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American Football Idol

The rosters of teams in the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and Major League Baseball have all become quite international by now. Not so the National Football League. This isn’t very surprising, since American football is barely played outside of the U.S. and Canada, while the other sports are.

But the N.F.L., which dreams of expansion the way most of us breathe the air, has a plan to change this. I have to say, it is a pretty clever plan: as detailed in this fascinating article by Oakley Brooks in today’s New York Times, the N.F.L. is grooming three young Chinese athletes to become placekickers for N.F.L. teams. China, after all, is a gigantic market, but it doesn’t care much yet about American football. How better to spur interest than to put a few of its own in shoulder pads?

Two of the kicking hopefuls are soccer players; the third plays rugby. The N.F.L.’s task isn’t so much an unimaginable one — there have been plenty of foreign-born kickers in the league — as it is devoutly realistic: it is hard to imagine plucking a random big guy from Serbia or Nigeria and turning him into a linebacker in the matter of a few weeks, but kicking is quite a bit different.