Despite how popular American football is in the United States and Canada, there’s little representation in the Caribbean and Latin American sports worlds. The US’s National Football League (NFL), on the other hand, is well known abroad.
In addition to the NFL’s International Series, which sees the league play games abroad in countries like Mexico and the United Kingdom, there’s also plenty of movement into the US in terms of players.
In fact, the NFL, along with other major leagues like the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB), feature diverse lists of international athletes. The NFL, in particular, features names like Osi Umenyiora (of Ghana and the UK), Ezekiel Ansah (of Ghana), and Tamba Hali (of Liberia).
There are also plenty of top talents that hail from the Caribbean, including this year’s number twelve pick from the NFL Draft: Javon Kinlaw of Trinidad and Tobago. Kinlaw is undergoing his first season in the league with the San Francisco 49ers.
Kinlaw Heads West
Kinlaw has two of the top requirements for the making of a star NFL athlete: size and agility. After immigrating to Washington DC with his mother and two siblings, he took an interest in the American sport.
Given his size, it was an easy fit that allowed him to develop his technical ability alongside the brute strength it takes to be a great defensive player. After spending one year at a junior college, he transferred to the University of South Carolina where he played every game of his starting season as a defensive tackle.
Earlier this year, he made a transition to the big leagues after signing a four-year rookie contract with the San Francisco 49ers as the overall twelfth draft pick. Kinlaw will need to prove himself as a lineman with the 49ers, who lost last season’s Super Bowl to the Kansas City Chiefs.
At the moment, the 49ers are treading water in the middle of the pack, but NFL betting odds for this season could shift in favor of the 49ers as post-season play approaches. In other words, Kinlaw landed a prime position with the west coast team—but that doesn’t mean the hard work is up for the young player.
From 2017 to 2019, prior to his NFL start, Kinlaw performed well as part of the South Carolina Gamecocks football squad. He earned the attention of top NFL recruiters with a strong tackle record, which he’ll need to now replicate with the 49ers.
Joining Top Caribbean Talent
The list of successful NFL players hailing from the Caribbean on rosters today is short and sweet. Caribbean players are known for bringing high energy, a positive attitude, and more than a few interesting end zone dances (see: Victor Cruz’s salsa moves).
They’re also fiercely proud of their Caribbean heritage and make an effort to let their identities be known (see: Patrick Chung’s tattoos). Still, despite Kinlaw’s successful jump to the big leagues, he’ll need to make a few waves before his name is added alongside those like Pierre Garçon and Ramon Harewood.
Garçon was born in West Palm Beach, Florida to recently-immigrated Haitian parents. Originally, he made waves in the athletic world playing both soccer and football. However, he ultimately pursued a college career in football with Norwich University in Vermont.
After a few transfers in college, Garçon graduated to the NFL. In 2008, he was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts. After three years with the Colts, he moved on to the Washington Redskins, where he made his fame as the NFL receptions leader in 2013.
Ramon Harewood hails from Barbados. He moved to the States in 2006 to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. After graduating, he was signed to the Baltimore Ravens with a three-year contract.
Unfortunately, a string of injuries shortened Harewood’s time in the NFL. Following his move to the Ravens, double knee surgery left him on the injured roster for multiple seasons. Since his short-lived stint with the Denver Broncos in 2014, Harewood hasn’t returned to the NFL.