NFL Stands for New Filipinos in Lineup

Some have ties from one side of the family, and one is pure-blooded. They all bring a part of their heritage onto the gridiron every Sunday.
Fil-Am NFL players
Fil-Am athletes in the NFL

The National Football League (NFL) kicked off the opening of its season last month with several Filipino-American players suiting up every Sunday.

Chris Gocong of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jordan Dizon of the Detroit Lions, Steve Slaton of the Houston Texans, Aaron Francisco of the Indianapolis Colts and Eugene Amano of the Tennessee Titans all carry some Filipino heritage.

"Besides Manny Pacquiao, there haven't been many Filipinos who have played in the professional major leagues or mainstream sports," said Bo Navarro, Amano's manager. "This just shows that Filipino youth are embracing the sport."

Filipinos are not known to be football players — most don't have the physical size that many NFL personnel are looking for, said Navarro.

"Let's be honest not many Filipinos are built like Eugene — 6'3" and over 300 pounds," added Navarro.

But there are a few Filipinos who blazed a trail before today's current crop of NFL players.

Perhaps the best known is Roman Gabriel, the son of a Filipino immigrant. Gabriel played quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams during the 1960's and the Philadelphia Eagles in the mid 1970's. Gabriel had great success — he won NFL's Most Valuable Player Award in 1969 and was named to the Pro Bowl team — the NFL's term for All-Stars — four times.

Tedy Bruschi, half Filipino and half Italian, enjoyed a long and successful career as a linebacker for the New England Patriots. In Bruschi's 13 years he was part of nine playoff seasons, eight division championships, five conference titles, and three Super Bowl crowns, according to the Patriots.com. He retired earlier this year.

New Generation

Eugene Amano leads the current crop of athletes with Filipino blood in the NFL. He's the only full-blooded Filipino playing in the NFL.

Born in Manila, Philippines, Amano eventually moved to the U.S. and became a stellar athlete at Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego. He was named to the All-Conference team as an offensive and defensive lineman. That helped Amano land a scholarship to Southeast Missouri State before being selected by the Tennessee Titans in the seventh round of the 2004 NFL draft. While at Southeast Missouri State, Amano won the Dave Rimington Award, which goes to the top center in college football.

Entering his sixth NFL season, the 6'3" 310 pound 27-year-old Amano has played in all but one game during his career (79 career games played), with a total of 24 starts. Last year, he started all 16 games at left guard and was a part of an offensive front that allowed an NFL-low 12 sacks against the team's quarterback.

"Playing offensive line is perfect for me," Amano says. "I like to be behind the scenes. I'm not the limelight type of guy. I just want to get the job done and make other people look good."

Others notice his good work, though — both on and off the field.

"One thing that makes Eugene so great is that he embraces the Filipino culture," says Navarro. "He shops at Seafood City, he gives back to the young Filipinos by hosting football camps, [and] he goes to all the Filipino festivals. When the young Filipino kids find out about Eugene, they embrace him. It's like he's their role model."

Another NFL player who embraces his Filipino heritage and culture is Steve Slaton, a running back for the Houston Texans. His maternal grandmother is from Manila, Philippines and met his grandfather when he was based in the Philippines during World War II. Although he may not look Filipino, Slaton has a tattoo of the Filipino flag on the left side of his chest.

"It's just something that I'm very proud of and something that is a great heritage," Slaton told the Associated Press recently. "It's a little unknown, but I appreciate it 100 percent."

Slaton was a standout running back at West Virginia University. The Texans drafted Slaton in the third round of the 2008 draft.

Standing 5'9" and 210 pounds, Slaton is a small but quick running back. Last year he racked up 1,200 yards rushing, had 50 receptions, and scored 10 touchdowns.

Navarro say that Amano has approached the NFL about introducing the game of football to the Filipino people in the Philippines. The player hopes hopes to bring some of his teammates on the Titans or an entire NFL team to the Philippines on a goodwill tour, Navarro added.

Joseph Pimentel is a writer for Asian Journal.

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