|May 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Will the Real Puerto Rican Athletes Please Stand Up?
Can a tennis player, born and raised in Puerto Rico; once named Puerto Rican Woman Athlete of the Century; a winner of two Olympic gold medals; a winner of six Pan-American and Central American Game medals for the Puerto Rican team; a winner of seventeen Grand Slam doubles titles on the womans professional tour; an unpaid coach of the Puerto Rico Fed Cup Team; a contributor of over half million dollars to Puerto Rican organizations assisting victims of hurricanes, abused children and single mothers; can this woman be considered to be anything other than a Puerto Rican? Can a woman who has accomplished all of this and much much more in the field of amateur and professional tennis be ignored as one of the outstanding Puerto Rican athletes of our time?
Last week, as reported by Gabby Paese in the Heralds "Puerto Rico Sports Beat" Column, the Puerto Rico Department of Sports and Recreation (DSR) left Gigi Fernandez off their list of the 50 top Puerto Rican athletes of the past half-century. In an exhibition mounted by DSR entitled, "Figures, Moments and Gestures: 50 Years of Puerto Rican Sports History 1952-2002," Ms. Fernandez was excluded from the list. The montage of pictures and text purported to recognize athletic prowess since the establishment of the Puerto Rican Commonwealth government in 1952. In that sense, it had an overarching political agenda built into it at the "git go."
Reached by the Herald at the University of South Florida, where she is coach of the womans tennis team, Ms. Fernandez took the DSRs first serve and slammed it into the backhand court, "I think (my) omission perhaps takes some credibility out of the selection committee. The fact is that I am the only Puerto Rican female athlete to earn a living as a professional. My record speaks for itself. While the other females that were selected had illustrious careers in Puerto Rico, I had an illustrious career in the international stage." Fernandez made clear that the reason she thought she was rejected by the DSR was the fact that she had won her Olympic Gold medals as a member of the United States team and not that of Puerto Rico. "The decision to play for the US in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics will follow me until the day I die," she said.
As Ms. Paeses column points out, other U.S. Olympians, such as Jesse Vassallo, Jose "Chegui" Torres and boxers Luis Francisco Ortiz, Aristides Gonzalez, Anibal Acevedo and Daniel Santos were also excluded from the list.
The DSRs criterion for outstanding athletic performance seems to have been based on where and not how well their "Top 50" competed. The utilization of such a litmus test raises the question that the Hot Button Issue poll this week puts to Herald readers, "Should the participation by Puerto Ricans on the U.S. Olympic team disqualify them for consideration as Puerto Rican athletes?" Rejected athletes know where the DSR stands. Where do you stand?
Gigi Fernandez has already cast her ballot, "Can we truly have a list of the top 50 Puerto Rican athletes without including me? That is like leaving Roberto Clemente out of the list simply because he chooses to play his baseball in the major leagues as opposed to playing winter ball in the Puerto Rican baseball league."
In the case of Ms. Fernandez, the DSRs rejection is even more ironic since her direct contributions to Puerto Rican athletics have been considerable. As she told the Herald, "I won 6 Pan-American and Central American Games medals for Puerto Rico. I proudly carried the flag into the opening ceremonies of the 1983 Pan-Am Games in Venezuela. Since my retirement, I have devoted part of my time to developing tennis in Puerto Rico by coaching the Puerto Rican Fed Cup Team, something that I do out of my own free will. I have always claimed myself to be Puerto Rican and always will."
In a "point set match" comment, Gigi Fernandez made her case for inclusion in anybodys list of top Puerto Rican athletes. "Simply stated," she said, "I put Puerto Rico on the tennis map. I don't think there was a fan of tennis that didn't know that I am from Puerto Rico." In a "nice game" comment to the DSR and its selection process, she was less than gentlewomanly, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that (their) decision was politically based."
Should Ms. Fernandez and other Puerto Ricans who have competed on U.S. Olympic teams be disqualified from recognition as "Puerto Rican Athletes"?
Please vote above!
Click here to read The Gabrielle Paese article, "Who Really Are Puerto Ricos top 50 Athletes?"