January 24, 2021

Caribbean athletes in Major League Sports

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Several of the NFL’s great players have hailed from the Caribbean

Regardless of profession, the opportunity to find work abroad has never been greater. Entrepreneurs who work in economic sectors may not travel themselves, but instead see their products ship worldwide. Communications professionals can also work shifts in vastly different time zones, helping connect consumers to information around the globe. Meanwhile, the proliferation of online education means a diploma could come from a country where a student has never set foot. 

However, few professions or industries feature the mobility that sports do. Regardless of language, culture, and nationality, a professional athlete is able to literally compete on the same playing field as others. When game time comes around, all that matters is skill and tenacity.

The jump between the Caribbean and the US is a common move for many professional athletes. Similar to how European soccer teams attract players from South America, the MLB borrows talent from the Caribbean. In fact, according to the NY Times, the MLB recruited 11% of its total active players from the Dominican Republic in 2017 and another 2% from Puerto Rico. 

But what about other leagues, like the NFL, NHL, and NBA? It turns out that each of the US’s major leagues draws athletes from the Caribbean—though not with the same consistency as baseball.

NFL, Football

The NFL has the smallest number of foreign-born pros, given the sport is viable solely in the US and Canada (as the Canadian Football League, or CFL). Still, there are a number of strong Caribbean players on NFL rosters from the past twenty years, including Victor Cruz of the New York Giants from Puerto Rico, and Pierre Garçon of the Washington Football Team, who comes from Haiti.

Patrick Chung, strong safety for the New England Patriots, is one of the Caribbean’s greatest NFL success stories. Hailing from Jamaica, Chung has taken home three Super Bowl Championships with the Patriots and also been named in their 2010s All-Decade team.

Another of the Caribbean’s biggest name in the NFL is Ramon Harewood from Barbados. In 2013, Harewood was not just the NFL’s only player from Barbados, but the first to take home a Super Bowl Championship title for the island nation. 

The Super Bowl, the biggest game of the season, regularly brings in over 100 million viewers. It includes a bevy of exciting commercials from major brands and a highly produced halftime show. Harewood and Chung are the most successful Caribbean players to have played in the Super Bowl.

It pays for athletes to invest in a football regime. The NFL boasts the most lucrative franchises, ahead of the NHL, MLB, and NBA in terms of net worth and profit, as well as stability of long-term assets. For fans, the NFL also offers more in terms of wagers on NFL betting odds, fantasy league options, and even entertainment value for major events.

NBA, Basketball 

In terms of the world’s most valuable franchises, top teams from US sports leagues dominate, despite being popular solely in North America. While Real Madrid and FC Barcelona of Spain’s La Liga soccer league aren’t far behind, according to Forbes it’s the NBA that takes three of the top five positions in terms of value.

Most NBA stars are born in the US or Europe. According to a New York Times study, only one in five NBA players is born outside North America. In 2017, only 4% of the total NBA players came from countries outside the US.

Still, that doesn’t mean the NBA is bereft of valuable Caribbean athletes. Stars like Patrick Ewing of Jamaica, Olden Polynice of Haiti, and Carl Herrera of Trinidad were staples in the league throughout the 80s and 90s. Ewing is still around, currently coaching Georgetown’s basketball team in the NCAA. 

Today, Al Horford of the Dominican Republic, Andre Drummond of New York (by way of Jamaican parents), and Tim Duncan of St. Croix are the most recent NBA stars to hail from the Caribbean. Duncan, in particular, is considered one of the greatest power forwards of all time. In 2016, he retired from a nineteen-year career.

NHL, Hockey

There aren’t too many NHL players that come from the Caribbean

Unsurprisingly, the NHL features the smallest number of players hailing from the Caribbean. Learning to play hockey is nearly impossible in the region given the heat and limited access to iced rinks. According to the New York Times, less than 1% of all players in the hockey league hail from countries outside the US. Most of these players come from Scandinavia and, in the case of Caribbeans, from Canada as well.

In recent years, players like Anthony Duclair of Haiti and Kenndal McArdle of Trinidad have made consistent appearances in minor and major leagues. One of the biggest recent success stories covers the Stewart brothers, who are of Jamaican descent from their father’s side. They are strong examples for any Caribbean athletes looking to hit the ice. 

However, the biggest names of Caribbean hockey athletes are PK Subban of Jamaica and Georges Laraque of Haiti. Subban, born in Canada from Jamaican parents, won a Norris Trophy and has been named an All-Star in both the NHL and AHL. He also earned himself an Olympic gold medal competing with the Canadian national team. For many, Subban is synonymous with the Montreal Canadien’s storied franchise.

Laraque, born in Montreal to Haitian parents, is one of the most iconic players to have played in the NHL. While he’s a strong leader on the rink, Laraque was also known for his quick temper and willingness to fight. In fact, he logged over 1,000 penalty minutes over his fifteen-year career. 

Today, Subban continues to play on his eight-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens—though he’s made appearances for other teams. In 2015-16, he played for the Nashville Predators. He’s currently playing for the New Jersey Devils, though still bound to his contract with the Canadiens. 

 Laraque is no longer an active player. Since 2010, he’s shifted toward other interests, which have included stints leading the Green Party of Canada, opening his own chain of vegan restaurants, and serving as a commentator for hockey games.

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