While Mark Sanchez’s time with the New York Jets as their starting quarterback may be in limbo. One thing certain is that he has and will continue to be an integral role model of the Hispanic community in the NFL. Since his arrival as a University of Southern California he was very involved with the Latino community in Los Angeles. Through his work with youth centers across California he has become a figure that underprivileged Hispanic youth in the inner city aspire to be like. While on the east coast he continues to do the same thing as a Jet.
Since his arrival into the NFL, he created a connection with nearly 1.4 million Hispanics in the New Jersey area where the Jets play on Sundays. Sanchez realizes he is playing for not just himself, his family and his team. He is also playing for people whose names sound like his; for those from south of the border who work thankless jobs for little pay; for those who are reminded daily that they live in a country that does not know what to do with them. These are the fans who once cheered for Valenzuela and Plunkett and now cheer for Garciaparra and De La Hoya. They are his fans too. In 1911 the lure of work compelled Mark’s great-grandfather Nicholas Sanchez to move his family from south Texas to California. Born in Zacatecas, in central Mexico, Nicholas, like his wife, Isabel, was a day laborer. They were fruit pickers in California’s Central Valley, a bountiful stretch north of Los Angeles.
Sanchez is a third generation Mexican-American, who doesn’t speak much Spanish. However, he says his family has always stressed being proud of his heritage. Mariachi and other distinct Mexican cultural elements have been a constant in Sanchez’s upbringing. Some in the media started criticizing Sanchez for his decision to wear the infamous Mexico-themed mouth guard. When this was simple act was called “un-American,” the young quarterback took offense. “I love my Mexican heritage, but first and foremost, I am an American,” said Sanchez .
Mark along with the help of other Latin-American NFL players are aiding in the leagues initiatives for diversity and attract Latino followers as well as increase its Hispanic fan base which is at an estimated 25 million people. Sanchez may not have lived up to his initial hype at the very start of his professional career, but he still is the cultural icon he was upon his arrival into the league. Now, with more exposure over the years he may be bigger than his initial rookie season. He still makes it a point to acknowledge his Mexican heritage to the masses. Along the way, he has inspired many young Mexican-Americans to try football, a sport many were led to believe they had no place in.
The fact is, he has risen to stardom in a sport thought to be irrelevant to Latinos. According to Mario Longoria, author of Athletes Remembered: Mexicano/Latino Professional Football Players, 1929-1970, “It shows the fallacy that Mexican-American athletes can’t be leaders, can’t handle the pressure. All they need is the opportunity”
It also shows that the athletic landscape for Mexican-Americans has changed. They are no longer stuck in the baseball/soccer bubble, and are free to excel in any sport they choose. If this theory is applied to all of American culture and society, the possibilities are endless for Mexicans and all Latinos, for that matter in the United States. As Sanchez says “the Latino community, they’re some of the most loyal fans on the planet.” Sanchez has committed to become the NFL ambassador of Latino’s in the NFL. While he won’t do any salsa touchdown dances, he does the little things such as creating a Spanish blog that he frequently updates and even partakes in interviews. All done completely done in Spanish. Sanchez shows a strong sense of pride as a Mexican-American which has helped shape his awareness of who he is and his culturally identity.
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