Latino Studies Football
Jorge Iber
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 January 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0082


From the start of the field of sports history as a recognized academic endeavor in the early 1970s, one of the major areas of the genre has been to document how racial and ethnic minorities have played, participated in, and utilized sports for various purposes. In regard to American football, the volume of research is prodigious and many works have focused upon the role of African Americans and Native Americans in this sport (both at the professional and collegiate level). In addition to these groups, Gerald Gems’s For Pride, Profit and Patriarchy demonstrates how the gridiron was utilized to transmit American cultural values to “white ethnics” who came to the United States in the early part of the 20th century (Gems 2000, cited under General Overviews). While much has been learned about the significance and history of football players of these backgrounds, Latinos and their contribution to the sport (at all levels) have generated far less academic interest.

General Overviews

Of the overviews included here, the most thorough is Iber, et al. 2011 (Latinos in US Sport) which proffers a fairly comprehensive chronological synopsis of participation in football (and other sports) at all levels, as well as revealing the value of athletics to the barrio and how the broader society perceived Spanish-surnamed athletes. Other works, while not discussing sports directly, impact this research too. For example, there are the essays Anderson 1998 and Blanton 2000 on the supposed intellectual and cultural backwardness of these people. These researchers reveal how the majority often perceived the intellectual and physical capabilities of Latinos/as. Surely, whites thought, a people so culturally backward (and of limited intellect) could not succeed in modern, complex sports. Sociologists such as Grey 1992 have investigated the capacity for success in athletics to challenge lingering negative notions about the growing and increasingly more dispersed Spanish-speaking population of the United States. Others, while recognizing this trend, focus more upon the limits of sport to change perceptions about Latinos such as Foley 1990. Although it does not deal directly with Latinos, a recent work by Gems (Sport and the Shaping of Italian American Identity) presents a well-written and researched example of how a similar project can be completed and constructed (either on a specific sport or on sports in general) focusing on the experience of Latinos. Three recent works—Wood 2015a, Wood 2015b, and Iber 2017—provide a sense of how the game of football made its way to Mexico, Cuba, and other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America. While certainly not the “national sport” in any of these locales, football is developing a growing interest among the inhabitants of these nations. There is, as of 2017, even a professional football league in Mexico with six teams based in the national capital as well as other parts of the nation.

  • Anderson, Lars. Carlisle vs. Army: Jim Thorpe, Dwight Eisenhower, Pop Warner, and the Forgotten Story of Football’s Greatest Battle. New York: Random House, 2008.

    Recounts the social, historical, and political significance of the classic 1912 game between the Carlisle Indian School and the US Military Academy.

  • Anderson, Mark C. “‘What’s to be Done With ‘Em?: Images of Cultural Backwardness, Racial Limitations, and Moral Decrepitude in the U.S. Press, 1913–1915.” Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos 14.1 (Winter 1998): 23–70.

    DOI: 10.2307/1051888

    A review of newspapers throughout the United States and their perspective on the Mexican Revolution. The study provides a sense of how many whites in the United States perceived the intellectual, cultural, and physical “limitations” of their neighbors to the South.

  • Blanton, Carlos Kevin. “‘They Cannot Master Abstractions, but They Can Be Made Efficient Workers’: Race and Class in Intelligence Testing of Mexican Americans and African Americans in Texas during the 1920s.” Social Science Quarterly 81.4 (December 2000): 1014–1026.

    Examines the notions derived by academicians and educators as a result of testing minority youths in Texas during the 1920s. The results most often “confirmed” that such pupils had “limited capabilities” and this would limit their contributions to society.

  • Demas, Lane. Integrating the Gridiron: Black Civil Rights and American College Football. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011.

    Traces the challenges faced by African Americans in college football from the 1920s through the late 1960s.

  • Foley, Douglas E. “The Great American Football Ritual: Reproducing Race, Class and Gender Inequality.” Sociology of Sport Journal 7 (1990): 111–135.

    DOI: 10.1123/ssj.7.2.111

    Argues that sport can have certain counterhegemonic tendencies, but that there are limits to its effect.

  • Gems, Gerald R. Sport and the Shaping of Italian American Identity. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2013.

    Discusses how Italian Americans utilized sports as a mechanism to challenge assumptions about their intellectual and athletic abilities.

  • Gems, Gerald R. For Pride, Profit and Patriarchy: Football and the Incorporation of American Cultural Values. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2000.

    Examines how football helped to integrate various “new” ethnic groups into the American “mainstream” (similar to the claims about baseball) during the early 20th century. Chapter 4 is particularly significant.

  • Grey, Mark A. “Sport and Immigrant, Minority and Anglo Relations in Garden City (Kansas) High School.” Sociology of Sport Journal 9 (1992): 255–270.

    DOI: 10.1123/ssj.9.3.255

    An overview of the challenges faced by Latino students as they seek to establish their role in a “new” locale—both in the broader school population as well as on the field of athletic competition (through playing soccer).

  • Iber, Jorge. “American Football in Latin America.” In Touchdown: An American Obsession. Edited by Gerald Gems and Gertrude Pfister. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire, 2017.

    The work covers the arrival and development of American football in various parts of the world. This essay covers the history of the sport primarily in Mexico and Cuba, although it includes a discussion of recent developments in the sport in other parts of Latin America.

  • Iber, Jorge, Samuel O. Regalado, Jose Alamillo, and Arnoldo De Leon. Latinos in U.S. Sport: A History of Isolation, Cultural Identity, and Acceptance. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2011.

    The most complete and ambitious project on this topic yet attempted. This work seeks to provide a chronological overview of the role and significance of Latino/a sport participation in US sport at all levels.

  • Wood, Michael T. “American Football in Cuba: LSU vs. University of Havana, 1907.” Sport in American History, 31 December 2015a.

    An overview of a contest between a Southern team and the University of Havana football team. Contains much information regarding the assumptions of many Americans concerning the athletic and intellectual capabilities of Cubans.

  • Wood, Michael T. “American Football in Cuba: A Brief Introduction.” Sport in American History, 30 July 2015b.

    A concise overview of the arrival of the sport to the island nation.

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