Foreign-born athletes have opportunity to help foster acceptance, understanding


Foreign-born professional athletes in the United States can potentially serve as agents of inclusiveness and equality at the intersection of sports, immigration and inclusion. 

“We believe that sports can provide an excellent opportunity,” said Marissa Kiss, a research assistant in George Mason University’s Institute for Immigrant Research during a recent “Immigrants, Athletes and Inclusion” webinar. 

The webinar also featured James Witte, IIR director; Michele Waslin, IIR program coordinator; and former Mason professor Earl Smith, who is now at the University of Delaware. 

Today, 14% of the U.S. population is foreign-born, although immigrant representation is far greater in many professional sports, according to IIR figures. In 2019, more than 25% of Major League Baseball players and Women’s National Basketball Association players, 21% of National Basketball Association and more than 50% of Major League Soccer players were born outside the United States. 

Their high visibility helps foster greater acceptance and understanding of immigrants and their contributions to America, the panelists said. 

“These athletes came to the U.S. in all the same ways as other immigrants and faced the same challenges of starting a new life in a new city, and often a new language,” Kiss said. 

Witte noted that the National Football League has never comprised more than 5% of foreign-born players, although those numbers could rise as the league expands its presence abroad, including four scheduled games in Europe for this fall.

Go here to listen to the webinar.

Go here for more about the IIR’s Immigrants, Athletes and Inclusion Initiative. 

James Witte can be reached at

For more information, contact John Hollis at

About George Mason 

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls nearly 40,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. In 2022, Mason celebrates 50 years as an independent institution. Learn more at