Roberto Clemente

“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.” But, 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.