12. Football is Finally Going Global
America’s most popular game is at last representing the diversity of the USA—and gaining new viewers abroad.
While the NFL has always had a smattering of foreign-born kickers, it’s been only in the last few years that position players have hailed from anywhere farther afield than Canada. Last February, Super Bowl LII featured three players born abroad: Eagles receiver Nelson Agholor (Nigeria) and running back Jay Ajayi (England, to Nigerian parents), as well as Patriots defensive back Patrick Chung (Jamaica). The league also has budding stars like Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (born in Ghana) and numerous other players who are first-generation Americans. Like baseball in the early 20th century, football has become the sport of choice for immigrant communities, making the game that much more appealing abroad, with feel-good stories here at home.
Take the saga of Seattle Seahawks receiver Amara Darboh. Born in Sierra Leone, he was orphaned at age 2 when his parents were killed in the nation’s brutal civil war. He and his siblings escaped and emigrated to Iowa. There, he was adopted by a local family and became a football star, then attended Michigan, where he formed a potent receiving tandem with Jehu Chesson, born in Liberia. As a senior, Darboh became a U.S. citizen and was drafted by the Seahawks, and Chesson now plays for the Chiefs.
The NFL, ever eager to market beyond its traditional demographic base, has seized on this trend: In 2017 the league introduced the International Player Pathway program, an attempt to identify foreign players with talent. The program allows for four international players to be included on the practice squads of teams in a given division (this season it is the AFC North), with the hope that they’ll become full-time players. Even without the IPP participants, there are now about 70 foreign-born players in the league, more than ever before. Today, the NFL has become a shining example of the great American melting pot.
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