Sammy Sosa was a just a glowing brown-skinned boy when he first stepped on the baseball field as a new member of the Texas Rangers in 1989. The bright-eyed Dominican Republic native was barely 21-years-old when he came to the United States as a baseball rookie and probably didn’t have a clue that his career would lead him to become one of the most prolific Major League Baseball players of all time.
Some 600 home runs, a shaky relationship with the Chicago Cubs—where he achieved the brunt of his baseball success—a retirement and a bunch of years later, Sosa looks a whole lot different from the vibrant and hazelnut-toned young man he came to America as.
Now, Sosa, who once donned a natural melanin-filled, sun-kissed, brown complexion, could be easily mistaken for a white man.
Sosa’s skin color has become noticeably lighter over the last eight years since fans first questioned his seemingly different complexion in 2009. However, in his most recent appearance during an interview with ESPNDeportes at the Home Run Derby early this week, which was released Thursday, Sosa is almost unrecognizable, sporting not just a lighter skin but nearly a completely white complexion.
While his new appearance is puzzling—his complexion sparked a wave of astonishment from baffled fans on social media—it’s no big secret as to how Sosa seemingly went from black to white: Skin Bleaching.
The former slugger first had fans scratching their heads over his lighter complexion when he attended a music awards show in 2009 appearing much lighter than he had when he retired just a year earlier. To quell rumors that his new skin tone was caused by a sickness or steroid use, Sosa addressed the matter during a TV appearance, explaining at the time that his lighter complexion was the result of a skin bleaching cream.
“It’s a bleaching cream that I apply before going to bed and whitens my skin tone,” Sosa said during an appearance on Univision’s Primer Impacto show in 2009. “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,” he added.
Apparently, Sosa has kept up his use of the cream over the years, which has led him to appear even whiter than he did in 2009.
Not very many celebrities have been so open about their skin bleaching habits as Sosa, which is most likely because the controversial beauty trend is viewed as a form of racial self-loathing and has been considered to promote subliminal messages of white skin being the most beautiful skin.
However, plenty of them have been accused of using creams to lightening their complexion, including the aforementioned king of pop Jackson and his sister La Toya Jackson.
Back in December 2016, rapper Lil Kim fought off rumors of skin bleaching after a photo of her appearing lighter than usual surface online. The year before, Beyonce and Rihanna were targeted with skin whitening accusations, as well as Jennifer Lopez and Eva Longoria, after they all donned seemingly lighter skin in photos and during red carpet appearances.
Although the trend is rarely discussed openly in the U.S., skin whitening is a booming business in other countries where lighter skin tones are hailed as a beauty must-have sparked by years of colorism, racism and ideals of lighter complexions being more attractive.
In West and South Africa, where a 2016 New York Times report said some 70 percent of women used lightening cream, the world of skin lightening is a multi-billion dollar industry. Following years of billboard ads tagged with ways for women to achieve "perfect white" skin, Ghana's government banned lightening creams and lotions. However, the country has struggled to remove the products from shelves.
In Asia, the skin whitening industry is worth over $13 billion, according to a BBC report. Historically, milky white skin in many Asian countries has been a symbol of nobility, wealth and an aristocratic lifestyle.
Check out a few reactions to Sosa's new complexion below: