Tulane alum Cairo Santos embodies determination in Chicago

Frank Saldaña, Contributing Reporter

cairo santos
Matthew Tate

The NFL journey of Tulane University alumni Cairo Santos is one that perfectly embodies the Latino spirit of fighting through fear and adversity. Hailing from Limiera, Brazil, Santos spent his youth playing soccer before moving to Florida, where he was introduced to American football. He applied his previous soccer experience to become a standout kicker at St. Joseph Academy in St. Augustine, Florida. 

His four-year career at Tulane was stellar, including his final season in which he went 26/27 on points after touchdowns and 21/21 on field goals. Santos signed as an undrafted free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014. 

After four seasons in Arrowhead, during which he set a franchise record for most kicks made by a rookie and garnered an AFC Special Teams Player of the Month, Santos struggled to find his footing as he dealt with injuries and bounced from franchise to franchise. After short-lived stints with the New York Jets, Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans, Santos signed with the Chicago Bears. 

Shortly after joining the Bears last season, Santos’ future in Chicago was in question. In week three of the 2020 season, he butchered what should have been a makeable 46-yard field goal, and once again found himself on the chopping block. Santos communicated his frustration and psychological obstacles in a Chicago Tribune article. “Why am I kicking so well in practice and I keep getting workouts and keep balling out at workouts and feeling like myself again but in games it’s not showing. Why am I having these misses?” Santos said.

Since that first start for the Bears, Santos has changed his mindset and overall approach to the game. No longer worrying about his future, Santos embraced the moment and his performance on the field now shines. Following the miss in week three, Santos went on to break franchise records for overall and single-season field goals and earned another NFC Special Teams Player of the month in December. While the Bears are off to a rocky start this season, he has carried his load with a perfect field goal percentage through four weeks. 

Hispanic and Latino culture has always been celebrated for its underdogs and comebacks, in and outside of sports. Cinco de Mayo remains one of the most celebrated holidays for its commemoration of the fight against would-be French invaders. Boxing and combat sports have thrived in Mexico and Latin America, where various champions have gained fame and glory for their grittiness and undying fighting spirit. Earlier this year, Mexico’s own Brandon Moreno became the first native-born, Mexican UFC champion just three years after being released from the promotion. 

Like his Latino counterparts, Santos embodies the determination and willpower to persevere through adversity. Many athletes are hesitant to talk about doubt and confidence issues. Yet, for Santos, being open about his insecurity in the sport helped him find his groove and become a mainstay for the Bears franchise, hopefully for years to come.