42 Latino Athletes Who Changed The History of Sports

With 42, the Jackie Robinson biopic, out this Friday, we look back at 42 of our greatest athletes. If you think Latinos only dominated in baseball, boxing and soccer futbol, you’ll be surprised. Click through our diverse mix of athletes and be inspired!

1. 42 Athletes: Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente

Sport: Baseball

Years Active: 1955-1972

Aside from his prolific professional career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Puerto Rican athlete was an exemplary philanthropist off the field. On the diamond he was nothing short of incredible: 15-time All Star, 2-time world champion, 12-time Gold Glove, 4-time batting champ, 1 MVP, and a World Series MVP.

Change the Game Cred: On December 31, 1972, en route to deliver aid to the earthquake victims in Nicaragua, Clemente passed away in an airplane accident—a humanitarian to the end. 

 

2. 42 Athletes: Lorena Ochoa

Lorena Ochoa

Sport: Golf

Years Active: 2002-2010, 2012

This Mexican pro took the golfing world by storm last decade with wins in the Kraft Nabisco Championship and Women’s British Open. Ochoa is widely regarded as the best Mexican golfer—male or female.

Change the Game Cred: In 2007, Ochoa became the first woman to earn more than $4 million in a season.

 

3. 42 Athletes: Pele

Pele

Sport: Soccer

Years Active: 1953-1977

Pele is regarded as the best soccer player ever to put on a pair of cleats. The Brazilian futbol god spearheaded his South American nation to three World Cups. In the twilight of his career he is singlehandedly responsible for bringing soccer to the limelight in the U.S. via the MLS-predecessor, North American Soccer League with the New York Cosmos.

Change the Game Cred: Pele was Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan.

4. 42 Athletes: Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona

Sport: Soccer

Years Active: 1968-1997

If you ask any argentino, who’s the best soccer player ever, they’ll probably say, “Maradona, che!” The FIFA Player of the 20th Century (an honor he shared with Pele) brought a World Cup to his country in 1986.

Change the Game Cred: The championship didn’t come without controversy. During a quarterfinal match against hated rival, England, Maradona scored the infamous “Hand of God” goal. In other words, Maradona poked in a goal using his hands in a game called futbol. 

5. 42 Athletes: Julio Cesar Chavez

Julio Cesar Chavez

Sport: Boxing

Years Active: 1981-2005

Considered by many boxing pundits as the best fighter to ever come from Mexico, he accumulated 108 wins in his career and today is an integral part of his sons’ boxing careers, Omar and Julio Cesar Jr.

Change the Game Cred: Chavez won six world championship belts in three different weight classes.

6. 42 Athletes: Marlen Esparza

Marlen Esparza

Sport: Boxing

Years Active: 2006-Present

The Houston native is truly a knockout. Esparza won the bronze medal at the London Olympics last year for boxing.

Change the Game Cred: She became the first American to qualify for the Olympics in women's boxing.

7. 42 Athletes: Ted Williams

Ted Williams

Sport: Baseball

Years Active: 1939-1960

The Mexican and Irish Boston Red Sox is perhaps the best pure hitter to ever grace the baseball diamond.

Change the Game Cred: Williams is also the last player to hit over.400 (.406 in 1941)—no one has come close since. 

8. 42 Athletes: Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez

Sport: Baseball

Years Active: 1994-Present

Is his career tainted? Yes, he admitted to using steroids in 2007 on 60 Minutes. Is his dating past sketchy? One word: Madonna.

Change the Game Cred: Material Girl past or not, his talent is undeniable (3 AL MVPs, World Series championship), but he changed the game with his whopping 10-year deal worth $252 million with the Texas Rangers—at the time the most lucrative sports contract ever. 

9. 42 Athletes: Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal

Sport: Tennis

Years Active: 2001-Present

During a match, Nadal aggressively takes over the court and is widely viewed as one of the best defenders ever.

Change the Game Cred: Since going pro at age 15, the Spanish heartthrob has amassed 53 tennis titles.

10. 42 Athletes: Nancy Lopez

Nancy Lopez

Sport: Golf

Years Active: 1977-2008

The Mexican American golfer led a charmed life in the late ‘70s—she graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, won the LPGA Rookie of the Year, LPGA Player of the Year and the AP Female Athlete of the Year. Fore!

Change the Game Cred: In 1978, she became the first Latina ever win the LPGA tournament. 

11. 42 Athletes: El Santo

El Santo

Sport: Wrestling

Years Active: 1935-1982

You say wrestling is fake! We say, have you ever seen lucha libre? More importantly have you YouTubed footage of Mexican wrestler El Santo? Rodolfo Huerta aka El Santo popularized Mexican wrestling and subsequently became a national hero and icon—all by never removing his mask. Sure, almost all wrestling is a little bit orchestrated, but El Santo made sure you were always entertained.

Change the Game Cred: El Santo wasn’t only a wrestler—he was a movie star, a comic book superhero, and more. He was a brand unto himself. 

12. 42 Athletes: Tito Ortiz

Tito Ortiz

Sport: MMA

Years Active: 1997-2012

This big, bad Chicano is one of the athletes responsible with mixed martial arts’ present profitable state in the sports world. As one of the early champions of the UFC, Ortiz’s fights became huge pay-per-view draws. Oh, and he has twins with, ahem, retired porn star, Jenna Jameson.

Change the Game Cred: Today, the MMA is enjoying its most lucrative period—thanks in part to Tito. 

13. 42 Athletes: Rebecca Lobo

Rebecca Lobo

Sport: Basketball

Years Active: 1991-2003

The Cuban, Polish, German and Irish baller made a name for herself in at the University of Connecticut. Even though she was part of the inaugural season of the WNBA with the New York Liberty, Lobo will forever be remembered as one of the best female college basketball players ever.

Change the Game Cred: In 1995, Lobo led the UConn Huskies to a 35-0 season and a national championship. 

14. 42 Athletes: Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols

Sport: Baseball

Years Active: 2001-Present

Pujols represents Dominican Republic’s dominance of baseball today. The 33-year-old has consistently been the game’s best player since his rookie year, 2001. With 3 MVP trophies and 2 World Series rings, Pujols is well on his way to the hall of fame.

Change the Game Cred: He is the only player in MLB history with these stats in his first 10 years: over .300 batting average, 30 or more homers, and 100 or more RBI. 

15. 42 Athletes: Marta

Marta

Sport: Soccer

Years Active: 2000-Present

If Pele was the Brazilian soccer god, then Marta is its soccer goddess. The 27-year-old has scored the most goals in the women’s World Cup history.

Change the Game Cred: She’s been named FIFA World Player of Year five consecutive years—2006-2010. 

16. 42 Athletes: Pancho Gonzales

Pancho Gonzales

Sport: Tennis

Years Active:

The Mexican American, who taught himself tennis by watching others play, is largely regarded as one of the best to ever pick up a racket.

Change the Game Cred: Gonzales was ranked the World’s No. 1 player for almost a decade. Game. Set. Match. 

17. 42 Athletes: Lee Trevino

Lee Trevino

Sport: Golf

Years Active: 1960-Present

Trevino wore his Mexican pride as a badge of honor. Simply look at his nicknames, The Merry Mex and Supermex.

Change the Game Cred: The Mexican American golfer is one of only four players to twice win three major events—the U.S. Open, The Open Championship, and the PGA Championship.

18. 42 Athletes: Alberto Juantorena

Alberto Juantorena

Sport: Track & Field

Years Active: 1972-mid-1980s

Change the Game Cred: In the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Juantorena became the first athlete to win the gold medal in both the 400 and 800-meter races in the same Olympics. 

19. 42 Athletes: Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

Sport: Soccer

Years Active: 1995-Present

Following in Maradona’s steep footsteps, Messi is largely regarded as the world’s best footballer. Even though he has yet to lead his Argentinean national team to a World Cup chip, Messi has won every soccer trophy imaginable—FIFA Player of the Year, European league, etc.

Change the Game Cred: In 2006, he became the youngest Argentine to play in a World Cup at age 18. 

20. 42 Athletes: Scott Gomez

Scott Gomez

Sport: Hockey

Years Active: 1999-Present

Ice and Latinos don’t mix. Well, if you’re Scott Gomez, ice is your best friend. The Mexican and Colombian pro’s exploits in the rink aided the New Jersey Devils to two Stanley Cups, 2000 and 2003.

Change the Game Cred: The Alaskan athlete was one of the first and most recognizable Latinos in hockey.

21. 42 Athletes: Arantxa Sanchez Vicario

Arantxa Sánchez Vicario

Sport: Tennis

Years Active: 1985-2004

Sanchez Vicario, a former world No. 1, won four Grand Slam singles titles, six Grand Slam women's doubles titles, and four Grand Slam mixed doubles titles.

Change the Game Cred: In 2007, she became the first female Spanish player to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. 

22. 42 Athletes: John Carlos

John Carlos

Sport: Track & Field

Years Active: 1960s

The Cuban and African American track star won a bronze medal at the 1968 Olympics and made a huge political statement as well (see below).

Change the Game Cred: During the 1968 Olympics medal ceremony, Carlos (right) and fellow U.S. track teammate, Tommie Smith (center), raised their black-gloved fists once the American national anthem started playing. The “Black Power Salute” is one of the most historic Civil Rights moments in sports. 

23. 42 Athletes: Fernando Valenzuela

Fernando Valenzuela

Sport: Baseball

Years Active: 1980-1997

Fernandomania! If you were alive in the early 1980s, you’d remember a stout, Mexican immigrant with a mean fastball named Fernando Valenzuela.

Change the Game Cred: In 1981 he became the only pitcher to win the Rookie of Year award and the prestigious Cy Young Award in the same year. More importantly, Fernando brought Latino fans in droves to Dodger Stadium. 

24. 42 Athletes: Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony

Sport: Basketball

Years Active: 2003-Present

The Puerto Rican and African American NBA All Star is one of the league’s brightest and biggest ambassadors. Following a NCAA championship with Syracuse in 2003, Anthony started his stellar pro career with the Denver Nuggets. This year, as the star forward of the New York Knicks he led the storied franchise to its first Atlantic Division title in almost 20 years.

Change the Game Cred: With a lifetime average of 25.0 point per game, Melo is the best Latino basketball player to ever suit up for the NBA. 

25. 42 Athletes: Roberto Duran

Roberto Duran

Sport: Boxing

Years Active: 1968-2002

When your nickname is “Hands of Stone,” most of your opponents would be wise to forfeit. The Panamanian thriller racked up 103 wins in a career that spanned five decades.

Change the Game Cred: Like Jackie Robinson, Duran is getting the Hollywood treatment. His life will be told in the upcoming biopic, Hands of Stone, starring Edgar Ramirez as Duran and Usher as his rival Sugar Ray Leonard. The legend lives on. 

26. 42 Athletes: Vernon Gomez

Vernon “Lefty” Gomez

Sport: Baseball

Years Active: 1930-1943

The New York Yankees, as always, were ahead of the game by signing Gomez in 1930.

Change the Game Cred: The Spanish, Portuguese and American pitcher won five World Series with the Yanks and was a seven-time All Star. 

27. 42 Athletes: Martin Dihigo

Martin Dihigo

Sport: Baseball

Years Active: 1922-1950

Hall of fame status to the 10th degree! This Cuban pitcher/second baseman excelled in the U.S. Negro League, Mexican League and Cuban League.

Change the Game Cred: He is the only player to be inducted into the American, Cuban and Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame. Whoa! 

28. 42 Athletes: Manu Ginobli

Manu Ginobli

Sport: Basketball

Years Active: 1995-Present

The Argentine baller is one of the key players responsible for bring the European style of basketball to the NBA.

Change the Game Cred: Ginobli is also one of only two players to have won a Euroleague title, NBA chip, and an Olympic Gold Medal. He’s like the Rita Moreno of basketball…with a bald spot. 

29. 42 Athletes: Juan Marichal

Juan Marichal 

Sport: Baseball

Years Active: 1960-1975

Often viewed as the best Latino pitcher ever, Marichal was known for his high leg kick and wicked mean pitches-including his trademark screwball. He dominated the 1960s with more wins than any other pitcher. 

Change the Game Cred: He holds the shutout record for Latino pitchers-52. 

 

30. 42 Athletes: Juan Chi Chi Rodriguez

Juan “Chi Chi” Rodriguez

Sport: Golf

Years Active: 1960-Present

Chi Chi won eight PGA titles between 1963 and 1979. During his career, his charisma often overshadowed his serious game on the course. Sample quote: “Playing golf is not hot work. Cutting sugar cane for a dollar a day—that’s hot work. Hotter than my first wrist watch.”

Change the Game Cred: First Puerto Rican to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. 

 

31. 42 Athletes: Lisa Fernandez

Lisa Fernandez

Sport: Softball

Years Active: 1990-2004

The Cuban and Puerto Rican pitcher won three Olympic gold medals with the U.S. National Softball team.

Change the Game Cred: She set an Olympic record in softball by striking out 25 batters in a single game. 

 

32. 42 Athletes: Oscar de la Hoya

Oscar De La Hoya

Sport: Boxing

Years Active: 1992-2009

The Golden Boy, a nickname who secured once he won gold at the 1992 Olympics, collected 10 world titles in six different weight divisions.

Change the Game Cred: Accumulated the most money than any other boxer in history: an estimated $696 million. Also, he became the first Latino to own a national boxing firm, Golden Boy Promotions. 

 

33. 42 Athletes: Rod Carew

Rod Carew

Sport: Baseball

Years Active: 1967-1985

The Panamanian Carew was the model of consistency throughout his career. Never a homerun king, but more of a contact hitting specialist, Carew had over 3,000 hits.

Change the Game Cred: He was an All Star for 18 years straight. 

34. 42 Athletes: Anthony Munoz

Anthony Munoz

Sport: Football

Years Active: 1980-1992

Before Munoz, offensive linemen were big, fat and slow. Once Munoz suited up for the Cincinnati Bengals in 1980, he revolutionized the position by using his agile, big frame to tackle rushers left and right.

Change the Game Cred: In 1998, he became the first and only Latino to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

35. 42 Athletes: Dara Torres

Dara Torres

Sport: Swimming

Years Active: 1984-2012

Torres is a human magnet. The svelte swimmer has won 12 Olympic medals—four gold, four silver and four bronze.

Change the Game Cred: At the 2008 Olympics, Torres at 41, became the oldest woman in history to compete in a swimming event.

36. 42 Athletes: Manny Ramirez/Pedro Martinez

Manny Ramirez/Pedro Martinez

Sport: Baseball

Years Active: Ramirez—1993-Present; Martinez—1992-2009

Both Dominican players were not only the best at their position for years, but they were also the best characters baseball has ever produced. From “Manny being Manny” to Pedro calling the Yankees his “daddy”—these dominicanos sure knew how to work the press.

Change the Game Cred: In 2004, along with fellow Dominican David “Big Papi” Ortiz, Man-Ram and Pedro led the Boston Red Sox to their first championship since 1918. 

37. 42 Athletes: Jose Canseco

Jose Canseco

Sport: Baseball

Years Active: 1985-2001

Even though the Cuban athlete admitted to using steroids throughout his career, his numbers are on par with the greats—462 homeruns, 1,407 RBI.

Change the Game Cred: With his 2005 tell-all book, Juiced, Canseco aired out baseball’s dirtiest secret—steroids. It changed sports forever. 

38. 42 Athletes: Ronaldo

Ronaldo

Sport: Soccer

Years Active: 1986-2011

Brazil sure knows how to produce elite soccer players. Ronaldo carried the torch for the South American country during the ‘90s as the best all around player year after year.

Change the Game Cred: During the 2006 World Cup, Ronaldo scored his 15th goal of his WC career—instantly becoming the top goal scorer in the tournament’s history. 

39. 42 Athletes: Diana Lopez

Diana Lopez

Sport: Taekwondo

Years Active: 1991-Present

Latinas kick arse! Seriously! Lopez took home the bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Change the Game Cred: In 2005, Lopez and her brothers, Steven and Mark, became the first siblings, in any sport, to win championships at the same event (World Taekwondo Championships).  

40. 42 Athletes: Tony Gonzalez

Tony Gonzalez

Sport: Football

Years Active: 1997-Present

No. 88 is widely seen as one of the best tight ends to ever hit the gridiron. Yet, the 13-time Pro Bowler has yet to taste a Super Bowl victory.

Change the Game Cred: He holds the NFL records for touchdown receptions (107) and total reception yards (14,268) by a tight end.

41. 42 Athletes: Teofilo Stevenson

Teofilo Stevenson

Sport: Boxing

Years Active: mid-1960s-1988

Perhaps the greatest heavyweight boxer the world only saw every four years. Stevenson pulverized his way through three Olympics and to three gold medals.

Change the Game Cred: He is one of only three boxers to win three Olympic gold medals. 

42. 42 Athletes: Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera

Sport: Baseball

Years Active: 1995-Present

Mo is simply the best closer to ever play the game. He revolutionized the position and made it almost mandatory for every MLB team to have a dominant closer. He also wears the number 42 in honor of the late great Robinson and due to the league-wide retirement of the number in 1997, will be the last player to do so this October when he retires.

Change the Game Cred: He is the all-time saves leader with 608.