Tracey Savell Reavis
Every September 15 to October 15, the U.S. recognizes Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrating the histories, cultures, and contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans. Many Hispanic Americans have made an impact in sports, blazing a trail for others to follow. We are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month by recognizing 28 Great athletes who thrill and excite us in their sport, and inspire us by lifting others in their communities.
1. Roberto Clemente was a 15-time All-Star who amassed 3,000 hits and led the Pittsburgh Pirates to two World Series. Clemente, one of the first Latino players enshrined in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, was a hero in his native Puerto Rico, where he spent much of the off-season doing charity work. The baseball legend tragically died in a 1972 plane crash while delivering aid to the victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua.
2. The Golden Boy of boxing Oscar De La Hoya won 10 world titles in six different weight divisions and ended his career with a remarkable 39-6 record. In 2005, his firm launched Golden Boy Partners, a company focused on urban development in Latino communities.
3. The Ladies Professional Golf Association Hall of Fame inductee Nancy Lopez became the first player to win the Rookie of the Year Award, Player of the Year Award, and Vare Trophy in the same season, when she accomplished the triple haul in 1978, and is still the only woman to hold the distinction. Since retiring at the end of 2002, Lopez continues to make numerous charitable contributions including the Nancy Lopez/AIM Golf Tournament that supports handicapped youth.
4. Al Montoya was the first Cuban American to play in the National Hockey League when he joined the New York Rangers in 2004. A former goalkeeper now retired, Montoya serves as the director of community outreach for the Dallas Stars, a position the team created for him.
5. On August 24, 2015, Jessica Mendoza became the first female analyst in the history of Major League Baseball. Mendoza, who won a gold and silver Olympic medal playing for the US women’s national softball team, and was a past president of the Women Sports Foundation, inspires the next generation by encouraging others to embrace their unique differences.
6. Although Daniel Dias didn’t start swimming until he was 16, he would go on to compete in four Paralympic Games, and receive the Laureus World Sports Award for Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability for a record three times. After competing in Tokyo last year, he is Brazil’s most decorated Paralympian ever having won 14 gold medals and a total 27.
7. Telemundo’s Andres Cantor had us at “Gooooool!,” his signature call after a soccer score. As a commentator, Cantor helped shape American sports culture and industry. He also co-founded Fútbol de Primera Radio, the largest nationally-syndicated soccer radio network in the United States.
8. Alex Rodriguez’s 22-year Major League Baseball career is highlighted by three American League MVP awards, 10 Silver Slugger awards, two Gold Glove awards and a World Series title in 2009 with the New York Yankees. Off the field, A-Rod has supported youth including donating a $1 million to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade. After the gift, Rodiguez said, “If it wasn’t for the Boys & Girls Club, I wouldn’t be in the big leagues today.”
9. Dara Torres made history as the oldest swimmer to ever make a U.S. Olympic team when she did so in 2008. Torres is one of the most successful female Olympians of all time, winning 12 total medals, and being named one of the “Top Female Athletes of the Decade” by Sports Illustrated. She was inducted into the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame in 2019.
10. In her 15-year career, Marly Rivera has worked as a writer at Major League Baseball, an editor at Univision Communications, and is currently a National Baseball Writer / MLB Analyst at ESPN and ESPN Deportes. Rivera, who is also one of the few Hispanic females in the BBWAA (Baseball Writers’ Association of America), continues to give back to her native Puerto Rico.
11. On the field, Leo Messi is a global legend. The Argentine footballer, who has won a record seven Ballon d’Or trophies, among numerous club and individual awards, was appointed in 2010 as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and has been involved with supporting humanitarian efforts. His self-named foundation also provides donations and help for a wide range of charities.
12. Linda Alvarado became the first Hispanic female co-owner of a major league team when she became co-owner of the Colorado Rockies. Alvarado, a staunch advocate for workplace diversity, was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2003.
13. Richard “Pancho” González won 15 major singles titles in tennis, including two U.S. National Singles Championships in 1948 and 1949, and 13 Professional Grand Slam titles. His namesake Youth Tennis Foundation is a testament to the tennis icon’s legacy in the Hispanic community.
14. Earlier this year, chef José Andrés was appointed Co-Chair of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, & Nutrition, a committee focused on promoting healthy, accessible eating and physical activity for all Americans. Andres, known for his humanitarian work and the World Food Kitchen, continues to be a guiding leader in support of undeserved communities. Work with this committee includes supporting youth sports.
15. Minnie Miñosa, a seven-time Major League Baseball and two-time Negro Leagues All-Star, broke the color barrier as the first Black Hispanic player when he joined the Chicago White Sox in 1951. The club retires his Number 9 jersey in 1983, and honored his induction in the hall of fame this past July.
Minnie Miñoso is to Latin ballplayers what Jackie Robinson is to black ballplayers,” wrote Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda in his autobiography about the Cuban Comet.
16. Before becoming manager of the Mexican national team, Gerardo “Tata” Martino managed a string of clubs, including FC Barcelona and the Argentine national team, and led the expansion team Atlanta United to an MLS championship in the club’s second season. Tata’s passion for youth and local development helped the sport, the team and the community thrive in Atlanta.
17. The Dan Le Batard radio show on ESPN features the namesake host and his father, and targets a Hispanic audience. In addition to his show amassing a devoted fan base, Le Batard is a well-respected journalist among his peers in the sports industry.
18. Daniel Suárez became the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race when he finished first at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, June 12, 2022. “I have a lot of people to thank in Mexico. My family, they never gave up on me. A lot of people did, but they didn’t. I’m just happy we were able to make it work,” said Suárez in an ESPN.com interview.
19. Juan Carlos Rodriguez has served as the president of Univision Deportes, the sports division of Univision Communications Inc. since 2012. Under his leadership, Univision Deportes has won several Sports Emmy Awards for excellence in sports coverage.
20. On June 15, 1963, Juan Marichal became the first Latin American to pitch a no-hitter in the major leagues when he did so for the San Francisco Giants. Marichal was later the first Dominican inducted into the baseball hall of fame when he was enshrined in 1983.
21. Tom Fears, who played football for the Los Angeles Rams, was the first Hispanic American to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. The wide receiver helped the team win an NFL title in 1951, and he was later named to the NFL’s 1950 All-Decade Team.
22. Richard “Pancho” González won 15 major singles titles in tennis, including two U.S. National Singles Championships in 1948 and 1949, and 13 Professional Grand Slam titles. His namesake Youth Tennis Foundation is a testament to the tennis icon’s legacy in the Hispanic community.
23. Para alpine skier Arly Velasquez’s mountain bike accident left him with spinal cord injuries but it did not dampen his appetite for sports. Not only did he make his fourth Winter Paralympic appearance earlier this year, but it marked the third time he was Mexico’s sole representative. He was quoted saying, “If it was not for my stubbornness to keep competing, pushing, challenging myself on the mountain, Mexican representation wouldn’t be here. I love it.”
24. Jackson State University was in the news last month making history by naming the first Hispanic students in their respective performing sections of the school’s marching band. JSU senior Marvin Garcia Meda is the first Hispanic head drum major for the school’s band Boom, and sophomore Priscilla Marin is the first Hispanic performer of the Prancing J-Settes.
25. Figure skater Donovan Carillo competed in the Beijing Olympics making history as the first Mexican skater to make it to the free skate, and came home to a hero’s welcome. The 22-year-old Carrillo, whose performances during the Games went viral, thanked his supporters, and afterward posted a heartfelt sentiment on his IG account: México siempre en mi corazón.
26. “Fernandomania” took off after 1981 the year Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela won the Major League Baseball NL Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards, and lead Los Angeles to a World Series title. Valenzuela’s impact on the Hispanic-American community was particularly significant in that he helped repair relations between the community and the team over seized land used for Dodger Stadium.
27. Founded in 1975, the Latin American International Sports Hall of Fame recognizes individuals with good and proper standing in the community, high morals and values and who have excelled in sports and/or have contributed to the promotion of sports and goodwill in the Latino community. Today more than 250 legendary sports figures have been inducted.
28. In 2011, Julio Cesar Chávez was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame following a remarkable 25-year career in which he finished with a record of 107 wins, six losses, and two draws. Chávez, who is considered the greatest Mexican boxer ever, is also the first Mexican to win world titles in three weight divisions (super featherweight, lightweight and super lightweight).