Hispanic Heritage Month In Focus: Carolina Panthers’ Ron Rivera

This is part of The Shadow League’s Hispanic Heritage Month In Focus series celebrating Latino excellence in sports and culture.

Ron Rivera is one of eight NFL head coaches of color currently holding down the sidelines, being the only Latino and just the third in the league’s history. Breaking barriers as a player and coach have been the storyline of Riveras career.

When it comes to Latinos in football, just call him The Chosen One.

Drafted in 1984 by the Chicago Bears, Rivera became the first person of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent to play in the NFL. It was the first time, he truly began to understand his significance in the NFL.

I honestly wasn’t aware of it until I got drafted and people started asking me to come talk to different Hispanic groups and I was like, “Hey, that’s great.” But it wasn’t something I gave a lot of thought to. I guess that all goes back to my father (a native Puerto Rican, who was in the United States Army) and the military environment. You don’t see color and you don’t see race. The only thing you see is rank, Rivera said in a 2012 ESPN interview.

Riveras mother’s family migrated from Mexico to Colorado and then to the Salinas Valley of California.

My father was based there, they met at a USO event and the rest is history.

We moved around a lot in the military, so it wasn’t like if I had grown up in Puerto Rico and been exposed only to soccer, baseball and volleyball, or Mexico, where the main sports are soccer and baseball. Football was around as much as anything else.

Ron Rivera on immigration, Trump and race in the NFL

Ron Rivera is a former NFL linebacker, the current coach of the Carolina Panthers ? and the only Hispanic head coach in the league. He sits down with CNNMoney’s Ahiza Garcia to talk immigration, leadership and race issues in football.

When he was hired as coach of the Carolina Panthers in 2011, Rivera became only the third Latino to become a head coach in the NFL  (New Orleans coach Tom Fears and Oakland Raiders and Seahawks coach Tom Flores preceded him) and the second to lead a team to the Superbowl in 2015, when he followed in Flores footsteps.

Flores, won a Super Bowl as a backup QB for the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs, was a member of John Maddens 1976 Oakland Raiders Super Bowl -winning staff and then broke ground by winning two Super Bowl rings as head coach of the Raiders after the 1980 and 1983 seasons.

Rivera is still searching for that elusive Super Bowl ring, but his importance to the game and the impact on his community is comparable. Together they represent the Latino connection to pro football.

Weve talked about the importance of it, and its just kind of neat that we can be trailblazers, Rivera said recently of Flores and the exclusive Latino football coaching fraternity on ESPNs Max y Marly One Nacion podcast. He was somebody that I looked up [to] when I was playing professional football and then, as I started getting into coaching, thinking about that I might be able to have the same kind of impact on some young coach like he did on me.

Tom has achieved, accomplished what I hope to, and thats winning a Super Bowl. That, to me, is huge in its own right. So, to be mentioned in the same breath as him? I take a lot of pride in that.

In addition to his success as a head coach, Rivera showed courage and a willingness to go against the grain when the Panthers signed blackballed free safety Eric Reid to a contract. As a man of color, who also respects the military a great deal, Rivera understood the underlying racial and political divides inhibiting Reid from finding a job.

ig: josinaanderson on Twitter

What an image. Let us take a moment to recognize the courage and fortitude of #Panthers ownership and the front office staff and head coach Ron Rivera for signing an obvious talent in an area of obvious need. Pretty simple to do the right football thing. https://t.co/2dSGr0elYq

Rivera has  made the playoffs four times in his first seven seasons as head coach, laying the foundation for future Latino coaches to get an opportunity to lead an NFL team.

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