Although there have been some high profile names within the sports coaching landscape speaking out on politics, race and the American experiment, most notably San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, there have only been a few high-profile individuals of a Hispanic ethnicity who have had anything to say about President Donald J. Trump’s not-so-subtle racism.
Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera, whose father was an army officer, was raised on U.S. military bases outside of the country where it was about rank, not race. In an interview with CNNMoney, Rivera revealed that the first time he encountered racism and racial slurs such as the “N” word and “wetback” was when he came home to the U.S.
“It blew my mind. It was at the time that the mini series Roots came out,” Rivera told CNNMoney. “I didn’t understand it. I had to talk to my dad about it. … He said, ‘Honestly, it’s as if somebody called you a spick.’ I didn’t know that [word.]”
He went on to describe his encounter with the word “wetback”.
“My mom’s side of the family were farm workers,” Rivera said. “Needless to say, being a kid at that time, I got into a fight over it. It was just, that was probably the one time that it really made me aware.”
He went deeper into discussions of race and politics with CNNMoney reporter Ahiza Garcia.
Ron Rivera on anti-Hispanic racism coming from the White House.
“I think people have to understand that whatever the president is trying to get across, it’s really not about what he’s saying but about how we react and how we do things. (Hispanics are) a group of people who are trying to make better lives for their families and I think what people have to understand is that’s what America’s foundation is built on. We can’t lock people out because of that.”
On the Pressure Faced By People of Color to Perform at a High Level.
“It’s funny. I have an African American quarterback and I do think that he feels (pressure). He wants to be successful because, and the end of the day, he does want to present the (idea) that you can be successful as an African- American playing quarterback. I struggle with that because, at the end of the day, it should really be about your merit.”
On Being a Role Model to the Hispanic Community.
“I feel that I have to succeed to the highest level that I can and I’m at that level now. Once I decided that I wanted to be among the best and reach that pinnacle of what I do, and I have been. I hope what people take from this is you can be whatever you want. You have to put in the work and do the things that you’re suppose to do but at the end of the day all you need is an opportunity.”
Coach Rivera’s journey with the Carolina Panthers is important not only because of his team’s success, but also because of what he represents as a Hispanic coach in the National Football League. In this age of overt racism and xenophobia, it’s great to hear another voice of reason in a sea of social justice complacency that is professional sports.