Lights will shine on this year’s NFL Draft picks on Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall, despite little surprise over who the top picks are and the teams that will recruit them. Players like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will shake hands with their new bosses, wave to the fans, and then walk off-stage toward the press eager for their first comments. That sounds like every other NFL Draft-in, out, off to the gridiron. But at a closer look there’s something missing: the salsa.
Like most sports, the NFL on the surface displays racial diversity. This year, Luck is clearly white and Griffin, clearly black, but both play the same position and will get drafted by good teams. But where are the Latinos and Asians, the Mark Sanchez or the Roman Gabriel Jr. (for all those NFL history buffs out there) this year?
For an American sport, football lacks representation of racial populations that otherwise take precedence in other national matters like elections. While Republicans worry about Romney losing Latino votes, the NFL will start up its season in the fall with Latino players representing just 1% of the entire professional league.
Even when good players of Latino or Asian descent emerge in the NFL, they are treated like novelties, and not professionals like most of their white and black counterparts. The media tried to create tension with Sanchez by asking him if he felt threatened by new teammate Tim Tebow. Meanwhile, former Buffalo Bills offense tackle Ed Wang never got his chance to shine as the first full-blooded Chinese player in the league after getting cut last September.
The lack of balanced racial diversity in the NFL stems from college football programs. According to Fox News’ Maria Burns Ortiz, Latinos account for 2-3% of all Division I college football players, whereas blacks and whites make up an equal 45% each. Such limited representation at the college level becomes even more evident in NFL drafts like the one tonight.
Although racial diversity falls short in the NFL when it comes to players representing ethnicities fully, professional sports have embraced athletes of biracial and multi-racial backgrounds. This is seen on the field with Patriots Patrick Chung, the basketball court with Los Angeles Clippers Blake Griffin, and in the ballpark with New York Yankees Derek Jeter. But in the NFL they also get treated like novelties, as seen in January when major sports networks devoted stories to how Madonna called NY Giants Victor Cruz’s touchdown salsa inspirational.
Sure, the demands of any professional sports including football mean grueling games and tough business, but any player regardless of race should get the opportunity to endure it.