Mary Devine


The United States prides itself on being “The Great American Melting Pot:” a country full of different ethnicities, cultures, and languages. This melting pot would not have formed without immigration and those who carried their traditions along with them. American sports organizations like Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Football League (NFL), and the National Basketball Association (NBA) are full of professional athletes who have immigrated to America from around the world.  

Major League Baseball is known for its diverse athletes. MLB teams consist of players from all parts of the world, from North America and the Caribbean, to Europe, Asia, and even Australia. According to Forbes, “Fewer than 5 percent of major league baseball players in the 1940s were foreign-born… Today, approximately 26 percent of major league baseball players are foreign-born; a more than five-fold increase from the 1940s.”

In the NFL, the amount of foreign-born players is lower than most American sports leagues. However, according to XPat Nation, an online magazine, American football has risen in cultural importance and more foreign-born players immigrate to the United States. 

Now, nearly every NFL team has at least one immigrant player. The Chicago Bears and former St. Louis Rams each have four immigrant players participating on their teams. At the moment, there are eight people in the Football Hall of Fame who were born outside of the United States. One of the eight foreign-born Football Hall of Famers is Tom Fears, a receiver for the Los Angeles Rams.  

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico to an American father and a Mexican mother, Fears is known as being the first Mexican-born player to be drafted into the NFL. At the age of six, Fears and his family immigrated to Los Angeles, California. Fears began playing football at Los Angeles’ Manual Arts High School, but his football career at Santa Clara University was cut short after drafted into World War II. 

Upon Fears’ return home in 1945, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams who he played with from 1948 to 1956 after attending college at UCLA. Fears’  achievements include being NFL champion in 1951, First-team All-Pro in 1950, NFL receiving yards leader in 1950, NFL 1950s All-Decade Team, and Second-team All-American in 1947. 

Similarly, the NBA also has many players who are immigrants and many foreign-born players have even ended up as fan favorites. One of those fan favorites is Hakeem Olajuwon, a player whose fans might argue is one of the best in all of NBA history. 

Olajuwon, is a center for the Houston Rockets and the Toronto Raptors. Olajuwon immigrated from his home in Lagos, Nigeria to play basketball for the University of Houston in 1981. He was then drafted into the NBA by the Houston Rockets in 1984. Olajuwon finished his career as the ninth leading scorer in league history and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008. 

Olajuwon’s many achievements include two-time NBA Champion, two-time NBA Finals MVP, NBA MVP, twelve-time All-Star, two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, six-time All-NBA First Team, three-time All-NBA Second Team, three-time All-NBA Third Team, five-times NBA All-Defensive First Team, four-time NBA All-Defensive Second Team, two-time NBA Rebounding Leader, three-time NBA Blocks Leader, and 1985 NBA All-Rookie First Team. 

From the MLB to the NFL, to the NBA, immigration didn’t just allow for the formation of the “Great American Melting Pot,” it also allowed for people of different ethnicities to showcase their talent. These immigrants havehelped form the well-known American sports leagues that fans know and love today.


Tom Fears was the first Mexican Immigrant to play in the NFL.

Tom Fears was the first Mexican Immigrant to play in the NFL.