Because of the Latino influx, our very games have undergone stylistic changes as well. MLS teams have moved away from the British-style airborne attack toward a more Latin American ground game replete with back-heeled passes and multiple fakes. The Argentine team that won the gold medal in Olympic basketball in 2004 reminded the world of the beauty—and efficacy—of selfless team play. Ballplayers from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela continue to set the standard for infield and even outfield play, and the light-hitting, slick-fielding Latino of the past has been joined by Hispanic sluggers such as A-Rod, the Tigers' Magglio Ordoñez and the Los Angeles Dodgers' Manny Ramirez.
If Latinization has enriched sports, it has also complicated them. To escape depths of poverty unseen in the U.S. and obtain multimillion-dollar contracts, some Latin American athletes resort to document fraud—usually false birth certificates lowering their ages—and performance-enhancing drugs. Latin-born players have failed doping tests at rates disproportionate to their numbers in baseball. Since January, MLB has suspended 45 Dominican and 15 Venezuelan players for drug-related violations, as opposed to 10 who were U.S. born.
The growing influence of Latino athletes is evident not only at the professional level but also in smaller communities. Canoga Park (Calif.) High, which 30 years ago didn't have a soccer squad, fielded the nation's No. 2 boys' team in 2007, made up mostly of first-generation Americans whose parents are from Mexico, Central America and Colombia. Across the country in Sterling, Va., Dominion High athletic director Joe Fleming gathers more than 60 immigrant students, most of them Latinos, for World Cup Soccer, an intramural program he designed to help students from Spanish-speaking countries fit into their new surroundings. Since starting World Cup Soccer, Fleming says, the failure rate of Hispanic boys at Dominion plummeted 29% from its level of 2004.
The players at Canoga Park and Dominion are certainly not the last Latino arrivals. In previous great waves of immigration to the U.S., the newcomers were often older and came from great distances. Latinos, on the other hand, are the youngest demographic in the U.S., most of them arriving from near the nation's borders. Their influence on sports can be deeper and more lasting than that of the Irish or the Italians before them, forever changing the way games are played.