The Breakdown: Here’s looking up |

The Breakdown: Here’s looking up

summit daily news
Summit County, Colorado
Sports editor Bryce Evans

Growing up, I was pretty obsessed with sports. And as such, a lot of the people I looked up to as role models were athletes, people like Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman, Neal Broten, Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg, etc.

Sure, alot of it was because these athletes played and excelled at sports that I loved when I was a kid. But another part of it was who they are, or rather, what they are.

You see, they were like me, they looked like me, talked like me and came from families like my own. That’s not to say that I liked them because they were white or anything like that, but they were people that I could relate to. When I saw people that seemed no different than me, doing great things, it made me believe in myself.

There are a lot of people like that in pro sports: Tiger Woods has shown that you don’t need to be rich and white to be a good golfer; the Williams sisters have done the same for tennis; and Kyle Orton has given hope to millions of people with an inappropriate amount of neck hair – all pretty amazing.

There could be another ground breaker, though, in a sport that rarely sees people of his ethnicity in a prominent role.

And that’s Mark Sanchez – the rookie starting quarterback for the New York Jets.

As most people know by now, Sanchez is Mexican-American. He grew up in Southern California and went on to star at USC, playing in a metropolitan area populated by more than 4.6 million Latinos.

While a Trojan, the Los Angeles community not only embraced his heritage, but trumpeted it. In such a high-profile position as the starting QB at USC, Sanchez was viewed as a symbol to the Hispanic population of Los Angeles, as written in a Dec. 29, 2008 story by the L.A. Times.

While he isn’t the only man of Mexican descent to play in the NFL – Jim Plunkett, Tony Romo, Jeff Garcia and Mark Bulger are all Mexican-Americans that have starred under center – Sanchez is in a unique position, both because of the following he already built in college and because of where he is now: the face of the franchise in one of America’s biggest sports cities. He’s also the only one of the players previously noted that’s 100 percent Mexican-American.

Really, before ever taking an official snap, Sanchez has already been put on a pedestal to a great amount of people in our country.

And he should be.

One of the great things about sports is that they inspire. You can watch a game or a match or a tournament, see someone do something unthinkable, and feel lifted, feel like great things are possible for you.

Sure, Sanchez making his first start today for the Jets might not be equal to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball or Tiger Woods winning the 1997 Masters. But it shouldn’t be underestimated how much pride a kid might feel watching someone like him play a sport that seemed virtually off limits to him before.

Sanchez has always said in interviews that he’s proud of who he is: American and Mexican. And he hopes that he can make many others around our country feel the same way.

“If the kid who sees me … sees my last name, sees my skin color and realizes that we’re the same, if he thinks he can do something better than he could have before, then I’ve done my job,” he said in that 2008 article.

More than throwing touchdown passes or winning football games, Sanchez could be remembered most for who he is and what he stands for. And unlike many situations in pro sports, that’ll be a good thing.

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