Florida GOP candidate admits to racially charged insults to Latino teens

After previous denials. Martin Hyde has admitted to telling a group of tennis players from Puerto Rico to "speak English" and go "cut the grass."
Florida Republican Martin Hyde is running for the Sarasota City Commission.
Florida Republican Martin Hyde is running for the Sarasota City Commission.GDA via AP

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By Gwen Aviles

A Florida politician who came under fire for berating a group of teenage Puerto Rican tennis players, telling them to speak English and go “cut the grass” last week, has admitted to making the comment, but one of the player’s uncles says his response is still unsatisfactory.

Martin Hyde, a Republican who is running for the Sarasota City Commission, was accused of making the comments to the players, who were practicing at the city's Celsius Tennis Academy prior to the Casely International Championship.

“You’re telling me to cut grass because I’m Hispanic,” one of the players said in a conversation that was recorded on phone video and was later shared on social media. “That’s racism, man; how can you say something like that? Aren’t you human?”

Hyde, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for a city commission seat in 2017, can then be heard responding, “Yes, so what?”

When the players attempted to report the incident to staff at the academy, Hyde tried to discredit their story.

“Look at these agitated ... I don’t know what drugs they’re on,” Hyde told the staff, after daring the boys to call the chief of police, who Hyde said knows him.

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Hyde was promptly removed as a club member of the Bath & Racquet Tennis Club, which hosted the tennis tournament, as was first reported by Latino Rebels.

During an NBC News interview earlier this week, Hyde said he regretted “his boorish and inappropriate behavior” but denied making the comment. Instead, he insisted that he had simply asked the players to be quieter while his children were having their tennis lesson.

“I simply didn’t say those things, which is why they’re not in the video,” Hyde told NBC News. “I just knew they were being loud. Ethnicity had nothing to do with it.”

Yet in an interview with ABC7 on Tuesday, Hyde backtracked on his denial.

“It was racially insensitive,” Hyde told ABC7. “From the get-go, the temptation is to deflect.”

“It’s inappropriate; it’s designed to put someone down,” Hyde added about the “cut the grass” comment. “I shouldn’t be making that kind of comment. It was a stupid comment.”

Hyde did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment about the ABC7 interview.

Javier Irizarry, an uncle of one of the players, told NBC News that regardless of the admission, he does not believe Hyde should run for the Sarasota City Commission.

“I don’t believe he could be fair to the Sarasota citizens, especially to its Latino population,” Irizarry said. “I can’t understand his reasoning for still being in the race, except to get support from the far-right.”

Hyde told NBC News on Monday that he was still debating whether to run for office. He initially told The Herald Tribune, a local Sarasota paper, that he planned to drop out of the race earlier this week, then backtracked and told them he would continue running in a follow-up interview.

The Herald Tribune recently reported that Hyde was involved in another racist incident in 2017, during which he told a pair of construction managers, “You need to tell your f---ing Mexicans to turn off their Spanish music.’” The managers filed a report with the Sarasota Police Department, but when asked about the incident, Hyde said he “can’t confirm or deny.”

Hyde was fined as part of a settlement regarding a complaint of election law violations earlier this year, but insisted he did nothing wrong.

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