From Roberto Clemente to Caterine Ibarguen, Afro-Latin American athletes of various nationalities and disciplines have left a lasting mark on the world of sports.
Some of these legends may not be household names to American fans, but they still serve as beacons for those navigating the intricate waters of identity – be it in the US (where) A quarter of Latinos have African roots), elsewhere in America or the Caribbean.
As ESPN prepares to re-broadcast its first Afro-Latin American town hall (Somos Afro-Latinos, 7 p.m. ET Sunday, February 28, on ESPN2) we’ve compiled a list of 10 essential Afro-Latino athletes from across the spectrum. The criterion was simple enough: select 10 Afro-Latino athletes whose contributions are too large to be ignored. One important caveat: Brazilians, who generally do not identify as Latinos, have been excluded.
The closing balance was still impressive in itself. Among the selected athletes:
A Cuban sprinter who survived a terrible accident to deserve every award imaginable except for Olympic gold.
An attacking midfielder from Peru who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Pele.
A prolific Dominican thug who moved to New York City as a teenager and continues to make the list of all-time home runs.
A Hall of Fame boxer and three weight world champion from Puerto Rico who defeated America’s very own Golden Boy in his heyday.
Like he was last summer Latino Face of Baseball Project For Hispanic Heritage Month, Clemente is an outstanding player here too. The aim now is to shed some light on the accomplishments of those who may not have enjoyed the mainstream spotlight in the US but have nonetheless made important contributions to their sport and their countries.
Country of origin: Puerto Rico
Roberto Clemente was driven by what he preached. Perhaps the best example of this: “Any time you have the opportunity to change something in this world and you don’t, you are wasting your time on earth,” he said. Clemente died on New Year’s Eve 1972 when the plane in which he was helping victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua as part of a relief mission crashed over water. Major League Baseball’s highest humanitarian honor, given to the player whose actions off the field best exemplify Clemente’s spirit, bears his name. Clemente was just as dynamic in the field. He was the first Latin American player to achieve 3,000 career successes. The two-time World Series champion finished his career with a batting average of 0.317, and his average of 0.328 in the 1960s was by far the best in a period defined by dominant pitching. Clemente won 12 gold gloves and was a 15-time all-star. With a powerful and precise right armIn six seasons he directed the majors in field assistant and put 266 together for his career – most from an outfielder in the past 80 years. Even so, Clemente was always interested in much more than just size on the field. He was fully aware of his impact as a black and Puerto Rican public figurenever miss an opportunity to denounce racism and discrimination.
Country of origin: Peru
At the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, the great Pele declared that he had found the person to whom, as the greatest football player, he would pass his torch. “Don’t worry. I’ve found a successor and it’s Teofilo Cubillas,” said Pele. The 21-year-old Cubillas scored five goals in four World Cup games in Peru and was named the best young player of the tournament – which, along with Pele’s words, made him legendary on his way to becoming the greatest player in his country. Cubillas, a midfielder who was ahead of his time, didn’t take long to make an impact in Europe. He had a short stint at the Swiss club Basel, but got his money’s worth in Porto, whose fans consider him an all-time idol. In 1970 he won the Bronze Boot in Mexico and eight years later the Silver Boot in Argentina, which led Peru to the quarter-finals of the World Cup on both occasions. He also led Peru to Copa America titles in 1975 and 1987. Cubillas further cemented his place in the hearts of Peruvians when he came out of retirement to join a reconstructed Alianza Lima after most of the team were killed in a plane crash in 1987.
Country of origin: Colombia
With an omnipresent smile, Ibarguen changed the face of Colombian sport as one of the greatest triple jumpers of all time. It recorded the sixth longest jump ever – 15.31 meters (50.23 feet) reached in 2014 – and won Olympic gold in 2012 and 2016. She is also a five-time medalist at the World Championships and a two-time winner at the Pan American Games. Ibarguen’s run, including dominant triple and long jump performances in the Diamond League, earned her the IAAF Award for Sportswoman of the Year in 2018.
Sports: Greco-Roman wrestling
Country of origin: Cuba
It is a select few who can claim to be the undisputed greatest in their sport. Cuba’s Lopez is an Olympic gold removed from this category. The 38-year-old wrestler came out of retirement to win his fourth consecutive Olympic gold in Greco-Roman wrestling at the Tokyo Games – an accomplishment that would put him over Russian Aleksandr Karelin (three gold medals, one silver medal) than the Goat. Lopez’s biggest challenge could come from Lopez himself, fending off injuries and being mindful of his weight. Despite his age, he will be considered a favorite to take his fourth gold in Tokyo. In addition to his Olympic résumé, Lopez has won five world championships, three world championships and five Pan-American titles.
Country of origin: Cuba
Volleyball legend Luis has packed many of the qualities of the best world-class athletes into her 5-foot-9 frame. The range of their bounce could easily have covered the standard 10 foot height of an NBA rim. Luis was unstoppable on the pitch, possibly the best volleyball player of all time. She led Cuba to second place at the 1986 Women’s Volleyball World Cup in Prague just 18 days after the birth of their only daughter. For the next decade, Luis directed one of the most dominant volleyball dynasties of all time, with Cuba winning every gold at the Olympic Games and World Championships between Barcelona 1992 and Sydney 2000.
Country of origin: Cuba
The native Cuban opened the door to Afro-Latinos in the majors when he made his debut for the Cleveland Indians 1949 – two years after Jackie Robinson broke down racial barriers in baseball. However, it did not take until Miñoso was traded to the Chicago White Sox that he got regular playing time and became a legend of Windy City. He fought over 300 eight times, drove over 100 four times, and finished his career averaging 0.298 and 1,023 RBIs over a five-decade period. Despite his number and longevity – Miñoso’s final appearance came in 1980 at the age of 54 – he was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Country of origin: Dominican Republic
Born in the Dominican Republic and raised partly in New York and Missouri, Pujols played impressive baseball season after season from 2001 to 2011, an achievement that puts him side by side with the greats. In those first eleven seasons of his career, Pujols set up a line of .328 / .420 / .617 / 1.037 to go with an OPS + of 170. In the meantime he was leading the St. Louis Cardinals to two championships, hit 445 home runs and an average of 121 RBIs. His accomplishments include a 2001 Rookie of the Year award, a slap title, six Silver Sluggers, two Gold Gloves, and three MVPs (on four other occasions he finished runner-up in the poll). Injuries slowed “The Machine” down a bit after joining Los Angeles Angels However, they didn’t stop him from hitting the Hall of Fame numbers: 3,236 hits, 669 doubles, 662 home runs, 2,100 RBIs, 1,843 runs, and a 100.7 WAR. When all is said and done, Pujols will have legitimacy to be considered not only the best Latino ball player of all time, but also one of the best of all time, regardless of background.
Ana Fidelia Quirot
Country of origin: Cuba
Quirot, whose specialty was the 800 meters, is an icon throughout Latin America. She was the first Latina athlete to win the IAAF Athlete of the Year in 1989. She was well into her prime when she suffered an accident in her apartment in 1993 while seven months pregnant, leaving third degree burns on her chest, face and arms. Her child was then delivered prematurely and did not survive. Despite the tragedy, Quirot fell by the wayside. Nine months and 21 operations later, her silver medal at the Central American and Caribbean Games continues to give fans chills. Although Quirot returned frequently to the operating table, she won gold at the 1995 and 1997 World Championships. At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, she won silver. Her personal best of 1: 54.44 in the 800 remains the standard in the Pan-American region.
Country of origin: United States
A man by many nicknames, “Super Felix,” who was born to Dominican parents in New York and raised in California, had one of the toughest 12-year runs of any Olympic athlete. After falling short in the semi-finals of the 400m hurdles in Sydney in 2000, he came to Athens four years later after winning 43 straight wins – including his 2001 and 2003 World Championships – en route to extradition to the Dominican Republic first Olympic gold medal. He failed to make it out of Beijing 2008 qualifying and appeared to have passed his prime. With low expectations for London 2012, Sanchez nonetheless captured an emotional victory As the first Olympic champion not to represent the USA, he won two gold medals in the 400 hurdles – and at the age of 34 became the oldest gold medalist in the history of the event at the Games.
Felix “Tito” Trinidad
Country of origin: Puerto Rico
Trinidad is considered one of the best puncher of all time in its class and has won welterweight, super welterweight and middleweight belts. Given his differences with the Puerto Rico boxing association, “Tito” never had a chance to fight for Olympic glory at the 1992 Barcelona Games. In his professional career, however, he would defeat three Olympic champions within a year – Pernell Whitaker, Oscar De La Hoya and David Reid. Trinidad also made 15 successful welterweight title defenses en route to a 42-3 mark, including 35 wins by knockout. Trinidad’s on-screen victories have been a source of pride and celebration in Puerto Rico, where he remains a beloved character.
Compiled by Hiram Martínez and Damián L. Delgado Averhoff.