Is it time to redefine “American” sports leagues?

The United States is a country of immigrants, and it’s a pattern well-represented in our sports leagues: many baseball players are Latin American, many football players are from the Pacific or Africa, many soccer players are from Europe. The pattern has continued recently as we have seen an influx of basketball players from Eastern Europe, where the sport’s popularity is on the rise. But we’ve also seen a reversal of the pattern: instead of the players coming to the American sport, so to speak, the American sport has been coming to the players. In other words, sports historically found exclusively in the United States have been gaining traction in other countries.

The very existence of these sports in other countries is nothing new. We’ve had Canadian teams like the Toronto Blue Jays or Montreal Canadiens in American leagues for a while, and countries in the Caribbean have maintained national baseball leagues with their own championship for some time. What has been changing is the predominance and ability to compete. This past year, all four of Toronto’s American professional teams (Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, Raptors, and FC) made their respective leagues’ playoffs, the latest in a pattern of frequent appearances. International talent has only been growing. But it’s not just the talent that’s improving: the NFL International Series, which hosts regular season games in the stadiums of other countries, has shown that the United Kingdom and Mexico are hungry for American sports.

Though NFL teams in London might present a logistical nightmare for regular season play, Mexico is right next door. Better yet, other sports like baseball have already established leagues operating just south of the border. Liga Mexicana de Béisbol, Mexico’s predominant baseball league, already operates under the umbrella of Minor League Baseball. There have been talks of creating a Mexico City expansion team, a move that could prove risky, but elevations of already existing AAA teams in Mexico, teams that aren’t connected to major league teams through Player Development Contract, might prove a less risky move. The bulk of its players already compete with us in the World Baseball Classic, albeit under the leadership of stellar foreign-born MLB players. Such a team could improve and gain popularity as it plays with the best of the best in the MLB, and even teams of all sports with small markets (Green Bay, for example) manage to stay afloat in the age of radio, television and live-streaming online. Our current American leagues didn’t appear out of nowhere. While many teams have always existed in their current iteration, moving from city to city, many still were brought on-board when their league was absorbed into the organizations we have today (the American Basketball League-National Basketball League merger, for example).

Monetary potential aside, there’s also cultural value to gain. What better way to unite the cultures of North America than to play baseball together, a sport we all love? In an age of anti-Mexican and Canadian sentiment coming from the president of the United States himself, perhaps the remedy would be stronger ties in a larger, shared MLB, NFL or NBA. We already enjoy great cultural flow between the Northern United States and Canada through the NHL. Why not replicate that with Mexican and Caribbean MLB teams? Europe is practically united in soccer, more so than a European Union that’s in danger of collapse after Brexit. Why haven’t we done the same in the New World with our sports? Let’s make the term “World Series” a little more legitimate.

Photo courtesy of Edmonton Journal.

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