Feature photo by John Martinez Pavliga

On September 26, 2010 Telemundo aired the Sunday night primetime match-up between the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins to its New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Miami markets. So why would NBC, the network that currently owns the exclusive rights to “Sunday Night Football” allow the second-largest Spanish language network in the US the rights to its primetime ratings giant? Why, to help gain the interest of the coveted Latino viewer, of course.

The NFL has long been in the pursuit of developing its Latino fan base, so the New York-Miami competition was not its first attempt at reigning in this demographic, which historically has been more interested in soccer and to a lesser extent baseball. In addition to the Spanish language broadcast this year, the NFL also launched nfl.com/espanol, their collaboration with Univision Interactive Media as part of their Hispanic Heritage Month celebration this September. Let’s not forget back in 2005, when the Arizona Cardinals defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium, it resulted in a regular season attendance record of 103,467. Apparently the NFL’s efforts have had some success.

So why should we as Latinos develop interest or continue to care about American football? Well for one, being a fan of a city’s sports team is often an integral part of being a member of that community. Like Terry pointed out, baseball may divide this city but Chicago’s heart will always belong to the Bears. The camaraderie of game day isn’t just confined to Soldier Field; it can be felt in every restaurant, pub and bar and on every street corner. Being a Bears fan is like being part of a great big dysfunctional familia.

But being a football fan is not just about using the sport to “fit in” to a community, nor should it be. It’s also about pride for the Latino players that have made a significant impact on the league and in their communities. Take for example, Anthony Muñoz, one of the best offensive linemen to ever play the game. In his playing days he boasted 11 consecutive Pro Bowl selections, and was the NFL Offensive Lineman of the Year in 1981, 1987 and 1988 before being enshrined in Canton in 1998. He was by no means the first Latino in the NFL, but his success paved the way for other Latino players, like Chicago’s own offensive lineman Roberto Garza, And then there is New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, whom many consider the current NFL ambassador to Latino communities, and he just so happened to be one of the starting quarterbacks in the inaugural Telemundo NFL broadcast.

There are plenty more players in the league with Latino heritage, 24 as of the 2009 season, but not nearly as high of a percentage as in other sports. While there is no current list of Latino players for the 2010 season, the Hall of Fame does host an interesting, though small, photo gallery on their site of past Latino players.

So will you tune in for the next kickoff?

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