Only 6% of student athletes identify as Latinos
Al Día News heard from the activist for Latinos in sports Ben Rodriguez about his initiative to grow representation.
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A New Yorker with Puerto Rican heritage, Ben Rodrigez started playing football in high school. However, as an athlete, he wasn’t sure where he would fit in — even when he played for Stony Brook University, in Long Island.
“When I was in high school I would go into a locker room and I would see it split. On one side I would see my white teammates and on the other, my Black teammates,” he said. “And people who looked like me, where would we go, where would we fit?”
The feeling of discomfort has followed him to the board room of college athletics, where he has now been working for more than 10 years.
Right before the pandemic, in 2020, Rodriguez attended the annual Black Student Athlete Summit, which brings Black student-athletes, coaches, administrators and professors from around the country together to talk about issues related to the Black experience in college athletics. Rodriguez was working at Mississippi State University at the time, and brought four Black students to the submit — who were blown away by the experience. They could see themselves represented at the highest levels, such as presidents and coaches.
“I remember being glad and happy for them, but also thinking, does anything like this exist for Latinos,” Rodriguez added.
It’s the same thing, you walk into a meeting and you just see people that don’t look like you
When he couldn’t find anything like that for the Latino community, Rodriguez reached out to the few other Latino administrators he knew and founded the Latino Association for Collegiate Athletics Administrators and Student-Athletes (LA CAASA). According to research conducted by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), across all college divisions, Latino students only make up for 6% of athletes, even though they represent 22% of the American college population. By targeting a niche market, the main goal of LA CAASA is to help grow representation of Hispanic people throughout collegiate athletics.
Rodriguez attended graduate school at the University of Central Florida, where he joined DeVos Sport Business Management program — the reason why he decided to go down South. He explained that the program was committed to issues related to social justice, diversity and community.
There, he had the opportunity to be a part of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) — a resource that annually publishes report cards analyzing the racial and gender makeup of players, coaches and staff in the different professional and college athletics leagues — and work on those reports which was an eye opening experience, as he said.
Not a problem of talent, Rodriguez believes the reason why Latinos aren’t as present in college sports is due to a lack of resources and experience — and that’s what LA CAASA wants to address.
“We want to provide a space for student athletes that are already in college to share similar experiences and talk about what they want out of a college experience,” he added.
Eventually making an impact at the high school level, LA CAASA wants to provide resources and experiences to people who may have not had them. The association wants to show students what it looks like to be recruited, the difference between divisions (I, II and III), and how academics play a part in that.
LA CAASA wants to show Latino high schoolers what it takes to get to that level and let them know they can do it.
For first-generation college students, he understands there is a difference in the culture with parents who were born in other countries as they often don’t understand how athletics and academics come together in the United States. Because of that, Rodriguez thinks it is important to focus on the parents and let them know how the system in this country works and how the education side can benefit from being a student athlete.
For the future, Rodriguez really wants to reunite all Latino athletes and administrators at one place. Considering that LA CAASA was launched this year, he is hopeful that in 2023 they will be able to have a conference.
“We want to build a community and empower people to make a difference,” he said.