Dolphins linebacker a 'cultural junkie'
MIAMI -- Anybody who has been to Miami knows it is a unique metropolis. Fancy cars, overwhelming superficiality, a hectic night life with plenty of clubs and characters that could well have been taken out of the TV series "Nip/Tuck." Different cultures, many with Latin origin that can make Latin-American tourists feel at home -- except it isn't home.
Miami's multicultural scenario has a common thread, an element of convergence: the Miami Dolphins.
This is a city that breathes football. The Florida Marlins and the Florida Panthers are only 16 years old, and the Miami Heat is 21. The Dolphins have been here since 1965, and the community feels connected to the team.
Oddly, though, there are no Latin-American players in the roster, except for wide receiver and third-generation Mexican Greg Camarillo, who does not speak Spanish. New owner Stephen Ross knows what the city is all about, thus the "acquisition" of new limited partners Gloria Estefan and Marc Anthony. Still, it might be tough for some American players to adapt to a city that's filled with the Latin-American vibe. For some -- but not for Dolphins linebacker Akin Ayodele (AY-kin AY-dell).
His teammates describe him as a "cultural junkie," and he has taken his adaptation so seriously that he spent a day with ESPNdeportes.com during training camp in Davie, Fla., to provide the evidence.
"I'm a well-traveled person," Ayodele says between laughs after hearing the nickname his teammates gave him. "I've been to Nigeria, South Africa, Australia, Brazil, Chile and Spain among other countries. There's nothing better than traveling and getting to know other worlds. However, believe me when I tell you that there's nothing like Miami."
For those who come and go, it seems like the ideal place for a vacation. But living here brings out a different story.
"When I arrived to Miami, the language barrier was the hardest thing to overcome. People speak Spanish everywhere, and even though I learned some French when I was a kid, I was a little lazy with Spanish. My mother told me to learn it, but as a teenager, you don't always listen to your parents."
Ayodele, an 8-year linebacker out of Purdue, is originally from Dallas. He played catch while telling me to flick my wrist to get a better spiral, then went deeper into his adventures.
Few people know, and even he is shy to acknowledge it, that he is a model and has his own clothing line. Does he have a future in Hollywood?
"I did a couple of things here and there," Ayodele says. He says, though, that football is his thing, and that he will play "until his body can't take it anymore."
"I have to show you something," he says.
Ayodele grabs his computer from a bag. Rosetta Stone software automatically opens up -- evidently, it's never too late to catch up on Spanish.
"This is my Spanish teacher: Ahora puedo hablar español," he says, meaning "Now I can speak Spanish."
"I used to feel out of place in many conversations, but I understand a lot more now."
It's noon, and the 251-pound Ayodele says it's time to eat. Destination "Samba Room," he says with no hesitation, acknowledging his affinity for Cuban food. "I love rice and beans, and plantains just get the best of me."
In between aperitivos (appetizers), I ask whether there is any other aspect of the Latino culture that he likes.
"Is that a joke?" he says. "Of course, women &"
The waiter interrupts and asks Ayodele for his autograph, which he gladly grants.
There's a 40-inch plasma TV over my right shoulder, and Akin calls my attention to it when he realizes that Gloria Estefan's news conference is on the air.
"I've never met her," he says. "They stick to business and we stick to football, but what I can tell you is that I grew up listening to her because my mom is a huge fan of hers."
Gloria Estefan and Marc Anthony will sing at Land Shark Stadium on Monday, Oct. 12, Hispanic Heritage Day, when the Dolphins host the New York Jets on ESPN and ESPN Deportes.
"It will be a great game," Ayodele says. "There's a big rivalry, and it's 'Monday Night Football.' [Estefan and Anthony's] presence only adds more expectations to the game."
On the other side, there will be another third-generation Mexican, Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has not only had a great beginning to his NFL career, but also holds intense recognition within the Latin community.
"It's something that he should embrace and enjoy, but also assume it as a responsibility because it's a tremendous honor," Ayodele said.
Siesta (nap) time is on. It's a Latino thing. We shake hands and go our separate ways. This is not adaptation, but assimilation. Ayodele is the quintessential example: Living in Miami is a unique and highly Latino experience.
And in Miami, Ayodele feels as comfortable as a dolphin in the water.
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