While many can name those first African-Americans, few can cite the names of the first Latinos in each category.
But when Sanchez was thrust into the spotlight as the starting quarterback for the University of Southern California in his junior year, he immediately became a role model for many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in Southern California and around the country. He is proud of his heritage, and wore a mouthpiece with a small Mexican flag painted on the front in a game against Notre Dame. His fans reveled in the shared pride.
Nonetheless, Sanchez received a number of angry e-mails and letters after that Notre Dame game, telling him, among other things, to go back to Mexico, according to the Los Angeles Times. It had an echo in the African-American community, when so many athletes were told to “go back to Africa,” even when generations had passed since anyone in their families had set foot in Africa.
Sanchez was born in the United States and has two older brothers who played football at Yale and DePauw. Their heritage was never a topic of controversy at those places, but their public exposure never rose to the level that Mark’s did. Nor did they flash their ethnic pride on a national stage.
Sanchez starred in the Los Angeles spotlight and finished at USC with a 2009 Rose Bowl victory over Penn State. He was picked fifth in the 2009 NFL draft by the Jets and ultimately was named the starting quarterback. It is a heady time for Sanchez, as he joins an impressive list of Latino quarterbacks in the NFL, including Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys and Jeff Garcia of the Philadelphia Eagles, both of Mexican descent.
Did You Know?
Joe Aguirre became the first Latino drafted by an NFL team when the Washington Redskins chose him in the 11th round in 1941, five years before Kenny Washington and Woody Strode became the first African-American players in the modern era of the NFL.
Jim Plunkett was a Latino quarterback who won Super Bowl XV for the Oakland Raiders in January of 1981, seven years before Doug Williams became the first African-American quarterback to win one.
Tom Fears became the first Latino head coach when the expansion New Orleans Saints hired him in 1967, more than two decades before Art Shell became the first African-American head coach with the Raiders in 1989.
And with Plunkett calling the signals, Tom Flores coached the Raiders to their Super Bowl XV championship, 26 years before Tony Dungy became the first African-American head coach to win the big one.