Super Bowl reflections on immigrants in professional sports
By R. Mark Frey
Immigration Law & You
It was Super Bowl Weekend a week ago and it was eventful. Touted as America’s premier sporting event, this year’s Super Bowl found the cities of Denver and Charlotte (and their respective totems, the Broncos and Panthers) pitted against one another for the National Football League championship.
This, the 50th Super Bowl, was reported to have been watched by roughly 113 million people with passions running high over the old guy, Peyton Manning, and the best defense in the league against the young up and comers from Carolina with one of the most explosive offenses in the league and a 15-1 record during the regular season. Yes, a colossal contest anticipated by many with everything in place for a great and memorable game.
Other aspects of the spectacle were no less thrilling: the national anthem sung by Lady Gaga with the famed Blue Angels flying overhead; the half time show with Coldplay, Beyoncé, and Bruno Mars providing high energy music, dance, and food for thought. And, how about those commercials? Wildly creative, some admittedly more so than others. PuppyMonkeyBaby? Really?
Let’s not forget the football stadium where the game was played, Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. It is reported to be the most high tech stadium in the world but that shouldn’t come as a surprise seeing as how it’s located in the heart of Silicon Valley, the high tech capital of the world. The entire event was truly remarkable.
As I sat watching the opening ceremonies, game, halftime show, and commercials, I couldn’t help but think about the people behind the entire spectacle in this, a presidential election year. Unfortunately, it’s marred by much rancor and hostility towards foreigners, the “outsiders”, in our midst.
I kept wondering about those who helped construct Levi’s Stadium, those high tech workers behind the phenomenon known as Silicon Valley, those responsible for creating the inventive commercials, the musicians, singers, and dancers, and, yes, even the football players themselves. That’s right, our “American” sport peopled by players hailing from other countries.
A brief inquiry led me to find Star Lotulelei, a defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers, who was born in Tonga. Further investigation led me to Ghanian Ezekiel Ansah, a defensive end for the Detroit Lions, Liberian Tamba Hali, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, and recently-retired Nigerian Osi Umenyiora, former defensive end/linebacker with the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons.
Those findings prompted me to start examining other American sports where I discovered that major league baseball has long relied on players from many countries, especially Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Nicaragua, Colombia, Venezuela, Japan, and South Korea, to name just a few. (In fact, the Minnesota Twins have high hopes for recently acquired player, Byung Ho Park, in the coming season). And, the National Basketball Association is no less different this season with 100 international players from 37 countries ranging from Argentina to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Russia, Serbia, Spain, and Tunisia, among others.
While we’re at it, let’s not forget performers Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and Bruno Mars, all of whom were born in the United States with varied backgrounds. Lady Gaga is descended from Italian (southern European) stock, a background once viewed with suspicion and disdain by those making U.S. immigration policy in the 1900s. Beyoncé’s family background is reported to be both African American and Louisiana Creole. And, Bruno Mars was raised in Hawaii, the most diverse state in our nation, with his mother reputed to be Filipino and his father of Puerto Rican and Ashkenazi Jewish descent.
It seems ironic that with contests touted to be so “American” as our sports competitions, whether the Super Bowl or other football, baseball, or basketball games (or even for that matter associated events encompassing music and dance), we find such a mixture of peoples from varied ethnic backgrounds and countries of origin. Sadly, it seems that some of our leaders and presidential candidates still don’t get it when it comes to understanding what’s taking place in the United States with the changing composition of the United States. They seem out of touch and unable to grasp the significance and contribution of those so-called “outsiders”. Despite their divisive rhetoric, we continue to be a nation of immigrants and that, too, comprises part of the Great American Experiment.
R. Mark Frey is a St. Paul, Minnesota attorney who has practiced immigration law exclusively for more than 25 years with an emphasis on political asylum, family and marriage-based immigration, naturalization, removal defense, appeals, H-1B visas, and religious workers.