There are hardly any Latinx players in the NFL, the reason is school
Of the top 100 recruits at college programs in the Power Five, there are only two Hispanics. Who throws the diversity ball around in football?
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Sergio Gonzalez was attending an eighth grade football camp when a coach approached him and said: "You're pretty good for being Mexican".
It shocked him so much that he asked his father what his coach had meant.
"Look around you, how many kids look like you at these camps or on your team?" his father replied.
Gonzalez is one of the founding members of the Hispanic Texas High School Football Coaches Association (TXHSFB), an organization that was born with just over a dozen members — all Hispanic coaches, assistants and administrators of football — and today, includes 700 members to discuss issues of identity and sport, share strategies and support each other.
In an article published by USA Today to mark the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, the newspaper spoke with some players and coaches about a recurring theme in their conversations:
Why are so few Hispanics playing football in high school and college when it is the most direct route to the NFL?
"I don't know, it's very interesting because they are big fans of the game and there are no other participants," said Anthony Munoz, who became the second Mexican American to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where most are white or Black, as is also the case in the NFL and even in programs to recruit new talent such as programs in the Power Five conferences of college football.
In fact, of the top 100 new recruits at those schools in 2021, there are only two Hispanics. And the data doesn't improve on Sundays, with only eight players out of 1,357 in the NFL identified as Latino or Hispanic, according to 2018-19 data.
For Mike Garcia, a founding member of TXHSFB, cultural differences may be part of the problem.
"I didn't grow up really knowing what football was, but I watched and played football," explained Garcia, who began playing in high school with an eye toward some players (though few) like Anthony Munoz, who also didn't have football fever in his family DNA.
"Culture is not a deterrent. The only difference between Latinos and white Anglo-Saxons is the process of thinking," said Mario Longoria, co-author with Jorge Iber of the book, Latinos in American Football, which adds one reason may be that Latinx individuals take much more into account the opinion of their families when making a decision about their future.
But, of course, there are other factors and they involve much more than a cultural barrier.
The Latinx population is the largest minority in the United States, according to U.S. census data, but they also have the third highest poverty rate in the nation (17.6%) behind African Americans (20.8%) and Native Americans (25.4%).
The economy of families makes it difficult for their children to go to college over choosing to work as soon as they finish high school to be able to contribute financially to the household.
"I've heard people say, 'I can't go to school because I have to get a job and earn more money to support my family,'" Marcus Arroyo, one of the few Hispanic coaches in an FBS Division program, told USA Today.
"The only difference between Latinos and white Anglo-Saxons is the process of thinking"
That's something that Danny Gonzales, head football coach at the University of New Mexico, subscribes to. He had many teammates who left football after school to enter the workforce, or even dropped out of college.
However, as Jorge Iber says, the new generations of Latinx have greener pastures than their migrant parents, as their own families who worked in the fields or in meat processing plants in Texas or California are seeing the need for their children to continue their studies and if they are worth it and want to, make a career of football.
"It's a process that has taken us 100 years," said Iber, dean of student affairs at Texas Tech.
No one is free from racism, even within the very minorities that movements like the BLM have sought to unite in the struggle against racial and social inequality in the country.
Mike Garcia will always remember with anger the times on the field that some of the players or coaches have referred to him or his teammates as an "Itty Bitty Mexican." On one occasion, a Black coach jokingly said that he "had a lot of IBM" in his offensive line and Garcia had to stop him because the effect such comments can have on young players is devastating.
Especially since there is a fairly well-established stereotype that Latinos are physically smaller than other ethnicities and it directly affects their recruitment prospects.
"As a Hispanic who coached other Hispanics, who grew up playing football with non-Hispanic coaches, if I heard this from one of my coaches, it would definitely make me doubt," he said.
Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Michael Davis has also been the victim of "Are you Hispanic? Then you should kick the ball."
Celebrities like Anthony Muñoz are trying to get more young Latinos interested in football through youth camps.
"Some of the jokes they made about me really affected me. They became personal," said Ron Rivera, the third Latino to be head coach of an NFL football team, recalling his time at the University of California.
However, for Longoria and Iber, there is a fairly established stereotype that Latinos are much smaller than other ethnic groups.
Today, personalities like Anthony Muñoz are trying to get more young Latinos interested in football through youth camps that spread the love for the sport.
However, Muñoz says there is still much to be done, and there is also a lack of Hispanic coaches in high school, although organizations such as TXHSFB are envisioning a bright future for Latinx individuals to win the diversity game.