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The Refreshing Authenticity of Giants QB Tommy DeVito

Giants quarterback Tommy DeVito is proudly embracing his Italian heritage and bringing a refreshing dose of authenticity to the league

When I was in my 20s I worked for a family-owned Italian restaurant in Eastpointe, Michigan, a suburb of Metro Detroit. The restaurant was opened in 1956 and still stands in its same spot to this day. It was founded by an Italian couple that immigrated to the United States in a time that saw many Italians leaving their home country for better opportunities. The restaurant stayed in the family, being passed on to the founder's kids. Throughout my exposure to the family I was impressed by how strong their ties to Italian culture was, something that I know from experience as an Arab in America can be difficult to maintain.

I am reminded of my experience at this restaurant with the emergence of Giants quarterback Tommy DeVito. As the Giants enter their bye week, DeVito has led them to two straight wins and provided a silver lining in an otherwise disappointing 4-8 season. DeVito is very much a local product, growing up in Cedar Grove, New Jersey and dominating at local high school powerhouse Don Bosco. And now thanks to injuries, DeVito is getting his moment for a team that plays in a stadium 20 minutes away from where he grew up. And he is doing with all the swagger and gusto that we would expect from an Italian-American from New Jersey. It has been without a doubt, the highlight of this season for fans of the Giants.

Embracing the Culture

Stereotypes are usually a bad thing, as they are typically rooted in racism and a refusal to embrace different cultures. We see stereotypes about just about any minority that has a sizable population in the United States. Italian-Americans are no exception to this rule. They have been portrayed as mobsters and thugs in movies like “Goodfellas” and “Casino”. They have also been portrayed as self indulgent partiers in the MTV hit show “Jersey Shore”. But there are times when these stereotypes can be reclaimed by the culture and become a cultural identifier.

Tommy DeVito, it seems, has fully embraced multiple Italian stereotypes and made them his own with great success. Coming from a Middle Eastern culture myself, I have often marveled at how similar Arab culture and ideals are to those of Italian and Greek people across the Mediterranean Sea. In Arab culture, it is often common practice for a son to live at home with his parents well into his 20s until he is ready to get married. This is also a common practice with Italian families, something that I witnessed firsthand when working at the restaurant all those years ago. So when the news came out that Tommy DeVito, a 25 year old Italian-American from Jersey, was still living at home with his parents I was not shocked at all. This is common practice culturally.

The same goes for the notion that his mother still does his laundry and cooks meals for him. In Mediterranean cultures this is very normal, despite how uncommon it may be for mainstream America to grasp. DeVito’s family came out in full force to his first home start last week against New England. Over 200 of DeVito’s family and friends came to MetLife to tailgate and celebrate the rookie's first start at home. This again reinforces the strength and importance of family in Italian-American culture that DeVito has fully embraced.

Lastly, is what DeVito has called “Jersey Juice”. The braggadocio and swagger that comes with being an Italian growing up in New Jersey. DeVito has it, and so does his family. The gold chains, the cigars, the hand gestures. All of it. It is all just so aggressively and unabashedly Italian. More than anything, DeVito embracing his culture proudly and loudly is a piece of emotion and authenticity that we often do not see from our favorite athletes and that is a breath of fresh air.

Celebrating Authenticity

Quite often when we hear athletes speak these days we don’t get much substance. In an era of sound bites and content aggregation, athletes tend to keep things as business proper as possible. Never coming off too emotional or critical is the name of the game to avoid headlines. A team that was masterful at this was the New England Patriots during the Tom Brady era. The answers were always unremarkable and came off with the same “on to Cincinnati” tone of Bill Belichick.

But in Tommy DeVito we have someone that is trying something new: being himself. DeVito is unabashedly an Italian from Jersey, and proud of it. His success, however fleeting in this lost Giants season, should be celebrated by Italian-Americans everywhere from New Jersey to Chicago. Having players that proudly represent a group of people is a great thing. As an Arab-American I was thrilled when Robert Saleh was hired as head coach of the New York Jets, even if I wasn’t a Jets fan. There is something special about having someone that a community of people can feel proud of.

It is even more special when that person is putting a light-hearted and fun spotlight on a culture that defines those same people. No one knows what the future holds for Tommy DeVito for the rest of the season. This might be the highlight of his career or he may be on to bigger and better things. But what we do know is that he is someone that is very comfortable just being himself and a representative for New Jersey and Italian-Americans. And that alone deserves to be celebrated.

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