Monday, February 15, 2010

Latino Olympians

As I sat sipping a cup of café con leche, and reading the Sunday New York Times, I received an email from a friend in Montreal sharing a video clip of approximately 1,500 Canadians participating in a dance-a-long to "Dancing in the Streets" on Robson St in Vancouver, British Columbia. The event was to celebrate the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games from February 12th through 28th in British Columbia. The video with hundreds of people dancing to a synchronized version of the electric slide, is really quite amusing. The video is available here.

A few hours later, I received an email from my uncle in the Dominican Republic sharing a video clip of how American Latino comedians were making fun of Latinos’ un-athletic participation in the Olympics. Latino Comedians such as Felipe Esparza, Andrew Norelli, and others made fun that there should be an Olympic games focusing on unconventional sports geared towards Latinos such as Extreme Carpooling--how many Latinos can fit in a car; Farming; Boxing—Latinos boxing oranges, apples, grapes; and Playing Dominoes a/k/a Dominican scrabble. The video is available here. Although, I laughed at the humor of mis hermanos, I did not laugh at the underlying message—a lack of Latino Olympians. As I researched the issue, I quickly realized that the real issue was not a lack of Latino Olympians. There had been approximately 24 Latino Olympians in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The problem was more fundamental--it was a lack of Latino Olympians' media coverage by major U.S. networks.

For example, in the Summer 2008 Olympics, NBC's coverage of the Beijing Olympics was touted as having better than ever content, and production. During, the Opening Ceremonies with its parade of nations, the commentators said something about every country, dropping interesting facts like its geographical location or an interesting anecdote about a certain athlete. When the Puerto Rican flag bearer entered the stage waving the Puerto Rican flag, the flag bearer himself was an Olympian who was schedule to compete in the 2008 Summer Olympics, Luis Rivera Rivera. The NBC announcers said nothing about him. Rivera had made it into the finals, competing on par with China, the U.S., Russia, Japan, Germany, and France. He made us all proud. However, the NBC announcers simply stated, “…Here is Puerto Rico, …and now for a commercial break from our sponsors.” Nothing else was said about Puerto Rico or Rivera when the coverage resumed after the commercial break.

The irony is Rivera finished 14th in the overall standings. It is interesting to me that out of approximately 7 billion people on Earth, Rivera was ranked the 14th best all around gymnast in the world. Yet, NBC did not interview him. To make it numerically even more bizarre, Rivera at the time was the third best gymnast in the western hemisphere. As a Puerto Rican Olympian, Rivera made us all proud. Nevertheless, NBC never interviewed Rivera, or mentioned his name during the 2008 Summer Olympics media coverage. For the approximately 8.5 million Puerto Ricans (living on the island of Puerto Rico, residing in the U.S., serving in Iraq & Afghanistan, and scattered across the world), watching the ceremonies they expected some mention of their native son, Luis Rivera Rivera, or at least some mention regarding how the Puerto Rican National Basketball team was the first to defeat the U.S. “Dream Team” Basketball Team. Unfortunately, Latinos across the world waited in vain.

After the 2008 Olympic Games, Associated Press (AP) reported on the under representation of Latinos in the US Olympic team. AP reported that out of approximately 600 team members, AP could only identify 24 Latino Olympians, roughly 4%, Latino athletes. AP attributed the lack of Latino Olympians to several factors economics (lack of scholarships and programs), cultural gender roles (many girls are discouraged by their families to enter sports), and placed part of the blame on Spanish TV networks (focus very little on sports outside of soccer). Some of these factors may well be contributing factors, but doesn't the lack of media coverage by major U.S. networks of existing Latino Olympians play a much greater role in creating the invisible Latino Olympian? and compiled separate lists of Latino Medalists for the 2008 Beijing Olympic. I have combined the list and there are approximately 17 Latino Medalists out of approximately 24 total Latino Olympians from the 2008 Summer Olympics, which represents a 71 percent rate of receiving a medal. That is pretty impressive. We may be few in numbers at the Olympics, but we totally rock when it comes to our athletic skill, and seizing the coveted gold, silver or bronze medal. The 17 Latino medalists from the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic included:

1) Carmelo Anthony, Gold, Basketball
2) Tony Azevedo, Team USA Water Polo
3) Crystal Bustos, Silver, Softball
4) Patty Cardenas, Silver, Water Polo
5) Henry Cejudo, Gold, Wrestling
6) Stephanie Cox, Gold, Soccer
7) Andrea Duran, Silver, Softball
8) Shawn Estrada, Silver, Boxing
9) Vicky Galindo, Silver, Softball
10) Mark Lopez, Silver, Taekwondo
11) Steven Lopez, Bronze, Taekwondo
12) Diana Lopez, Bronze, Taekwondo
13) Jessica Mendoza, Silver, Softball
14) Amy Rodriguez, Gold, Soccer
15) Diana Taurasi, Gold, Basketball
16) Dara Torres, Silver, Swimmer,
17) Brenda Villa, Silver, Water Polo

Latino Olympian medalists are not a new phenomenon. The historical evidence tells a compelling story that Latino Olympians have competed and won Olympian medals for more than one century. Mario Longoria of UTSA HRC calculated in March 2000 that Latino Olympians have participated and won Olympic medals since 1896, and won the first of many medals in 1900. (Longoria’s data included medalists from Spain and Portugal.) As of 2000, Latino Olympians have won 409 medals—117 gold medals, 127 silver, and 158 bronze. Impressive. Cuba leads in every medal category with a total of 113 medals—46 gold, 34 silver, and 33 bronze. As such, Latino Olympians are to be celebrated for their athleticism, and yet we hear nothing from the major U.S. media networks regarding Latino Olympians.

Perhaps the media coverage will be different when Brazil, hosts the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. At least that is the expectation from many people in the Latino community, especially Brasilians living in New York City, dining at a local restaurant aptly named Brasil, and celebrating news that the 2016 Olympic Games will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. Perhaps Latino Olympians will go from invisibility to invincibility. Viva Brasil!


  1. Outstanding post. Thank you!

  2. Professor Cabrera this is exactly the type of "invisibility" that is really bad for the latino community. The media never sees us unless we drug dealers or cleaning someone's house. Thank you for pointing out that we are much more than criminals and servants.


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