Latinas in Motion Impacting the Sports Industry

By Gloria Romano-Barrera

In just about every facet imaginable of competitive sports Latinas are contributing in a unique way. From competing to healthcare to managing to analyzing and even owning sports teams, Latinas are conquering the field. Meet 14 Latinas passionate about sports, life, family and inclusion.

Andrea Perez
Global Vice President/General Manager Jordan Women’s
Nike

It was the 1999 World Cup that inspired and had a profound impact on Andrea Perez’ career. “I loved sport and this moment fueled my desire to work for Nike,” she shares of her career journey. “Seeing those women during the World Cup motivated me to not be afraid of the big stage, to dream big and to just do it. I dreamed I would one day make my own ads while doodling them on my notebook.”

While at the University in Mexico, she recounts the moment she went to a conference that was hosted at the school and the general manager of Nike Mexico was part of the panel.

“Without any hesitation and in front of a large audience, I asked him “How can I work with you?” He responded, “let’s chat.” I had an informational interview with him and he referred me to HR. I interviewed for three different jobs and ultimately landed my first position at Nike as the assistant to the Marketing Director.”

Fast forward to today, Perez is the head of the Women’s business for Brand Jordan globally, as well as of Nike’s licensing partnerships. Her responsibilities expanded to driving consumer innovation, insights and product creation, in addition to digital, marketing, finance, strategy and merchandising.

Perez considers June 16, 2003, as one of the best days of her life as it was the day she began her Nike career.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” she shares. “I graduated on a Saturday and began working the following Monday. Over the years, I’ve worked my way up in the organization and I’m currently the VP/GM of Women’s for the Jordan Brand.”

Lizette Salas
Professional Golfer

Born and raised in Azusa, California, pro golfer Lizette Salas is a professional Latina golfer currently playing on the LPGA Tour breaking the mold on the golf course and beyond.

Starting playing golf at the age of seven, Salas credits her parents for her successful journey in golf. For Salas, her Mexican roots have impacted every aspect of who she is.

“My parents are immigrants from Zacatecas, Mexico and our home was and is a Latino household full of tradition and heritage,” she shares. “My parents have worked hard and sacrificed so much to make it possible for me to become a professional golfer. I was raised to place family first and we are a tight-knit familia to this day.”

Salas believes the golf world is evolving with diversity and inclusion initiatives created to encourage girls from all backgrounds to explore golf. Today, the LPGA has the “Girls Golf” program designed to teach girls how to play golf, a program that didn’t exist when Salas started her journey.

“What is exciting for me is to see more and more Latinas participating in high school golf and moving on to play in college,” she shares. “There are girls who dream to play on the LPGA Tour and they tell me that when they see me, they know it’s possible for them too. That’s pretty powerful. We now have a pipeline in our Latina community that leads to the LPGA Tour! I’m so proud to be a part of this movement.”

Salas always dreamt of becoming a professional golfer and now that she has made her dream come true, she feels humbled to represent the United States Latino community every time she steps foot on the golf course.

Sandra E. Lopez
Vice President, Intel Sports
Intel

“It all started when I was a little girl. As a girl, I played in various sports whether it was softball, gymnastics or basketball,” shares Sandra E. Lopez, Vice President, Intel Sports at Intel. “Yet, basketball taught me the importance of resilience and challenging biases. Standing five feet and two inches tall, I was quickly dismissed as a player. However, I also had ability of quickness and speed and that can be an advantage in any sport. So, while I wasn’t the best player, I was able to illustrate that short people can also play basketball.”

Fast forward to today, this mindset of defying odds has worked greatly in Lopez’ favor as she enjoys creating new businesses and the future. In her role at Intel, Lopez is responsible for partnering with the sports and media industry to provide future fans with the next generation of immersive media experiences. Her team is focused on leading the business, marketing and market development efforts of Intel Sports and Studios. Lopez is also the co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on VR/AR/XR.

“Establishing new businesses has a low success rate where less than 10 percent make it,” she shares. “As such, it is important to have a clear vision and understand one’s ability to win. Thus, I have chosen markets that I believe will change society for good. Our goal is to establish True View as a new media standard. So, in the future, you would be able to experience any sport in True View. For today, our partnerships scales across soccer, football and basketball and includes partnerships with the NFL, NBA, LA Liga, Ligue 1, and various clubs within EPL (Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester City).”

With advancements in 5G, AI, and the Cloud, she believes the next generation of communications has arrived, and it will not only transform sports, but will also transform a massive array of industries.

“Imagine a world in which you can experience the ring from Canelo Alvarez’s point of view,” she shares. “Or, if you are a content creator breaking down the goal of Vinicius Junior – that is what we are enabling. Intel is creating the technologies and solutions that will revolutionize sports and how we interact and experience every game.”

As an executive at Intel, she has the responsibility to ensure the voices of the underrepresented are being heard every moment. As a bi-cultural woman, she believes to understand the importance of being seen, heard, and ensuring one feels like they belong.

Virginia Rivas
Owner of Athletic Football Club South Bay (AFC SB), San Jose, California

“I can fondly remember many summer nights playing games and being so competitive with each other it felt like we were playing in the World Cup finals,” shares Virginia Rivas, owner of the Athletic Football Club South Bay (AFC SB) in San Jose, California.

“One of my favorite players to watch was Luca Toni, Striker #9. I grew up watching him play for the different Italian clubs and wanted to play just like him. I’d say the 2006 World Cup was the most incredible display of his talent.”

After moving to California from El Salvador in 1984, Rivas saw a strong soccer culture in the area and felt reconnected with her childhood roots.

“The UPSL organization was looking for expansion teams and I was in a position to start a club which has been a great experience so far,” she shares. “At moments I felt nervous or scared about taking this big of a leap but am proud of what the organization has become and is still becoming.”

Today, the biggest impact she has felt is the ability to shape an organization to make a positive impact bigger than herself. “I am able to connect with individuals and companies I would not have been able to and have a team of people that will work towards common goals,” she shares. “It is also rewarding to see players develop into the players they want to be and become stand-up individuals.”

Rivas has spent the past eight years in the technology world as Chief of Staff for LinkedIn’s Artificial Intelligence Team. Dedicating her professional career to supporting organizations that build diversity, adopting new approaches to business, and opening doors to educational opportunities, she believes sports taught her to trust her teammates.

“Trust is one of the most important aspects to team sports and is a skill that applies to many aspects of life,” she shares. “Teammates can be coworkers, family members, or friends you meet along the journey of a career. When we started the AFC SB club, I had to trust other people within my organization to do their part to make the big picture work. We are still a young club, but share the same goals as individuals to see the team reach ambitious heights; I need to trust everyone to push the team to these goals. Trust, at its core, makes a successful team.”

As the sole owner and proprietor of the team, Rivas shares she did not face many obstacles to purchasing the AFC SB team. She believes her work and leadership roles at LinkedIn prepared her for the role of being a team owner.

Marisol Villagomez
Senior Marketing Manager Denver Broncos Football Club

Working in sports was a childhood dream for Marisol Villagomez, Senior Marketing Manager at the Denver Broncos Football Club. As an immigrant from Mexico, sports played a key role in her life as she navigated getting through all of the emotions that come with moving to a new country at a tender age of five. She credits sports for helping her get through one of the most challenging experiences of her childhood, acculturation.

“Acculturation was in my face daily but sports, specifically baseball, was the same as I remembered it being at home,” she shares. “It was familiar. I would watch baseball on TV, muted, and listen to the narration on Spanish radio; it was such a treat! This is still my preferred setup to enjoy a sport. I was nine years old when I realized that I wanted to work in sports. At the time, I was not quite sure what that meant, but time would help me understand where I needed and wanted to be and WHY.”

Influenced by her grandparents and father, Villagomez learned hard work, and strong work ethic at an early age. She also credits the strong women in her family who are the foundation of who she is today.

“My grandmothers were and are great examples,” she shares. “With no formal education, they did all sorts of odd jobs to provide for their families. I love that my foundation is humble because it reminds me of how far I have gone and it’s all because of their sacrifices and dedication to provide my generation with a better life. I was raised to be proud of who I am and where I came from and my work reflects that. I tend to pour all of my energy and passion into every project that I work on.”

A sports marketing professional with over 14-years of experience; she has worked for teams in Major League Baseball and National Football League. During her time in professional sports, a key area of focus for Marisol has been multicultural marketing and most recently, her efforts are focused on international growth for the Denver Broncos.

Starting her professional sports career with the Colorado Rockies in 2007, she believes she was able to harvest relationships that later on would help open other professional doors for her.

Adriana Vila Soto
Corporate & Multicultural Partnerships, Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium

Raised in a Miami-style household with both Cuban-American parents, Adriana Vila Soto, Corporate & Multicultural Partnerships of the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium, recalls attending the Miami Hurricanes football games since she was a child. Passionate about sports at a young age, she admired and was influenced by professional soccer player, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion, Mia Hamm and football coach and player Don Shula, best known for his 26 seasons as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, leading them to two Super Bowl victories, including the only perfect season in NFL history in 1972.

“I grew up playing soccer,” she shares. “I first started in ballet, tap and jazz and it wasn’t really my thing so my brother was playing soccer at the time and I joined the soccer team. I was the only girl on his soccer team that first year and then I joined an all-girls team.”

Entering her third season with the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium, Vila Soto leads Multicultural Partnership development and assists in Corporate Partnerships where she works with brands to develop integrated marketing programs leveraging the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium’s suite of sports, lifestyle, and entertainment assets.

For Vila-Soto, playing a team sport is not about individual accomplishment. It’s about what you do together with the team.

“It’s a lot of individual goals and team goals. Always stepping in to help a team member out,” she shares. “I think team sports really instills that ‘We’ not ‘Me’ mentality. You learn skills that help you in life. It’s helpful to have opportunities where you can come together and work together for a common purpose.”

Before joining the Miami Dolphins in 2019, she served as Head of Marketing North America for international money transfer company WorldRemit where she was responsible for growing the brand in the US and Canada. The company experienced record growth and the Americas region was the fastest growing region during her tenure with the company. While at Univision, Vila Soto served as the Senior Director of Experiential marketing, overseeing the company’s consumer-driven live events and brand activations across sports and entertainment.

Veronica Alvarez

USA Baseball Women’s National Team Manager
Major League Baseball

A first-generation American-born Cuban, Veronica Alvarez is the Manager for USA Baseball’s Women’s National Team. She is the 2019 USA Baseball Rod Dedeaux Coach of the Year, a four-time Team USA alum, and a Pan-American Games Gold Medalist.

Alvarez became the first woman to be named the organization’s Rod Dedeaux Coach of the Year for her work at the helm of the 2019 Women’s National Team. Under her direction, Team USA finished its tournament with a perfect 7-0 record and the program’s first gold medal since the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games. The team was also named USA Baseball’s Team of the Year after its dominating performance last summer.

Alvarez credits her parents for the professional she has become and credits them for instilling in her to be a team player.

“I am forever grateful for my parents, because in a culture with very gender specific roles, my parents broke the mold,” she shares. “I grew up in a household with no defined gender roles. My parents did what had to be done for the good of the family. On top of that, they allowed their little girl to play sports, even though that went against social norms and people told them not to. They have encouraged me and supported me every step of the way. Without their support I would not have accomplished what I have accomplished and I would not be living my truth.”

Alvarez’ passion for baseball and sports started at a very young age and she dedicated most of her waking hours to them. If I wasn’t throwing a ball against the garage door, she was playing basketball or football with the neighborhood kids.

“Come to think of it, most of my childhood memories revolve around sports and family, which are still my two favorite things,” she shares. “I was born to play sports and though baseball and softball were my main sports, I also played tennis, volleyball and soccer on organized teams, and neighborhood football almost daily.”

From discipline to confidence, Alvarez believes there is a lot to learn from being an athlete.

“I learned how to lose which is way more important than learning how to win, and I learned how to be a leader and the power that comes with that,” she shares. “I learned how to manage stress, how to manage time and how to manage people. I had become fairly good at all those things by the time I was a senior in High School and can confidently say that I would not have been able to do so without sports.”

Ariana Talai
VP of Ballpark Infrastructure,
Major League Baseball Advanced Media, L.P.

Born and raised in Queens, New York Ariana Talai, VP of Ballpark Infrastructure, Major League Baseball Advanced Media, L.P., spearheads the execution of high-impact technology initiatives across locations (stadiums, spring training facilities, and minor league parks); ensures all technology solutions adhere to MLB policies. Directing a full-time remote team including five lead engineers and 200+ game day technicians, Talai also oversees ballpark operations: staffing and training, asset management, purchasing, and logistics.

From baseball to hockey, softball and performing arts, Talai feels she has always had a connection to baseball. Both of her parents are avid baseball fans and it has always been a part of their lives.

“We were always watching games or listening on the radio,” she shares. “Some of my fondest memories as a kid were going to Shea Stadium for a summer baseball game.”

Dr. Marissa Vasquez,
MD, MBA, FAAFP, CAQSM UCLA Health DTLA Primary and Specialty Care Department of Family Medicine-Division of Sports Medicine Health Sciences Associate Clinical Professor DGSOM at UCLA Primary Care Senior Lead Team Physician LA Dodgers

“My Latina roots enable me to embrace humility and gratitude,” shares Dr. Marissa Vasquez, Primary Care Head Team Physician for the Los Angeles Dodgers. “These are values that keep me grounded and remind me of the many reasons I pursued medicine. Growing up I saw the lack of bilingual physicians and health care literacy in my community. Hence, as a physician I strive to provide culturally responsive and language concordant care.”

Born in the town of Brawley in the Imperial Valley, an agricultural region of California near the Mexico and United States border, Vasquez’ parents were immigrants from Mexico and worked in the farming industry and growing up in a community with minimal resources inspired her to grow socially and value being resourceful.

An active swimmer, Dr. Vasquez has competed in several Olympic and Sprint distance triathlons. For Vasquez, swimming is an individual and team sports, the best of both worlds. The skills and precision to execute effectively have been instrumental in her career.

Today she is grateful to have supportive leaders and mentors that have been her allies along her career journey. Dr. Vasquez has a passion for empowering the next generation of physician leaders. She is a founding board member and program committee lead for ElevateMeD, a non-profit organization committed to elevating the field of medicine. In this role, Dr. Vasquez strives to help provide impactful financial support, mentoring and leadership development for medical students from underrepresented backgrounds. These efforts are fueled by her goal to decrease the financial inequity in medical education and improve physician workforce diversity.

For Vasquez, the sports participation gap is improving for Latinas. She believes there is a concerted effort to boost more inclusive practices among Latinas in sports, and she hopes to see more Latinx families embrace the value that sports brings to girls as well.

Angelica Jenett
Design Manager, Apparel & Accessories Brooks Running

Born in Peru, Angelica Jenett, Design Manager, Apparel & Accessories, Brooks Running thought she wanted to be a marine biologist, but as the years passed she realized she had an artistic side, leading her into the fashion industry.

Immigrating to the United States with her family at the age of nine, without knowing English, Jenett had to learn to see visual cues and actions as well as words in order to understand her new environment. As a teenager she experimented with apparel to express herself. She would spend her weekends at the local thrift stores, combing through racks of old Wranglers and polyester tops to find patterns, colors, and textures that she would take apart and sew back together using the sewing machine her grandmother gave her for her 14th birthday.

Sabrina De La Cruz
Brooks Sponsored Athlete Angel City Elite

Mexican-American Sabrina De La Cruz, co-founder of Angel City Elite, an all-women’s distance running group based in Los Angeles on a mission to bridge the disparity gap of representation of BIPOC in the running community, started playing a variety of sports at the tender age of five. From T-ball, basketball, volleyball, softball, and soccer, her first coach was Sister Joanne from Santa Teresita, a strict sister who taught her good sportsmanship.

Sports has taught De La Cruz the value of hard work, time management, team sportsmanship, and the importance of not giving up. Today she is grateful to all the women who have crossed her path and encouraged her to get into sports and build on her career.

“Sports helped shaped my career by going to practice every single day and doing every workout and run to the best of my ability,” she shares. “This helped me realize that I needed to work at my fullest ability to succeed. My experience and passion for running has given me the desire to want to mentor and inspire the next generation.”

Growing up in Los Angeles with two supportive parents, her biggest passion in life were doing her best in school, sports and running. Influenced by her dad, Mr. Jalisco, a body builder in Mexico, she believes her Latina roots, family, integrity, hard work and values define who she is today.

“I was raised knowing that I can be successful if I put my mind to it,” she shares. “Nothing can stop me from setting my goals and reaching them. There is something about Latina roots that pushed me to focus on my running and that is knowing that I had the freedom to push myself and make my family proud.”

Angel City Elite consists of Olympic Marathon Trial qualifiers who are motivated to spark change in the sport of running by broadening reach of inclusivity and creating a community for those who have ever felt marginalized to achieve their greatest dreams.

Her goal is to see a more diverse representation at the Olympic Marathon Trials. “Being there was 92 percent white, 1 percent Asian, 1 percent Black, and 6 percent other, this then sparked the opportunity to build a team in the LA area since LA is diverse,” she shares. “There has not been enough change or opportunity for minority groups which is one reason why we created Angel City Elite, so we can be a part of that change.”

Claudia Trejos
Sports Reporter, Analyst, and Commentator

Colombian-born sports journalist, analyst and commentator Claudia Trejos is a force to be reckoned with. The 14th out of 17 kids, her parents, Graciela Gonzalez and father Arjemiro Trejos, instilled in her hard work. Her humble upbringing wasn’t without merit. For Trejos, there was no gender difference at home. Everyone was treated equal and this played a role in who she is today and taught her to adapt, persist, and be resilient.

“As you are growing up, especially with only four girls and the rest are boys, competitiveness is part of your lifestyle,” she shares. “You compete for attention. To them, I owe the fact that I like boxing, soccer, and that I am athletic.”

It was in 1990 when she came to the United States from Colombia to become a doctor, and although this didn’t happen, she found her way to work at a network. She worked at Fox Sports America as a production coordinator, programming talent, producing, editing and more.

For Trejos, it was easy to talk about sports, especially boxing. In 1993, she went from being a grip to becoming a camera woman, editor, and producer. She understood schemes and fight plans, which led her to work as an analyst, eventually becoming her forte. Today you can find Trejos inspiring the next generation of sports broadcasting talent in both English and Spanish. A leading Latina in the sports industry as a reporter, analyst and commentator for DAZN, ESPN, ESPN International, ESPN Radio and UNANIMO Deportes, she has connected with fans at all levels. On the boxing setting, she has connected with the audience, fans, and boxers like no other Latina has ever done.

“I am so grateful that I get to do what I love to do,” she shares. “In my book I get paid to watch plays and meet great people. I never thought I’d become an air-talent. It was nothing I sought, it was something that fell on my lap and I am very grateful that I did from day one.”

A motivational speaker and author, Trejos pays it forward by honing and teaching the next generation. “I feel that I am showing the young generation and my peers that it can be done,” she says. “The one thing I like to bring to the table is comraderies, friendship, respect, recognition. To see each other not as competition but as peers.

Empowered through hard work, motivation and an unparalleled hunger for triumph, Trejos hopes to see more women in decision-making and influential positions. I hope to become the first female Hispanic female to be in the Hall of Fame as a Boxing analyst.”

Marjorie J. Acosta
NFL Network

MJ Acosta-Ruiz, Total Access, March 24, 2021, (Ryan Kang/NFL)

“I’ll never forget my very first professional game at the original Yankees Stadium with my dad,” shares Marjorie Acosta, the first and only Afro-Latina breaking the mold on the NFL Network. ìIt’s one of the most memorable days of my life.”

Known as MJ Acosta, Dominican-American sports reporter for NFL Network, grew up in Washington Heights in New York and later on moved to Miami. While in Miami she was an NFL cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Prior to joining Telemundo 20, Acosta was a sports reporter at WPLG-TV, the ABC’s affiliate in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Acosta was covering the NFL’s San Diego Chargers as a reporter at Telemundo 20 in San Diego since joining the station in 2016. In August 2018, Acosta announced that she would be leaving San Diego’s Telemundo 20 for NFL Network as their Bay Area-based reporter for the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders.

While her dad was a professional baseball player in the Dominican Republic, Acosta recalls being athletic from a young age, however, she didn’t play team sports. A professional dancer on a music show in her early 20s, she later on took an opportunity in the world of television broadcast. As she did more research into career paths, she realized sports broadcasting was the best fit for her.

Today, she believes there’s a real shift in how the sports landscape recognizes the Latino fanbase, especially and particularly in the United States.

“It’s been such a blessing to be able to broadcast in both English and Spanish throughout my career,” she shares. “It’s also been a tremendous asset because it’s allowed me to form deeper connections with fans and with players across different sports.”

Jessica Mendoza
MLB Analyst

Olympic gold and silver medalist and trailblazer Jessica Mendoza joined ESPN in 2007 and in 2015, became the first woman to serve as an analyst for nationally-televised MLB games. She has since become one of the leading voices in ESPN’s Major League Baseball coverage.

Mendoza grew up in Camarillo, CA and sports was always her passion. “My father was a baseball and football coach growing up so my life was around the ball fields,” she shares. “My biggest influences were definitely family because I had a lot of it. Two sisters and a brother, tons of aunts and uncles always around and what felt like hundreds and constantly multiplying cousins. I idolized those that were around me growing up versus what I saw on TV.”

Mendoza played every sport possible at a very young age. She played soccer, basketball, baseball, ran track, tennis and eventually softball. For Mendoza, sports are more than just the statistics. It is about the stories of where these athletes came from.

“I tend to gravitate toward many of the Latino players because their backgrounds are so interesting to me,” she shares. “Whether a player is from Venezuela, Cuba or the Dominican Republic their journeys are so unique in how they got to this point and how sport lead them to this opportunity to change their lives. My Latina roots have taught me so much more about what makes a person who they are. That it is not just your own stories, but those who came before you — where they came from and how they persevered against so much adversity to provide opportunity for those who came next. I felt that so strongly as a child and carry that with me today.”

In 2020, Mendoza serves as an analyst in ESPN’s exclusive English-language KBO League coverage for the 2020 regular season. In the 2020 MLB season, she becomes the first woman to serve as a solo analyst for a national package of MLB game telecasts including weeknight games and holiday baseball. She appears regularly on ESPN MLB studio shows including Baseball Tonight, SportsCenter, Get Up and First Take. Mendoza will in 2020 become the first woman to serve as a World Series game analyst on national radio as she joins the MLB on ESPN Radio team for the World Series. Prior to her work with ESPN, Mendoza was a field reporter for Yahoo! Sports at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and also served as the lead college softball analyst on FOX Sports.

Leave a Reply