ORLANDO -- Sammy Sosa says he is not trying to look like the late Michael Jackson, nor is he suffering from a skin infection. He also says the change in the color of his skin is not a byproduct of his alleged steroid use.
Speaking publicly for the first time since photos of him from a recent musical award ceremony were published on the Internet, Sosa said that the skin lightening is the result of the use of a facial cosmetic cream.
"It's a bleaching cream that I apply before going to bed and whitens my skin some," said the former slugger during the "Primer Impacto" program at the Univision Spanish network.
"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," said a smiling Sosa during the interview.
The photo that has caused such turmoil was taken during the Grammy Latino Awards ceremony held last week at Las Vegas. It showed an extremely pale, smiling Sosa accompanied by his wife Sonia.
The photo, distributed very quickly throughout Spanish- and English-language Web sites, caused speculation that Sosa was sick and quickly found its way to gossip-related sites.
Some wondered if Sosa had undergone surgery to whiten and soften his facial expressions, and others thought it was a result of his alleged steroid use.
Rebecca Polihronis, a former Chicago Cubs employee who keeps in touch with Sosa, said in a Chicago Tribune interview that Sosa had undergone a skin rejuvenation treatment, something very common among women.
"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," Sosa said.
"I'm going to market it, I'm a businessman," Sosa joked about the mysterious cream, about which he revealed only that it was bought in Europe.
Sosa plans to celebrate his 41st birthday with a big party next week in Miami.
Enrique Rojas is a reporter and columnist for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.