The controversial Ronnie Nathanielsz

Natashya Gutierrez
What is it about sports analyst Ronnie Nathanielsz that makes him widely disliked but also greatly respected? Rappler's Natashya Gutierrez investigates.

SPORTS FIGURE. Ronnie Nathanielsz has access to the most influential figures in sports including world champion boxer Manny Pacquiao. From Ronnie Nathanielsz's official Twitter account.

World boxing champion Manny Pacquiao had just returned to General Santos City on November 2011, after his controversial third bout against Mexican fighter and archival Juan Manuel Marquez. He faced the media with indignation.

We know naman Ronnie Nathanielsz is not a real Filipino, adopted lang siya. Wala siyang dugong Pilipino, hindi natin masisisi siya kung anong paniniwala niya (We know Ronnie Nathanielsz is not a real Filipino, he is only adopted. He has no real Filipino blood in him. We can’t blame him if that’s his belief),” he said. 

The swipe at the veteran sports analyst was a response to Nathanielsz’s bold statements on television and on print that while Pacquiao pulled off the win, he believed that the boxer had, in actuality, lost the fight.

The opinion, to most sports reporters in the country, was suicide. In an industry like sports journalism where currency is in a journalist’s connections, there is one golden, unsaid rule among all sportswriters: You don’t piss off Manny Pacquiao. It is his stories that get the most hits, the most views, the most readers, both locally and abroad. 

And Nathanielsz got backlash alright. From Pacman diehards, from the common Filipino who refused to believe the modern day national hero could do no wrong, and the most biting of all, from the Pambansang Kamao himself.

Pacquiao, a friend, hit him the most where he knew it would sting, questioning Nathanielsz’s nationalism and love for the country.

And he admits it hurt.

In fact the insults, he said — from being called a bumbay, to the incessant Marcos man tag, to the fury over some of his controversial articles — pain him rather than anger him. 

Respected but disliked

It wan’t the first time Nathanielsz has faced resentment for voicing his thoughts.

Just late last year, Nathanielsz sided with Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association and Karatedo president Go Teng Kok, who was expelled as a Philippine Olympic Committee member by Nathanielsz’s pal and POC President Peping Cojuangco. Nathanielsz believed there were violations on the POC constitution that railroaded Go’s expulsion — Go later won a case against Cojuangco, and Nathanielsz lost a friend.

It is this boldness and outspoken nature of Nathanielsz that makes him both respected but disliked by other sportswriters in the country. In the process of speaking his mind, he has, many times in the past, offended others, exposed truths, stirred up trouble and gained haters. 

He is unlike most in the world of sports broadcasting. He does not tiptoe around issues, he does not censor himself. Instead, he rails against the system, ignores status quo and tells it as it is. 

ACCESS TO THE BEST. Ronnie Nathanielsz seen here with "friend and sports icon" David Beckham. Courtesy of Ronnie Nathanielsz's official Twitter account.

Nathanielsz’s decisions to discuss issues that most reporters will shy away from in fear of butting heads with others has cost him some friends, the non-renewal of his contract by the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nathanielsz’s side maintains he tweeted qualms he had about the Inquirer falsifying a byline by a reporter not on site, which unnerved the newspaper), and the ire of powerful personalities.

“He makes a lot of people uncomfortable. He speaks out against anybody if he feels the need to,” explains sports reporter Bill Velasco. “He doesn’t see the barriers that hold back journalists.”

Passion for journalism

There is however, one thing not even those that firmly detest him can deny: Ronnie Nathanielsz is good at what he does. Very good. He is articulate, he gets the stories, he is credible. 

And while many will deny it to their grave — he is usually, if not always, right. 

He is the annoying aunt at the dinner table that will tell you what everyone has been thinking, that your tie is horrid, and one look at everyone else’s uncomfortable demeanor will confirm she is right. He is also every boss’s ideal employee.

“For his age, he works really hard,” says Peter Musngi who heads ABS-CBN Sports, which Nathanielsz commentates games for. “He’s never late. He researches even before he comes to do a game or a fight.” 

At 76, it is clearly not Nathanielsz’s age that drives him to work tirelessly. Those closest to him have given me one word to explain his excellence in his craft: passion. Nathanielsz loves what he does, respects and worships the ethics of journalism, and has fervor for sports running through his blood, through every vein of his being.

It is perhaps this that is most admirable about Nathanielsz: he does it because he loves it, and not for any other reason — not for fame, not for recognition, not even for money. Musngi talks of stale checks waiting for Nathanielsz to collect, payments he refuses to take for the work he has done for the network. –

Read the full profile of Ronnie Nathanielsz on the July issue of Esquire, on stands now. 

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