The United States has a long history of foreign-born athletes throughout major sports leagues. From Nigerian Jay Ajayi to Norwegian Jan Stenerud, the NFL boasts a particularly high number of athletes emigrated from other countries to compete in the US. In 2019, the NFL had 35 Haitian-American athletes on rosters across the US.
While many immigrants from the nearby Dominican Republic have tended to become staples in the United States Major League Baseball (MLB), from Albert Pujols to Sammy Sosa, those hailing from Haiti seem to prefer the National Football League (NFL).
In fact, there’s been no shortage of Haitian-Americans joining up with the NFL in recent times, from Junior Galette of the New Orleans Saints or Vladimir Ducasse of the New York Jets. Here are a few of Haiti’s most elite athletes now gracing the American gridiron.
Ricky Jean-Francois is a staple amongst success stories in the NFL given that he put his head down, worked hard, and sought advice from senior players in order to improve his play. And improve he did.
Jean-Francois bounced around four different NFL teams before landing with the Patriots in 2018. Despite the loss of star quarterback Tom Brady, specialists in American football betting odds still see the Patriots as a strong team. It’s clear Jean-Francois’s hard work paid off, especially given other NFL teams in the AFC East, like the Dolphins and the Jets, haven’t played at the Patriots’ level for the last decade.
Since 2018, Jean-Francois found himself swapping teams once more to play his final year in the NFL with the Detroit Lions. Though 2019 would be the end of Jean-Francois’s ten-year career as a defensive tackle since he was drafted in 2009, his strength made him a memorable defensive play.
One year after Jean-Francois made his debut in the NFL in 2009, the Port-au-Prince-born Junior Galette was signed by the New Orleans Saints. Unlike Jean-Francois, the outsider linebacker wasn’t drafted but instead picked up as a free agent by the New Orleans Saints.
Once he began playing at the Superdome, Galette managed to pick up a cult following amongst Saints fans given his enthusiastic play. By the 2013 season, Galette had signed a deal and was soon a defensive team captain.
Though an injury to his Achilles heel would eventually see Galette ride the bench with his new franchise, the Washington Redskins, he returned to play one final season in 2017 before returning to free agency.
Born in West Palm Beach, Florida to Haitian parents, Giovanni Bernard is a young player with many years ahead of him in the NFL. As a running back, he originally gained momentum as an elite athlete during his college career—though some point to his longtime friendship with free safety for the Las Vegas Raiders Lamarcus Joyner to account for Bernard’s growth as a player.
Bernard’s college career was impressive enough that he was drafted in only the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. At the time, he was ranked as the league’s fourth-best running back entering the NFL that year, and his selection by the Bengals led him to become the first second-round NFL draftee from his college (University of North Carolina) since 1993.
After only one season with the Bengals, Bernard managed to wheedle his way into a starting position. During his first career game, he rushed over 100 yards.
Unlike Jean-Francois’s career, Bernard hasn’t strayed from his first team in Cincinnati. In fact, he’s been a consistent addition to the team’s backfield, who’s also responsible for introducing rookies to the Bengals as they join the team each year.
In September of 2019, Bernard signed a contract extension with the Bengals worth over $10 million, which helps to fund his RUN GIO Foundation in Haiti. RUN GIO, a non-profit based out of Fort Lauderdale, helps provide educational and healthcare resources in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Bernard says this foundation was inspired by his mother, who hails from Port-au-Prince.