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When the marketing department scratched a highlighter yellow tilde over the N in NFL Thursday to commemorate the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month, the NFL— excuse me — the ÑFL accomplished its goal.
Because if the corporate function of heritage months, after all, is for companies to see minorities through their mostly white gazes, the ÑFL was transparent. It told the world exactly how it assesses its Latinx fans: not as individuals or human, even, but instead as an economic opportunity, faceless dollars they felt could be bought with the laziest form of pandering.
“This shield integrates an unmistakable Latin flavor and is fundamental to our always-on, 365 day initiative,” the ÑFL said Thursday in its marketing copy to hype the altered logo. “The electric brush stroke of the ‘eñe’ is filled with an infectious personality that is carried out through the rest of the look & feel.”
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On Thursday, the ÑFL practiced colonialism in miniature. It inaccurately misappropriated a character vital to the Spanish language and instead whitewashed it alongside the sterile corporate speak that is, in effect, an erasure. It reduced an entire diaspora in one tweet.
Perhaps this may seem insignificant, merely a squiggly, yellow bend over one of the 26 letters we use, but its import transcends the political borders of the nearly 20 countries or territories that comprise Spanish-speaking Latin America.
The Spanish alphabet holds 27 letters, actually, because the ñ is its own entity. Though it first appeared in the dictionary of the Real Academia Española in 1803, its first uses date back more than 1,000 years, to the Middle Ages. As Romance Languages started to evolve out of Latin, the ñ was born from the need to represent the palatal nasal, a sound that was nonexistent in Latin.
Over time, the ñ has come to embody the represented identity of the language.
The tilde is featured in the logos of organizations such as the Instituto Cervantes, which promotes the study and use of Spanish, and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
In 1996, as Latin American and Spanish writers and intellectuals denounced the erasure of the ñ from computer keyboards that were manufactured with anglophone consumers in mind, Argentinian poet, novelist, musician and playwright María Elena Walsh wrote an article published in the newspaper La Nación titled “La eñe también es gente.” In it, she argued that control over the letter was necessary for sovereignty.
“Let us continue to own something that belongs to us, this hooded letter, something very small, but less sentimental than it seems,” Walsh wrote. “Something important, something human, something soulful and lingual, something that cannot be disposed, something that is both personal and shared because that is how it sings to us.”
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Per the 2020 U.S. Census, there were 62.1 million Hispanic or Latino people living in the country, roughly 18.7% of the total population.
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) publishes annual report cards on racial and gender hiring across the major sports leagues. Its 2021 report on the NFL posted data for 747 employees in the league office. Only 48 of those, or 6.4%, identified as Hispanic or Latino(a).
For the player population, those figures are even lower: just 12 of the 1,725 players (0.7%) for which there are data identified as Hispanic or Latino.
This all comes despite a steady growth of Hispanic fandom over the last decade. There was an all-time high 30.2 million Hispanic NFL fans living in the U.S. in 2019, up 5% from the previous year, according to the SSRS/Luker on Trends Sports Poll.
To celebrate its Latinx fans, all the NFL has to do is engage them organically and in good faith, and not just when September 15th rolls around. Highlight the stories of the very few Latino players. Show how they honor their identity. Listen to the very few Latinx voices in the league office and empower them to dictate the messaging and initiatives promoted during National Hispanic Heritage Month. Outsource marketing efforts to Latinx entrepreneurs. Do some research before bastardizing arguably the most essential letter in our language.
And when the time comes to engage, do more than the bare minimum.
Another one of the many unfortunate aspects of all this is that instead of talking about the work the NFL is actually doing to grow the game in Latin America, such as the NFL International Series games, its International Pathway Program and a flag football initiative in Mexico, we’re talking about this.
Presumably, for some Latinx people out there considering NFL fandom, that tweet was their first interaction with the league. Presumably, it may have been so repulsive that it will be their last. If that’s the case for just one person, frankly, they’re better off because with one “electric brushstroke,” the ÑFL told them how it viewed their position in the world.
Still, for a league at once trying to lure the burgeoning interest of a fan base that sees itself largely unrepresented at every level, this is nothing but an opportunity shamefully wasted.


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