It's been 10 years since Sammy Sosa suited up for a big league game, and 13 years since he played with the Chicago Cubs on Wringley Field, yet the former slugger has still found himself landing in the press — and these days it has less to do with the athletic skills and more to do with his physical appearance.
Before last week's MLB All-Star Game, the former baseball player, who once had healthy-looking brown skin, appeared on ESPN looking much paler than he had previously — almost an unnatural gray and pink hue.
Sosa, who was born in the Dominican Republic, has been open about altering his appearance since retiring from baseball in 2007. But his most recent change caused quite a stir on social media.
Some took a comedic approach to his lighter appearance:
While others found it to be troublesome:
However, the bigger question that has yet to be answered by the former right-fielder is why a player with accolades and achievements such as Sosa would alter the color of his skin — and so drastically at that?
In 2009, Sosa appeared at a music awards show sporting a much lighter complexion than he had just months earlier. The puzzlement and concerns caused such a commotion that Sosa went on Spanish-language television to deny that he was ill, and that his new skin tone also wasn't the result of steroid use (something he tested positive for in 2003, according to a report published by the New York Times.)
"It's a bleaching cream that I apply before going to bed and whitens my skin some," Sosa said on Univision's "Primer Impacto" program. "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 further explained.
Time magazine spoke with Dr. Jonith Breadon, a dermatologist based in Chicago who speculated that some of the stark differences in the lightened color occurred because Sosa was overcompensating.
Health website WebMD cautions potential lightening cream users that an overcompensation of changes to skin pigmentation can result in mercury poisoning and permanent "liver" spots.
Although risky, the practice of skin bleaching isn't uncommon. According to a report by BBC, the skin-whitening practice is worth $13 billion in places such as Asia where fair skin has historically been a symbol of wealth and affluence.
The billion-dollar business is also common in places such as both West and South Africa, as well as in the Caribbean in places like Jamaica. According to Newsweek, Ghana placed a ban on the product but has faced issues removing skin bleaching products from local retail shops. However, it hasn't put an end to those interested in bleaching their skin.
While it could simply have been an attempt to even out his complexion related to acne scars and similar face marks, Sosa's vague explanation for his lighter skin suggests that other, "possible self-esteem or social pressures could be at play," according to Breadon's analysis of the transformation.
"Patients, who for whatever reason feel that the world is more receptive to lighter skin, have asked me to prescribe the bleaching creams so that they can get lighter," said Beadon, who is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology.
She even recalled several fashion models who told her that lighter skin would enable them to get more work.
"I'd never give that treatment to someone who didn't have a disease or condition [such as vitiligo]," she said, and for those whom she does prescribe treatment or prescription for, she always recommends counseling as well because, according to Beadon, adjusting to a new skin color is not only a physical process, but can also be an emotional one.