefs. Aside from being a six time Pro Bowler as Munoz, Tony did a lot off the field as well. Tony formed the Tony Gonzalez foundation in 1998 which supports the Boys and Girls club and Shadow Buddies program. His contributions to the community played a major role in the efforts of erasing discrimination of Latinos in US sports. 

All in all, I believe this American Sports are getting more and more revolutionized by getting more diverse and accepted internationally. I hope these efforts made by the league are taken advantage of by everyone who has a dream to become a professional athlete. 

Below is a video of my favorite NFL player who plays on the Houston Texans who happens to be a Latino:

The Latinization of Baseball

“America’s strength is not our diversity; our strength is our ability to unite people of different backgrounds around common principles. A common language is necessary to reach that goal.” – Ernest Istook

That common language can be sports and you can see that with all the diversity in the professional sports we have in America. These days we have many Latino players that have made a great impact in the MLB. Many of these players are now considered legends such as Sammy Sosa, Roberto Clemente, Jose Canseco, and so on but it wasn’t always like this where the Latinos were accepted to play in the MLB. Before 1947, in order to play in the Major League Baseball it wasn’t based only on your talent but the color of your skin as well. These Latino players were more than capable to play against star white players as it was shown in exhibition games. However, they were still not allowed to play on a MLB team. Now, the MLB is definitely becoming more and more “Latinized” as you can see from the chart below.Image

Now days the league is paying more attention to the Latino players around the world to bring them in. The MLB has even made sure to broadcast games in Spanish. The de-segregation of the MLB all started of by one man, Jackie Robinson. Robinson had changed the game by making a way for non-white players to have a chance in the MLB. The Latino presence in the MLB has increased immensely over the years. In 1990, the Latinos made up of about 13% in the Major League where to now that number has increased to 25%. Not only have the number of Latinos grown in the league but a good amount of these players are amongst the best in the league. In 2006, 23 out of the 71 All-Stars were of Latino descent. Another great fact is since 1990, six of the last 15 players to win the Most Valuable Player awards in the All-Star game have been of Latino descent. Its not a surprise that these sports have a major Latino influence. There has been a large influx of Hispanics into the US population. The Latino population has increased 43% from 2000-2010, according to the US Census Bureau.

So is this it for the Latino players in the MLB? I don’t think so. Now days kids are just getting better and better. Also, the scouting in the Latin countries is growing and should produce more stars. The influence of Latin players on this game is going to be one to talk about forever.

Below is the ESPN Classic episode on Roberto Clemente. (There are 4 different parts to this episode)

Influences of Latino Heritage in the éne-bé-a (NBA)

“Despite the amazing diversity we’re blessed with in this country, schools are still in large part segregated because of economic disparity. Sports are one of the few areas where kids are really given the opportunity to interact with those of different races and religions.” – Steve Kerr, retired NBA player from the Chicago Bulls

Ever since I was a kid, I was always into basketball and never felt as if I wasn’t ever welcomed on the court because of my race. Regardless of the fact that my skin color was different than the people I was playing with, it was like we all were the same as we stepped on to the court. Sports is a way to connect with others regardless of their age, gender, and race. Sports brings everyone together because even if two people speak different languages, they can both speak the language of basketball when they are on the court. For example, the NBA started Noche Latina in the 2006-2007 season where the NBA celebrates the Latino Heritage due to the increase in Latino participation and interest in the game of basketball. Saskia Sorrosa, the vice president of the NBA’s Hispanic Market said “Noche Latina is the perfect example of the NBA’s ongoing commitment to celebrate the diversity of our game.”

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The NBA teams wear special jerseys with team names translated into Spanish and the venue often offers cultural food and music as a game day celebration. This takes place in the cities that have a big influence of the Latin culture such as the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks. The other ways the NBA is trying to capture the Latino market is by starting a multimedia marketing campaign named éne-bé-a which is the Spanish translation of NBA. After all the time and money it took to create an entire separate marketing campaign, the NBA shows the Latino community that it seriously values them as fans. Due to the new campaign, the Hispanic fan base increased by nine percent between 2008 and 2009. We can see how the NBA has developed over time from being known as an “American” sport to now a universal sport. Diversity in the NBA is growing rapidly and now currently there are many Latino players from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela. I personally believe the initiative that the NBA has taken to become more internationally friendly is quite impressive. As we all know the NBA is a business at the end of the day and will make moves to make the most money that it can. Although it may be for those reasons, the fact that they do it by inviting other cultures to the game of basketball can give an incentive for minorities to fulfill their dreams of becoming an NBA star.

Below is a video during Noche Latina 2011 that was aired on television showing the accomplishments of a Spaniard, Rudy Fernandez.