Athletes’ bodies oftentimes undergo extreme changes once their careers are over. Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Mike Tyson, Tonya Harding, Roger Clemens and Ken Griffey Jr. all know about gaining weight post-career.
It’s natural. They aren’t training anymore. They’re getting older. That’s how life goes. Some professional athletes, like baseball’s big lovable Bartolo Colon, even pack on the pounds before hanging the cleats up. Others, like Caitlyn Jenner, transform entirely years after their athletic career has ended.
Then there’s Sammy Sosa, the former Major League Baseball player you probably wouldn’t recognize if he walked past you on the street today. He pulled off an unprecedented Michael Jackson-esque transformation.
I’m not sure Sosa needs much of an introduction. For those that didn’t watch baseball at the height of the Steroid Era, he was smack dab in the middle of it. Alongside Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, he was one of MLB’s poster children during a time of insane growth for baseball in the United States (and beyond).
Across 18 seasons with the Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles, he clobbered 609 home runs and knocked in 1,667 runs. Born in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, Sosa ranks ninth on baseball’s all-time home run leaderboard.
Sosa was a great player throughout the 1990s, but he ascended to stardom in 1998 when he duked it out with McGwire for the MLB single-season home run record. He also gave us one of the great moments in baseball history following the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Sammy Sosa Then and Now
Anyway, this is what the Dominican-born Sosa looked like during his playing days:
And this is what he looks like now with a much lighter skin tone:
Yes, that is the same person.
Sosa’s skin transformation is the result of skin bleaching. He’s said he’s been using what he calls a skin bleaching cream since at least 2009, when he told Univision’s Primer Impacto show in 2009.
“It’s a bleaching cream that I apply before going to bed and whitens my skin tone,” Sosa said. “It’s a cream that I have that I use to soften [my skin], but has bleached me some. I’m not a racist, I live my life happily.
“What happened was that I had been using the cream for a long time and that, combined with the bright TV lights, made my face look whiter than it really is. I don’t think I look like Michael Jackson.”
But the pressing question on everyone’s mind is why? Why change your entire appearance? Why apply a bleaching cream every night?
The answer: none of our damn business. Sosa can do whatever he pleases to his appearance. Now that he’s out of the spotlight, it isn’t really the public’s concern.
That’s pretty much the answer Sosa gave Sports Illustrated when he sat down with the publication in 2018 at the luxurious Burj Al Arab Jumeriah hotel in Dubai.
“Look at what I am today,” he said. “This is my life, and I don’t take garbage from nobody. I do whatever I want.”
Where is Sammy Sosa Now?
Sosa, married to his wife Sonia for more than 25 years, lives in the United Arab Emirates. The slugger has apparently done well for himself, as he has business interests around the world. They range from oil in the Dominican Republic, stormproof housing in Panama, real estate in the UAE and beverages and hospitality in the United Kingdom. He even has houses in Miami and Santo Domingo.
Sosa seems to have put performance-enhancing drugs and steroid use allegations and his entire baseball life well behind him, and that should be applauded. He’s appeared on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot ever year since 2013 but has failed to muster much support. In 2019, he was listed on just 8.5 percent of ballots.
No matter what the Hall of Fame thinks, Slammin’ Sammy’s legacy wearing a Chicago Cubs uniform is impossible to dispute for what he meant to that city and franchise for over a decade.
As for the skin-whitening, Sosa is not alone in the practice. It is a multi-billion-dollar industry in other countries and continents. The New York Times in 2016 estimated that 70 percent of women in West and South Africa used lightening cream to achieve a lighter complexion. In Asia, where a white, milky skin color is viewed as a symbol of status and wealth, the industry is reportedly worth some $13 billion.
While not as talked about, skin lightening exists in the states. Celebrity A-listers like Beyonce, Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez have all been accused of whitening their skin. Rapper Lil Kim was forced to defend herself against accusations in 2016.
Still, it’s odd to see Sosa’s appearance in its current form. He went from a ripped crusher of baseballs with dark, melanin-filled skin to practically a white man wearing Cowboy outfits going viral on social media like this photo below:
Never change, Sammy. Err, I guess, keep changing? You know what, do what you want.
This article was originally published February 17, 2020.