Media initiative Football Matters released a documentary yesterday called Unsung Heroes, exploring the Polynesian community’s influence on American football in the United States.
The Football Matters team said there were inspired to do the project after witnessing the beauty of the Polynesian Culture and the family ties within it.
They said they will filming with Brigham Young University head coach Kalani Sitake in May 2018 for another series when the idea took off.
“Sitake, the first Tongan collegiate football head coach, provided so much insight about his background and the journey so many have made from the Islands to the United States,” the Football Matters team said.
“We wanted to share how much the Polynesian culture has impacted the game of football but more so wanted to showcase the dedication and community of these men beyond the football field.”
In the documentary, almost all the coaches interviewed stressed the culture and values of Polynesian players over their physicality.
“They emphasized that the success of the Polynesian athlete in football stems from the core values of family, faith, and hard work, and spoke of how those traits are instrumental in building a football team,” said the Football Matters team.
“Even more than that, these individuals are able to befriend and inspire those around them, from the ‘haka’ to postgame speeches, the idea of building up teammates and encouraging those around them is prominent.”
The Football Matters team said the “unsung hero” designation fits because this connection between Poly culture and American football is largely unknown in the States.
“The fact that Polynesians only make up 0.5 percent of the U.S. population (2010 census) likely means they have little recognition in any American sport, let alone football.”
“Football fans know the players—Tua Tagovailoa, Marcus Mariota, JuJu Smith-Schuster—but they don’t realize these guys truly are ‘heroes’ to their people on the islands back home.”
The Football Matters team said the Polynesian player does seem to be growing in prominence and moving into the foreground of the sport.
“People will learn in the documentary that, despite their small presence in the U.S., Polynesians are actually 28 times more likely to play football at the professional level than any other ethnic group.”
“When a player like Mariota or Tagovailoa has success, it seems to inspire and motivate the Polynesian youth, both on the islands and within the United States, that they can work hard and find success.”
Another theme of the documentary is players using football as a path to a successful life.
“A lot of these athletes are growing up in tough situations, and they see that if they can take their talent to the next level, they can help their families tremendously,” said the Football Matters team.
“Again, the family focus is prominent: these young athletes know what their ancestors provided for them and they feel motivated to do something similar for their own parents/family.”
The game has not taken off in the same way here in Samoa as it has in U.S territories like American Samoa and Hawaii.
The Football Matters Team said this is why the influence of the sport is stronger there.
“You’ll see more kids who are growing up watching the NFL and college football from a young age, whereas in Samoa it is more of a focus on rugby.”