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Football Island: The Hunting Ground for Our Samoan Brothers

Source: Harvard Crimson

Last month, as I sat in my common room surrounded by pizza boxes and blockmates impatiently waiting to watch Shakira and Jennifer Lopez perform at the Super Bowl LIV halftime show, I could not help but think of home.

As the teams ran onto the field, I was taken back to high school where my Samoan brothers would assemble to perform the haka before games, trying to intimidate the other team. With every touchdown, all I could hear were the raucous drums and the deafening “Cheeeehoo!” that would erupt from high school students that used to, and still continue to, pack Veterans Memorial Stadium every weekend. And with every big tackle I watched these professional players make on my TV screen, I could feel my Samoan brothers bodies taking impact after impact, protected only by old, used helmets and shoulder pads.

Football is the biggest sport in American Samoa. According to the Wall Street Journal, “no other segment of US society produces as many [professional] football players per capita.” With American Samoa located nearly 6,000 miles away from the United States mainland with a population under 60,000 people, it’s insane that Samoans make up about 3% of the NFL — about 50 players, nearly 40 times Samoans’ proportional share of the U.S. population. In fact, big-time American sports agent Leigh Steinberg estimated that, “A Samoan male is 56 more times likely to play in the NFL than an American non-Samoan”. And even outside of the NFL, there are around 300 Samoans playing in Division I collegiate leagues throughout the U.S.

While football has undoubtedly provided a pathway towards success and upward mobility for many in our community, we must reevaluate the effects of this dominant narrative of American Samoa as “Football Island” and the idea of our Samoan brothers as being “built for football.” Who do we exclude in this narrative? Who is being exploited? And who, in the end, is really winning?

Let me make clear that I do not blame any of my Samoan brothers for playing the game. I’ve seen it bring a pathway to education, to financial stability, and to a greater sense of family, especially for my brothers who have lacked that sense in other parts of their lives. But, is it worth the perpetuation of racist stereotypes that continue to subjugate our people? Is it worth the exclusion of our Samoan sisters from the same pathways for upward mobility and their consequent oppression? Most importantly, is it worth our lives?

Read more at Harvard Crimson

Gabrielle T. Langkilde ’21, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a joint concentrator in Sociology and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.