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If the NFL cares about Latino fans, why hasn’t it taken a stand on DACA?

The league says it wants to be a bridge to American culture

In February, the NFL warned the state of Texas that the passage of SB-6, a bill aimed at circumscribing transgender access to bathrooms and changing facilities, could affect the league’s willingness to host major sporting events in the Lone Star State.

“The NFL embraces inclusiveness,” said league spokesman Brian McCarthy. “We want all fans to feel welcomed at our events, and NFL policies prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or any other improper standard.”

With the league’s swift response to SB-6 as a blueprint, the NFL must repudiate the Trump administration’s recent elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, irrespective of its tenuous and uncertain schedule of implementation. DACA is an Obama-era initiative shielding from deportation close to 800,000 undocumented migrants brought to the United States as children. Most DACA beneficiaries are Latino, with 79 percent born in Mexico.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient and appliance repair business owner Erick Marquez holds a sign during a protest in support of the program.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Based on the league’s professed commitment to attracting the Hispanic fan base and expanding its market in Mexico, as well as the NFL’s partnership with the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (celebrating the contributions of Latino leaders in each NFL market), anything short of an unqualified rebuke of DACA constitutes an exercise in hypocrisy.

In 2002, then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue launched a league task force to learn more about “the Hispanic fan base” that in 2005 culminated in a game in Mexico City between the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. That game, the NFL’s first international regular-season contest, attracted a crowd of 103,467 fans, a figure far exceeding the league’s current average regular-season attendance of 68,400.

“The 2005 game in Mexico City was a galvanizing moment,” according to Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s vice president of fan strategy and marketing. “It was a great springboard for bringing the commitment to the Hispanic population across the league. From there, it really started to institutionalize the notion of designating a time period in our year to celebrate Hispanic fans, and in a consistent way that is really visible. … The passion of the Mexican fans is consistent with the burgeoning U.S. Hispanic fan base.”

Mexico is said to have an NFL fan base of approximately 23 million people, making it the largest market outside of the United States. Arturo Olivé, the managing director of NFL Mexico, estimates that the league’s fan base has expanded by 300 percent over the past decade, making American football the No. 2 team sport in Mexico, behind soccer.

While the NFL has yet to take a stand on the injustice of eliminating DACA, even as the Trump administration weighs its possible reinstatement, it is clear that the league continues to attempt to ingratiate itself with its Latino fans. Over the past decade, the NFL has sought to expand both its Mexican and U.S.-Latino fan bases; it sees such growth as a prudent investment strategy. Specifically, it has been leveraging California franchises, often Bay Area teams, as prime-time players in an effort to expand the Latino fan base on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Possibly because of its close geographical proximity to Mexico, or the fact that California is home to the largest Latino population in the United States and the largest volume of DACA recipients, the only regular-season games the NFL has held in Mexico have included the San Francisco 49ers (2005) and the Oakland Raiders (2016).

Building on the success of the 2005 and 2016 games in Mexico, the NFL will return to Mexico City this season when the Raiders host the New England Patriots at Estadio Azteca on Nov. 19.

“The Raiders are honored to once again represent the National Football League in its International Series,” said owner Mark Davis. “The Raiders are truly a global brand, and we look forward to visiting the loyal and passionate members of the Raider Nation in Mexico City.”

Patriots owner Robert Kraft echoed Davis’ comments, saying, “I know that we have a lot of passionate Patriots fans in Mexico” and that he looks forward to meeting some of the “fantastic fans and enjoying the food and culture …”

Davis and Kraft neatly echo the talking points of the league. In 2013, O’Reilly quipped that “without overstating our role, there is a role the NFL can serve in terms of being a bridge to American culture. The NFL is such a strong American passion and a badge of our culture. In a lot of American communities, football is a glue. Hispanic fans tell us it’s a connection point. It’s certainly about making sure our fan base grows, but beyond that, we believe that given the unifying nature of the NFL, there’s a role we can play beyond that.”

“Being a bridge to American culture” means opposing the elimination of DACA. Leveraging its socioeconomic power and cultural capital in service of fairness, inclusion and opportunity is one way the NFL can squarely confront the great injustice being done to members of the Latino community.

If the NFL truly sees the Latino community as anything more than a mechanism to expand its bottom line, then the league needs to take a forceful stand opposing the elimination of DACA.

Ameer Hasan Loggins is a Doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley teaching courses in the Sociology Department at Mills College. He is a regular contributor to the African American Intellectual History Society's Black Perspectives, and The Athletic. He has a drip...drip...drip...splash jumper on the hoop court.

Christopher Petrella is a lecturer in American cultural studies at Bates College. He is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and in 1998 – at the age of 14 – was named the MVP for the Jim Calhoun Basketball Camp.