Afro-Latinos have had a major impact on the development of sports in the United States. Such an acknowledgement was long overdue in many cases, but in others, it never arrived.
To succeed, they had to overcome racism, the language barrier, and cultural stereotypes. A great baseball player, Puerto Rican Orlando “Peruchín” Cepeda, summed up their struggle in a great phrase: “we had two strikes against us: one for being black, another for being Latino.”
Despite the harsh obstacles, Afro-Latino athletes persevered, based on talent and tenacity. We share below the stories of five Afro-Latinos who made important contributions to sports history in the United States. Their legacy should be remembered all year round, not just during Black History Month.
Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso (Baseball)
Baseball is the sport where Afro-Latinos have left a deeper mark. The first to open the way was Cuba’s Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso. This popular player was a star in Cuba before coming to the United States. Just two years after Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier in Major League Baseball, “Minnie” signed a contract with the then-Cleveland Indians in 1949.
Miñoso had a successful and long career in the Majors, especially with the uniform of the Chicago White Sox. The Cuban is one of two players to have played a major league game in five different decades. He started in 1949 and officially retired in 1980.
On eight occasions he had an offensive average above 300 and drove in more than 100 runs in four seasons. Miñoso received seven invitations to the All-Star Game and won three Golden Gloves as best left fielder.
In December 2021, justice was finally done to the Cuban, as a special selection committee approved Miñoso’s post-mortem induction into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Roberto Clemente (Baseball)
The biggest Afro-Latino icon in sports is Puerto Rico’s Roberto Clemente. On the field he was the most well-rounded player, but his greatness went beyond his sporting feats.
Clemente’s track record was impressive. He won two World Series titles with the Pittsburgh Pirates and was the first Latino player to reach 3,000 hits. He finished his career with an average of 317, won 12 Golden Gloves and participated in 15 All-Star Games.
But Clemente was much more than a baseball player. He spoke out against the prevailing racism in American society. That is why he was cordially hated by many, but today he is also a revered figure precisely because he did not keep quiet in such complicated moments.
Clemente’s end was tragic. In December 1972, the plane carrying humanitarian aid for those affected by the devastating earthquake that struck Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, fell into the sea. They never recovered his body. In his honor, Major League Baseball instituted the annual “Roberto Clemente” award, which recognizes the most active players in community outreach efforts.
Related article: The 10 Best Puerto Rican Athletes in History
Carmelo Anthony (Basketball)
Anthony has a tattoo of the Puerto Rican flag on his right hand. This symbolic gesture shows that the NBA superstar has not forgotten his roots. He hardly met his father, Puerto Rican Carmelo Iriarte, who died when the boy was only two years old. However, “Melo” has always shown his love for the “Island of Enchantment”. There, his Foundation has built and restored basketball courts. In addition, Anthony helped raise funds to help the victims of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“Melo” made the select list of the top 75 players in NBA history. His numbers show his consistency in the league: in 19 seasons he has scored 28,060 points, so he occupies the eleventh place of all time in this category. This veteran basketball player has participated in 10 All-Star Games and, in 2021, he received the NBA Social Justice Champion award. In addition, he is a three-time Olympic champion with the United States national team.
Tony Perez (Baseball)
Another Cuban baseball player who helped open doors for Afro-Latinos in Major League Baseball was Atanacio “Tony” Perez.
This Hall of Famer grew up admiring Miñoso. In his journey through the Major Leagues he experienced discrimination up close, with separate berths and compartments for black and white players, in the sixties. Tony and his fellow Afro-Latinos could not eat with white players. Despite all the barriers, including language, since Perez could not communicate well in English, the Cuban became a big star in Major League Baseball.
His offensive power was key to the Cincinnati Reds winning back-to-back World Series titles, in 1975 and 1976. Tony played 22 seasons in the majors, where he averaged 279, with 379 home runs and 1,652 RBIs. In addition, he managed the Reds and the Marlins.
In 2000, Perez received sufficient votes from a special committee to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. His son, Eduardo Perez, also played in Major League Baseball and is now a successful commentator on ESPN. His 2021 special show, “Somos afrolatinos,” is a must-see because it allows us to better understand the intersection between Latino culture and race.
Panama Al Brown (Boxing)
For decades, Afro-Latino boxers have shone on the main stages in the U.S. Our account ends with the story of Panama Al Brown, the first of those champions. This was a successful man in the ring, who interacted with great figures of the time but died in dire poverty, of hypothermia, alone and abandoned on the streets of New York.
Brown was born in the province of Colon, Panama. He was black, Latino and never hid his homosexuality. The combination of these three elements meant constant discrimination, especially in the United States. However, Brown overcame everything, thanks to his strong punch. In the first five years of the 1920s he conquered more than 40 victories in American rings.
Then he went on to Paris where he continued to triumph amid a very bohemian lifestyle. He returned to the United States in 1929 and won against Spanish boxer Gregorio Vidal, in a fight where the world bantamweight crown of the Athletic Commission of the State of New York was disputed.
Then, things started to go downhill for Brown. He squandered his money, was unsuccessful in business, and ended up in abject poverty. He died of tuberculosis in 1951.