Before he added Doctor to his title, Antonio Sanchez came to Seattle in 1976 to work towards his PhD at the University of Washington. That same year, a certain NFL franchise kicked off its inaugural season at the Kingdome.
Four decades later, both Sanchez and the Seahawks have made their mark on the region, though in very different ways, and with the NFL celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, the Seahawks last week presented Dr. Sanchez with the NFL Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award. Each NFL team presents an award this month, which recognize the contributions of Hispanic leaders in each NFL market.
For Dr. Sanchez, who grew up in New Mexico, his life's work has been a commitment the educational, cultural and economic advancement of the Latino community, both locally and nationally. Dr. Sanchez is the Assistant Director of Government Relations and Special Assistant to the President of Central Washington University. He serves as a motivational speaker, provides youth leadership training for disadvantaged students, and participates as a volunteer on many community boards and committees that support the advancement of Latino students.
Each Hispanic Leadership Award comes with a $2,000 donation, with Dr. Sanchez's going to Centro Latino, a non-profit organization providing education, job readiness and support for youth and families within the Latino community of Pierce County.
"I'm totally surprised," Dr. Sanchez said of the award. "I had no idea, nor did I ever think that this was going to happen. It was a surprise, and it's happiness, not for me, because I don't think this is about me, but with what the NFL is doing with regard to understanding the role of diversity and leadership. That's a huge thing, and for an organization that's as big as the NFL, as important as the NFL, as visible as the NFL, these types of things will make a difference, because young kids will see that a place to hang their hat or their helmet or their tennis shoes to feel part of the American system."
Dr. Sanchez said his life-long desire to serve his community comes first from his parents, who instilled in him and his seven siblings a strong system of values, and also from exposure to activism in the 1960s and 70s.
"In order to build a better community and a stronger nation, we really needed to understand that inclusion— meaningful inclusion—is important," he said. "This harkens back to what the NFL is doing now. They didn't do that back then, but this will all add up to something extremely good. It's all coming together hopefully at the right time to make a difference for the next generation."
While soccer is Dr. Sanchez's first love, he couldn't help but become a Seahawks fan living in the region for so long, and having what he calls "the 10,000 colossal beast in this area" behind any good cause is a very good thing. In his work, Dr. Sanchez has seen sports used as a vehicle to teach everything from leadership training to computer training.
"What sports can do is use that interest to galvanize all the other things you need to be successful in life," he said. "Then if you add the values of sports, being a team player, what it means to play fair, to have the goal to win, I think all of those things wrapped around one central focus and brought as a package to young girls and boys is an extremely powerful tool to make their lives better and to make communities better."