When Erik Rodriguez moved with his family to Oklahoma City five years ago, he sat down with a cousin to watch football — a game he had never really seen with "these dudes in red and another team in yellow.” "Who are they?” Rodriguez asked his cousin, who had lived in Oklahoma for a while. "That's OU,” his cousin replied. "And OU was destroying them real bad,” Rodriguez recalls. "Ever since then, I've followed ‘em.” Now a 14-year-old freshman at Northwest Classen High School, Rodriguez's passion for University of Oklahoma football has grown. He knows the players, watches every game, eschews soccer or combines it with football in pick-up matches with friends and is still trying to track down the OU jersey and hat that were lost when his family moved houses. And Rodriguez is not alone. The Oklahoma City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce estimates that more than 300,000 Hispanics now live in state — with a large portion in Oklahoma City — and the number is growing rapidly. Many of them are sports fans who find themselves in the same situation as Rodriguez. While soccer is still the traditional sport to play and follow, OU football has steadily become a close second, especially in younger generations. And people are starting to take notice. Saturday, for the second time ever, Tyler Media's KTUZ-FM "La Zeta” 106.7 will broadcast the OU-Oklahoma State football game in Spanish. The radio station's decision to carry Bedlam comes after its first foray into Sooner football — OU's 51-13 victory over Miami on September 8 — received overwhelmingly positive responses from the community.
From soccer to footballFor Jessica Martinez-Brooks, the decision to cheer for OU is an easy one. After all, she's a 1999 graduate of the university, and her husband, attorney Michael Brooks-Jimenez, graduated from the OU College of Law in 1995. In fact, OU's Hispanic on-campus enrollment has nearly quadrupled in the last 20 years, contributing to the surge in fandom. But while many local students and alumni like the Brookses gained their allegiances through school ties, most Hispanic OU fans are simply a result of osmosis. "The majority of people that are OU fans live in the OKC metro area, and that's where a large concentration of the Hispanic community actually lives and works,” said Martinez-Brooks, the community outreach director for Oklahoma City Community College. "Therefore, whether it's their coworkers or it's their friends — they see all of these people wearing OU hats and shirts. Then they start to follow game days. They start to listen on Monday morning to "Did you see what Sam Bradford did?” or "Did you see that play in the fourth quarter?” "They get excited about it, and they want to learn more about it. That's just a part of adopting the culture, adopting Oklahoma. Eventually there's this huge fan base growing in the Hispanic community.” In the last several years, Hispanic OU fans have also had the added benefit of seeing Hispanic players Jacob Gutierrez and Juaquin Iglesias star on the field for the Sooners. Gutierrez, a senior running back from San Antonio, has been a team leader on and off the field. The special teams' captain and running back is heavily involved in community outreach, and has received several awards for his work. "I'm pretty proud of them to go through there and make it as good as they have,” said lifelong OU fan Vincent Sigala, 23, of Gutierrez and Iglesias. "Gutierrez is a really stand-up guy in the community, and Iglesias is having a great year on the field.” Sigala said he always tries to see the players' last names on their jerseys to see if they're Hispanic or not.
Cowboys up as wellOf course, you can't mention OU football without talking about Oklahoma State. While the Cowboys may not be as widely supported in the Hispanic community, they do have a significant following. A number of Oklahoma City area Hispanics — especially college-student-age — are Oklahoma State fans, largely as a result of the OSU-OKC campus efforts to recruit Hispanic students, Martinez-Brooks said. Erik Rodriguez' older sister Violeta Rodriguez is one of those students. In her second year at OSU-OKC, Violeta is the vice-president of the school's Hispanic Student Association, which sends volunteers to raise funds for the association at OSU football games in Stillwater. While she is supportive of the Cowboys — she sports an OSU tag on her car and went to most of the games last year — she has all but given up trying to cheer inside her home, where OU still rules. "There wouldn't be a point for me trying to watch the game, or make a statement if I even dared to say anything about OSU,” Violeta said, laughing. "My (OSU) tag fell in the driveway one day and I was like, ‘How come nobody picked it up?' They were like, ‘Oh, it's not a big deal.' Now if it's an OU shirt lying around the house, they're like ‘We've got to wash it, come on now.'” In the Brooks' household — where Michael graduated from Oklahoma State before going to OU for law school — things are slightly more amicable. He now cheers for both schools, and the couple has attended bowl games of both teams.