For example, when Tiger Woods won the Masters golf tournament to become the first (part) black to win a major championship, it was widely announced that this was a historic breakthrough for minorities in the previous lily white game of golf that would get minorities interested in the sport for the first time, etc etc. This struck me as a bit odd considering that Lee Trevino, a Mexican-American driving range pro from a dirt poor background in El Paso, had won the U.S. Open 29 years before and had gone on to win six major championships in all, in four of which the great Jack Nicklaus, who intimidated everybody except Trevino, was the runner-up. Trevino was also the likely the funniest golfer of his era -- he told the reporters after his Open win in 1968, "When I get enough money I'm going to become a Spaniard instead of a Mexican" -- and one of the biggest draws.
Similarly, Nancy Lopez, a Mexican-American from
A reader wrote in recently to mention a name I hadn't heard in years, even though I live in his hometown: Pancho Gonzales, who was probably the most famous tennis player in
The tennis powers-that-be in LA didn't want him around but after he got out of the Navy in 1946, he got so good that they started to help him. In 1948 and 1949 he won the American leg of the Grand Slam at
Gonzales was a mean son of a gun with a Ty Cobb-size competitive streak. He was a chain smoker, even on the court, dying of cancer in 1995. He had five wives (marrying one of them twice). His last wife, whom he married when he was 55 in 1984, was Andre Aggasi's sister Rita. Pancho's new father-in-law, Andre's dad, an ex-boxer from
It's a helluva story, but that kind of thing just isn't very interesting to the modern sporting press. Gonzales (who looks in pictures like a mestizo weighted more toward the European than Indian side) had to deal with discrimination, but compared to what blacks had to put up with, it was kind of vague. Also, perhaps because Jackie Robinson came up with the Dodgers of Brooklyn, the black cause in sports got imprinted emotionally on a lot of young Jewish boys in Brooklyn, who went on to have a huge influence on the media. Mexicans never interested Jewish sportswriters very much. Finally, this history never really went anywhere. Today, there are 30 million Mexican-Americans, but there don't seem to be many more Mexican-American sports stars (outside of the fading sport of boxing, which Oscar de la Hoya is sacrificing his body to keep alive) than in the days of Pancho Gonzales and Lee Trevino.