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Samoans in the NFL

On Sunday, Jan 17, 2010, in the height of the NFL Playoffs, 60-minutes, a CBS evening news show aired a segment titled, American Samoa: a football island.

Reporting from American Samoa, 60 minutes news correspondent, Scott Pelley, profiled American Samoan current and past high school football stars to include the famous Pittsburg Steelers safety, Troy Polomalu.  Throughout the segment, Pelley used the growing number of Samoan athletes in the NFL to surmise an argument favoring a Samoan boy over any other "American" boy by an estimated 56%.  This speculation presupposes that Samoan boys born in American Samoa are not American, in spite of their status as U.S. nationals; it also purports a highly divisive narrative against Samoans in the NFL and in general.  Pelley employs rather bland centrist tactics by attempting to profile the Samoan race as a biological framework for football players.  He points out every obvious disadvantage he could muster against a people from impoverished communities on a small island and further describes young Samoan athletes as having some kind of physiological advantage. “You’re all born big” says Pelley to Governor of American Samoa Togiola Tulafono, as he parades the Governor down a nostalgic display of autographed football memorabilia from Samoan players and their teams.  Pelley is just short of an anthropological explanation, akin to that of Margaret Mead ‘s exploitation of Samoans, creating the conspiracy of a  “Samoan advantage” with scenes of boys climbing coconut trees (depiction of monkeys) and using machetes for household chores, a plausible image of a violent people, and pacifying any resistance with a tear-jerking conclusion on Samoans having a lot of ‘heart.’  Again, I note how Pelley’s narrative perpetuates racial stereotypes and divide.

What is most disturbing about this ’60 minutes’ segment isn’t so much the perpetual nature of subliminal hate messages against Samoans woven throughout a picturesque paradise island nor is it Pelley’s incompetent reporting of American Samoa noting, ”the only US possession south of the equator” (albeit other U.S. territories exist such as Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, of which there are many islands and atolls that the U.S. occupies as military testing grounds, etc in the Pacific)… rather, it’s the audacity of this privileged white male, having no indigenous context to report on an immigrant population such as Samoan Americans, insult the contributions of their forefathers and demoralize the importance of the continued struggle for inclusion.

Mainstream media conglomerates, such as 60 minutes, often make themselves off to be a ‘watchdog of democracy’ reporting on issues of social importance, and unveiling universal truth.  In fact, these are often misguided by media owners inserting their exclusive biases and more often than not, these news sources are becoming more dangerous for our communities than the obvious right-winged Fox News Channel.  At least the Fox doesn’t come in sheep’s clothing.   

While media moguls serve as lapdogs of plutocracy and protect the interest of their politico-economic elite; we continue to support their venom by watching their version of public airwaves.   It’s time we stand up against media threats directed against our communities, and hold the Scott Pelley’s of the industry accountable through media uprising.  Seems almost anecdotal in 2010 to have handy the ‘serenity prayer’ for these situations, but I’m afraid it’s gonna take more than prayer, and more than 60 minutes of our lifetime to admonish this injustice.  With that said, my new resolve is to have the serenity to persevere, the courage to unite our voices and the wisdom to create our own programming content inclusive of community, equality, shared responsibility, opportunity, justice and human rights for all people, not just the few.

 

Author's bio: Val LiHang To’omalatai Jacobo, a Samoan-Chinese American, was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.  She was rooted in Samoa, which she considers her homeland, from 1977-1987, before returning to the U.S.  Val worked a fulltime job in the transportation industry to support her mother and sisters, founded her college’s Pacific Islanders Association (1990), led social work initiatives for interns of the California Department of Corrections Parole and Community Services division, while receiving her Bachelors degree in Criminal Justice (1994) and her Masters Degree in Public Policy and Administration (1997).  Subsequently, she launched a tri-lateral career in public service as a policy analyst for a public university, and maintained private and non-profit interests simultaneously.  She currently serves as the CEO/President of The Jasmar Group, an investment firm with a community-centric focus; and serves as a Managing Partner for both Vajon LLC a public relations firm and Erica Printing a garment manufacturer in Los Angeles. Val serves on the board of community based non-profit organizations such as Tafesilafa’i Inc and newer agencies such as EPIC (Empowering Pacific Island Communities), and PacBiz, (The Association of Pacific Islander Businesses and Professionals.  Val is a leading authority on Pacific Island community advocacy and public relations in the greater Los Angeles area, representing the progressive voice of the Pacific diaspora.  Her current passions include blogging for progressive websites such as Asian Pacific for Progress and Pacifika Voice, and producing community engagement multi-media projects.

Your rating: None Average: 3.4 (10 votes)

kristin.fukushima on Wed, 01/20/2010 - 10:57

Yay Val!! This article is dope.

"...my new resolve is to have the serenity to persevere, the courage to unite our voices and the wisdom to create our own programming content inclusive of community, equality, shared responsibility, opportunity, justice and human rights for all people, not just the few"

WORD.

FJ (not verified) on Tue, 01/26/2010 - 09:16
1

Val...what? You looked too much into this simple piece. 60 minutes acknowledged the existence of Samoa to an audience that most likely could care less of Samoa or watching football and identifying specific Samoan players. The only insult that happened in this piece was the assumption that all NFL Samoans are from Samoa. The truth is, majority of Samoans in the NFL are from Hawaii & the Mainland not Samoa. This piece in my opinion should've been on the impact of SAMOANS in the NFL period! Bottom line this was a simple piece on Samoans and their knack for the game of Football. Scott Pelley, 60 minutes are irrelevant. SAMOA & the successes of its sons is what matters. No harm done.Smile

good work Val! (not verified) on Fri, 01/29/2010 - 22:10

Good critical analysis here Val! Great work!

Siaosi Ale (not verified) on Fri, 03/19/2010 - 11:23
2

sister val, if i may call you that, i understand your article and analysis but with all the negative publicity about our samoan brothers and sisters throughout the world it is very refreshing to have our people seen at their best. so from trhe land of the long white cloud, new zealand, may those who inspire us keep on keeping on. fafetai lava, god bless.

Cool

junior (not verified) on Thu, 04/01/2010 - 08:23

Val,

no disrespect, but i find your analysis to be a bit overboard, and believe me, i am not trying to be an intellectual bigot. i am Samoan and have played football and many members of my family have played college or even NFL.

first of all, i don't think the comparing of Samoan boys to the average non-Samoan American presupposes that American Samoans are not Samoan. if i compared the odds of an African-American man getting into the NBA to that of the "average non-African-American American male," i am not insinuating that African Americans are not Americans. i am simply trying to compare a racial construction to the greater population of the US. i do agree that their is an assumption that most Samoans in the NFL are from the actual islands of American Samoa, when in fact, most of them were born and raised in places like Cali, Utah, Hawaii, and Wash.

My issue with the comparison differs from yours in that I think it is sloppy because they are comparing a relatively small ethnic group to a nation with over a 100 million non-Samoan males. if they want to compare the odds of Samoans getting into the NFL with another group, compare them to another US ethnic group of similar demographics.

regardless of who or what you compare us to; as a group, Samoans do have a relatively high number of men who excell in football. so why? i don't think the 60 minutes show was too far off in their attempt to capture some of the reasons: marginalization in the US, humble economic conditions, and of course Fa'aSamoa. however, genetics cannot be understated in this discussion. there is a reason why their are no filipino Americans in the NFL (please forgive me if there are). why is it so taboo to say that some races or ethnic groups are better physically suited than others for certain things. is there any doubt that African American's are better physically suited for the game of basketball than any other US race? not to undermine their fundementals, but there is a reason that some 80% of the NBA is African American.

by and large, being good at athletics also takes mental toughness, and that's why people from the under belly of society dominate the blue-collar sports. because these sports are tough and tough people thrive in tough conditions where silver spooners often fold.

as far as stereotyping goes, it's hard not to stereotype Samoans in a tiny little segment that is focusing on football. stereotypes are built into the subject matter, so it is virtually unavoidable. but Polamalu did mention that the beautiful thing about football is that it has provided some Samoans with access to education.

i agree with you Val, in the context of Samoan issues and news, this 60 minutes piece is very shallow and in the grand scheme of things with all the issues facing Samoa and Samoans, football is almost irrelevant. but as you know, football is a billion-dollar industry, so there are tv ratings and corporate and commercial interests influencing why this story was chosen over so many others.

to put it simply: Americans love their football.

 

Anonymous Coward (not verified) on Wed, 04/21/2010 - 13:04

oops, i made a typo when i wrote:

"First of all, i don't think the comparing of Samoan boys to the average non-Samoan American presupposes that American Samoans are not Samoan."

i meant to say:

First of all, i don't think the comparing of Samoan boys to the average non-Samoan American presupposes that American Samoans are not American."

Super Bowl Travel Packages (not verified) on Fri, 05/07/2010 - 11:50

While I'm not sure if "races or ethnic groups are more physically suited than other things." I DO think that it may just be that some cultures are more interested in certain things (in this case, sports) than others. I probably wouldn't go to Belguim to see a bull-fight, nor would I go to Africa to see a major baseball event. It doesn't mean that they aren't available, it just means that, in their society, other things are more important in their popular culture.

Cheers!

-Booker

pinoy (not verified) on Mon, 05/10/2010 - 08:55
Really? No Filipinos in the nfl...there are...google it!
Junior (not verified) on Sun, 05/23/2010 - 20:13

touche: there have been 8 all time. and of course, now we must get into the politics of what determines a filipino to be filipino.

Junior (not verified) on Sun, 05/23/2010 - 20:13

touche: there have been 8 all time. and of course, now we must get into the politics of what determines a filipino to be filipino.

Junior (not verified) on Sun, 05/23/2010 - 20:13

touche: there have been 8 all time. and of course, now we must get into the politics of what determines a filipino to be filipino.

Junior (not verified) on Sun, 05/23/2010 - 21:30

sometimes pc-ness gets in the way of reality: can we not say that generally speaking, some ethnic groups or races are better suited for certain physical activities than others? can we not say that in the US population: African Americans in general are better genetically suited to excell at hoops than Samoans.

i get your argument that certain activities are culturally relevant to certain groups of people and not others, but with that said, one cannot igore the reality that certain races or ethnic groups excell at certain activities more than others. i am not implying intellectual racial superiority; i am simply stating that certain groups of people are better physically suited for certain events than others.

How many Samoans play NBA? and don't even try and tell me Sams don't like hoops. Sams love hoops; for the most part, they just aren't physically equiped to hoop it up at the NBA level.

of course there are always exceptions to the rule; the anomolies. like the 8 filipino nfl players and there will be a Sam nba player eventually, but anomolies do not weaken my argument.

am i really supposed to put on my pc blinders and say that the only reason african americans dominate the nba is because it's more culturally relevent to them? am i really supposed to say that if all races or ethnic groups in the world loved hoops and had access, the nba would have more players of asian ancestry than african ancestry because there are more asians in the world and since we are all physicall equal, they will have the highest number? really?

sorry, no pc blinders here; i see it how it is. no disrespect intended.

Tony (not verified) on Sun, 01/23/2011 - 07:41

American Samoans are US nationals, they are not *US CITIZENS* If they move to one of the 50 states they cannot vote in federal or state elections, nor are they automatically given citizenship by moving to the states. 

The distinction between them and Americans has some validity. 

 

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