Polynesian NFL stars to be honoured in US

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 09:20 09/08/2013

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Polynesians who have become American football stars - including some from New Zealand - are to be honoured in the United States.

Many of the players now dominate the NFL as young powerful Polynesian men have become sport's hottest global commodity.

As well as American football, rugby, rugby league and even sumo are clamouring for talent.

Salt Lake City Deseret News reports that next week organisers will launch a new Polynesian Football Hall of Fame to honour the Pacific Islands' greatest football players, coaches and other contributors.

"There have been many Polynesian football players that have made a profound impact on the game we all love," said co-founder and four-time Super Bowl champion Jesse Sapolu.

"It is our responsibility to honour these legends and help educate our young people about their significant contribution to Polynesian history and football."

According to Sapolu, there are currently 60 NFL players of Polynesian decent and there were five Polynesians on the roster for the recent Super Bowl.

"There was a time when I played that I'd run into a Polynesian brother about once every four games and now there are players from the islands on every NFL team - some with four or five. This is the time. It is right and it fits."

The inaugural enshrinement ceremony will be in January next year, prior to the Pro Bowl in Honolulu.

Haloti Moala, 46, uncle and coach to NFL star Haloti Ngata, welcomed the plan.

"Polynesian players are built for combat, built for football - big, strong, fast. The warrior spirit is within us. We love contact. That's been the history of our people."

Deseret News says the Hall of Fame is sure to include one of the early island stars in the game is the late Junior Seau, a Samoan, and Jack Thompson, the "Throwin' Samoan."

An academic who has studied the browning of world sport says Polynesians are "exquisite 'products' and ... prime commodities as they are now a major force in the leading competitions worldwide....

"Pacific Islanders have become the most prodigious and prevalent ethnic group of rugby sports migrants globally."

It has increased pressure and family expectations on some of the players.

NFL veteran linebacker Tiaina "Junior" Seau killed himself earlier this year and social and personal pressures were behind Notre Dame line-backer Manti Te'o who was hoaxed over a non-existent girlfriend dying of cancer.

Utah is the front line for Pacifika's advance on American football, in large part thanks to the Mormons.

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American Samoa, population 70,000, sent more players to the NFL than any other population group. Boys born to Samoan parents are 56 times more likely to play in the NFL than other Americans.

Troy Polamalu told CBS's 60 Minutes that Samoans have little opportunity beyond the military or work in a tuna canning industry. Unemployment is 30 percent in American Samoa.

"The beautiful thing about football is it's allowed us to get into education. Football is something that comes naturally to us."

One of the best known New Zealand Polynesians to have made it into the NFL was Christchurch born Riki Ellison.

The San Francisco 49ers chose him to become the first ever New Zealander and Maori to play in professional football before David Dixon who played for the Minnesota Vikings from 1994 to 2004.

Ellison won three Super Bowls during his seven years with the 49ers.

- Fairfax Media

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