Imagee: Joselito Ortega
Sergio Torres  /  AP
Bullfighter Joselito Ortega poses with his cape at his home in Benalmadena, southern Spain, on Wednesday. Ortega is breaking with a sacred tradition, agreeing to advertise on his cape a soft drink that caters to gays.
updated 9/23/2009 2:01:59 PM ET 2009-09-23T18:01:59

A little-known Spanish matador is breaking with a sacred tradition, agreeing to advertise on his cape while slaying bulls and endorse a soft drink that caters to gays.

Matador Joselito Ortega will be plugging a club-scene energy beverage called Gay Up and have those words embroidered into his cape in large, red cursive letters.

In Spain, matadors are seen by many as the pinnacle of macho, and Ortega's agreeing to endorse a product geared toward gay men is raising eyebrows.

But Ortega sees no incompatibility.

"I am a bullfighter. That is not going to change. I am going to go out into the ring as I have done until now, to risk my life, and the seven goring wounds on my body prove that," he said. "If the gay community welcomes me as an image or a symbol, that is fine."

Topflight Spanish bullfighters are celebrities, just like football or movie stars, and it is common for them to have commercial endorsement gigs for everything from wine to cars to fancy clothes. But it is almost unprecedented for them to advertise something while in the arena.

Bullfighting writers said the only case they recall is that of a matador named Luis Reina, who signed a deal in the 1980s with the Japanese electronics giant Akai and had that brand name embroidered on the sleeves and legs of the glittering 'traje de luces,' or suits of lights, that he wore while fighting.

No one expects Ortega to start a trend. It would border on scandalous for a top-rated bullfighter to advertise from the ring.

Gay Up is a new product in Spain, developed by firm based in the southern city of Malaga that bought the European rights to it from a manufacturer in Colombia. There, it was made from strawberries. But the Spanish firm decided that to make it a hit with gays in Europe it needed to be an energy drink, said Jose Maria Terron, the company's president.

"The fact that it is oriented toward the gay community stems more than anything from its name," Terron said.

Both he and Ortega said the advertising cape is a good way to shake up bullfighting, which they described as steeped in male bravado.

"It is a matter of changing what is normal, or usual, within this world that seem so untouchable," Ortega said.

Ortega is hardly a superstar. He became a full-fledged matador in 2006 but has been hampered by repeated and serious gorings and has not fought often, said Juan Belmonte, a bullfighting critic for TV station Canal Sur in Seville.

Belmonte said those who criticize Ortega's Gay Up deal will be angry not so much because the product is geared toward homosexuals but because Ortega is advertising in the arena, violating a tradition.

"It is like prostituting the cape," Belmonte said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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