Samoans have dominated the NFL over the course of the last few decades. It is to the extent that, according to a recent report on “60 Minutes”, over 30 Polynesian players are entering the NFL each year. They are quite present in college ball as well, with more than 200 players of Pacific Island descent. But how is it possible that this tiny island nation can have produced such a disproportionate number of excellent players? There are a great many explanations for this, a few of which will be explored below.
The first explanation, surprisingly enough, is historical. Back in the late 1800s, a sugar plantation was built on the shores of Oahu, Hawaii, in the town of Kahuku. The Kahuku sugar plantation drew many proletarian wayfarers, such as Samoans, and surprisingly enough, Mormons. The plantation managers knew they needed to find a way to motivate and mold their workers, and decided that sports would be the way to go. Sports was thus embraced, and the workers built an ethos of their own. Sports, and specifically football, became a considerable part of Samoan culture, and come 1940, became a significant part of life at Kahuku High School. By 1945 Al Loloati, a Samoan born player, joined the Washington Red Skins.
But history is far from being the only reason why Samoans are so skilled at football. Another reason comes from the culture of the island nation. For example, there is a large emphasis on dance in Samoa, which is learned from a very young age. Children are thus taught to be light on their feet, and muscle memory is maintained into adulthood. Similarly, athleticism is required to survive in Samoa. So much of the sustenance on the island requires physical strength that not being strong means a lower chance of survival. Harvesting coconuts, for example, requires the ability to climb straight up a palm tree and maneuver a machete to knock off the fruit. That skill alone requires enormous amounts of strength and coordination. Fishing and hunting are also crucial forms of survival that require physical power and endurance.
The problem is, the strong presence of Samoan and other Polynesian players in the NFL and college football has built a massive racist assumption, the primary justification being that they are genetically bigger and stronger, and therefore naturally built for football. It is common that recruiters for both leagues keep a sharp eye out for Polynesians for their body type, strength, and agility.
There is another serious issue in the recruitment of Polynesians in football, especially at the football level. It is uncommon that this population comes from high socioeconomic backgrounds or have families that are academically based. Similarly, local high schools tend to be at a lower level than the national average. As a result, when students get accepted into universities on football scholarships, they tend to struggle tremendously on an academic level. This is an issue because upon graduation, even if they end up playing in higher leagues, they will not be well-rounded individuals and will have fewer opportunities outside the world of sports.
Fortunately, efforts are being made to counter this phenomenon. Aleaga, a former linebacker at the University of Washington, started the Taro Roots Foundation. This non-profit is directed towards helping Polynesian youth succeed in education. He conducts camps for middle school children, where he teaches them about the importance of academics as well as football skills.