On July 4, Mexico’s Olympic Committee tweeted several photos of its softball players giving thumbs up to the delivery of their official apparel for the Tokyo Games, with stacks of boxes in the background.
On Thursday in Tokyo, the gear was pictured on Twitter again — in trash bags on the floor of the Athletes Village.
Two female Mexican boxers posted photos on Twitter of the softball team’s red, white and green Olympic clothing stuffed into clear bags with other garbage, adding messages critical of the players who left them behind. All but one member of the 15-woman roster was born in the United States, and all 15 played softball at NCAA Division I universities, including pitcher Danielle O’Toole and outfielder Stefania Aradillas at San Diego State.
The players, most of whom have returned to the U.S., remained quiet on social media. Rolando Guerrero, president of the Mexico Softball Federation, spoke in an interview with Olympic broadcaster TV Azteca, saying players were issued nine sets of apparel — three each in red, white and green — and they were unable to pack them all without incurring overweight luggage charges at the airport, particularly with their bats, gloves and cleats.
Most flew Japanese airline ANA, which allows two bags up to 50 pounds each in economy class. Excess baggage charges are $60 for 20 pounds over and $200 for anything beyond that.
“With all due respect,” Guerrero told TV Azteca, “we’re not going to attack anybody, we’re not going to respond, we’re not going to say anything on social media. It was simply an issue of overweight baggage fees. … It’s not that big a deal. They left one or two (sets).”
Mario Garcia, Mexico’s head of delegation in Tokyo, wasn’t so understanding. He launched an investigation and said he will consider sanctions against any offending parties.
“I do feel it is an offense to our national identity,” Garcia told Mediotiempo. “We would have liked it not to have happened, because the Mexican Olympic Committee defended that biculturalism that the team had.”
Mexico finished fourth in the six-team tournament in its Olympic softball debut, losing 3-2 against Canada in the bronze medal game that was played Tuesday afternoon in Tokyo (late Monday night Pacific time). Athletes are required to depart Japan within 48 hours of their final event, and boxers Brianda Tamara and Esmeralda Falcon posted photos on social media of what they left behind.
“This uniform represents years of effort, sacrifice and tears,” Tamara tweeted in Spanish with accompanying photos. “All Mexican athletes yearn to wear it with dignity, and today the Mexican softball team sadly left it all in the garbage of the Olympic village.”
“Are you sure?” someone tweeted her.
“I’m sure,” Tamara replied, with another photo of a green “Mexico softball” T-shirt at the top of a trash bag.
About 15 minutes later, Falcon posted photos showing at least four bags of red, white and green gear. In one, the clothing was mixed among a discarded coffee cup, an empty plastic Coke bottle and a leather mitt.
“Perhaps for some of the fellow athletes, it means ‘nothing,’” Falcon wrote. “These uniforms for many others represent our years of work, dedication, love and passion. Too bad the Mexican softball team doesn’t see it that way.”
The team has come under scrutiny on both sides of the border for its U.S. roots. When Mexico faced the United States in pool play, U.S. Ken Eriksen joked, “You only had to play one national anthem today.”
Aradillas is the only player born in Mexico, and she admits only a few teammates speak fluent Spanish. The predominant language among the team is English, she said, “because it’s easier.”
One of those who speaks Spanish is Sashel Palacios, who grew up in Chula Vista and attended Otay Ranch High. She has said she wouldn’t play for another country, even if the U.S. offered, noting that her father played baseball in Mexico before moving to the South Bay. But not everyone has such strong ties to Mexico, creating an uneasy relationship with the country they represent.
“We received criticism,” Palacios told ESPN Deportes recently. “For example, we were in Puerto Vallarta at a camp and a couple of us spoke Spanish but most did not, and people said things to us for not speaking the language or not being born in Mexico. But we have to focus on the whole picture, we are playing for our families who did not have the opportunity that we have today to play this sport and take it to this level.”
O’Toole, Dallas Escobedo and Sydney Romero all played for the U.S. national team before being cut and switching allegiances to Mexico. International rules require only one of four grandparents have Mexico citizenship to qualify.
“It is truly an honor to represent USA in softball,” Romero, who grew up in Temecula, is quoted in her USA Softball bio. “Wearing USA across my chest is a dream come true.”
In O’Toole’s USA Softball bio, she is quoted: “To be able to play alongside the best and represent the best country in the world is incredibly humbling and special.”
None of the players was available for comment, and none had posted messages about the allegations on social media (several have accounts that aren’t public). Juan Landa, listed by Tokyo organizers as the media liaison for the Mexico Olympic Committee, did not return an email.
When asked during the Olympics about the criticism back home, Aradillas told the Union-Tribune: “There’s always going to be talking about our team. That means we’re doing great things together. We’re just very blessed to have the attention right now and be at the Olympic Games, the biggest stage in sports. We’re taking advantage of that.
“It doesn’t matter where we’re born or what language we speak. We’re representing a country, and I think we’re doing it well.”
—Mark Zeigler, The San Diego Union-Tribune