“As an athlete he was really excellent, extraordinary but he didn’t
just want to be a famous baseball player, he wanted to excel as a human being.
In fact, he was a better person than a ballplayer.”
Roberto Gil (Clemente’s close friend)

Premiering on the ESPN network today is Mario Diaz’ documentary The Clemente EffectClemente is a passionate recounting of the
Puerto Rican and American baseball legend. The documentary tells the important story
of a humble and noble athlete, who aside being revered for leading the
Pittsburg Pirates World Series’ win in 1960 as well as becoming MVP in 1966, emphasizes
Clemente’s life as a humanitarian and proud advocate of Human Rights for
minority players.

Although I was never a baseball fan per se, growing up in
Puerto Rico, I was acquainted to Roberto Clemente’s legacy, which went far
beyond his athletic abilities.  I must
have been about six-years old or younger when seeing his memorabilia in
relatives’ homes peaked my curiosity and prompted questions. Relatives will say
things like, “He was our hero; he was the
best Puerto Rican player in the major leagues who loved his country.”
the last part was what always stuck with me. He was on his way to deliver food
and supplies to Nicaragua after an earthquake, but the plane was too full, and
it crashed in the sea a mile from away from its landing. They never found him.

I can only imagine at an early age, why would someone so
famous and revered, and rich, could also be so selfless, and want to help
earthquake victims in another country. The answer was always “That’s just the
kind of person he was; concerned with the welfare of others.”

It’s an important story. It’s seldom to be truly inspired by
an athlete aside from the fame and prowess in the playing field. Clemente aimed
to give hope those who were less fortunate. Through several accounts by Clemente’s
close friend Luis Mayoral,
Clemente’s brother Matino and actor Modesto Lacen, who played Clemente in a
Puerto Rican Off-Broadway play DC-7: The Clemente Story, you are
taken back to the icon’s humble beginnings. Raised as a Christian to hard
working parents in agricultural Carolina, Puerto Rico at the time – his father
was a foreman at a Sugar Mill – Clemente was discovered at a young teen by a
rice salesman, who referred the youngster to Santurce Crabbers’ team, where he
was later drafted to play for Pittsburgh in the U.S.

One of the most interesting aspects of Effect is Clemente’s assimilation – or lack thereof – to American
culture. Although Puerto Rico isn’t a racial utopia necessarily, Clemente’s naiveté
upon facing the racial challenges during the Civil Rights were trying and
unfathomably challenging. Puerto Ricans pride themselves as one culture, regardless
of race. There are definitely the effects of colonialism in the island, which
surface more as “colorism.” Racism is deemed publicly shameful; there’s an
African legacy in the island that permeates in Puerto Rican culture as a whole,
through centuries of lawful miscegenation similar to other Caribbean countries
and unlike the U.S. Despite the challenges, which gave Clemente even more determination
to succeed in the field, Clemente managed to excel, while remaining genuine
about his roots and outspoken about human rights.

Not only was Clemente black, but he also faced a language
barrier. There weren’t many Latino players in the league. The prideful athlete
was passive, yet defiant. He confronted the media at the time, which was
unheard of by a public figure of color at the time.  I only wished the documentary would have
focused on how black Americans related to Clemente at the time.

Aside from books, it’s surprising that there hasn’t been a
definitive screen documentary on Clemente. The legend has been part the PBS
documentary American experience, but after all these years, The Clemente Effect
is overdue. Here’s your chance to get to know more about the inspiring
philanthropist and amazing athlete. Tune in today at 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN and
on ESPN Deportes at 10:30 p.m.