Emile Griffith was one of the great boxers in the history of the game. Throughout his career, there were rumors regarding his sexuality. Those rumors came to a climax during Griffith’s third fight with Benny “Kid” Paret, who had spent the build-up of the fight taunting Griffith about these rumors.
“I got tired of people calling me faggot,” Griffith told Bob Hebert years later. “He called me a name. … So I did what I had to do.”
In the 12th round of the 1962 fight, Griffith hurt Paret, who slumped into a corner wounded. Griffith unleashed a flury of savage punches the likes of which boxing has rarely seen. Paret was knocked unconscious and suffered brain injuries he died from 10 days later.
In the years since, Griffith – his career long over – has admitted to being bisexual. Fifty years later, Puerto Rican fighter Orlando Cruz has done what Griffith or no other fighter ever imagined doing – he came out as a Gay man.
“I developed physically and mentally to take such a big step in my life and in my profession, which is boxing, knowing that it would have pros and cons, highs and lows in this sport that is so macho,” Cruz told Sports Illustrated. “I kept this hidden for many, many years.”
I have written several times about male athletes being unwilling or unable to come out of the closet. The law of averages states that there have been many gay athletes over the years, yet in the main U.S. sports – Major League Baseball, the NBA and NFL, no one has ever come out of the closet while an active athlete.
And no boxer had. Until the brave Orlando Cruz, who has – without a doubt – proven himself to be a champion.
Read more on Cruz and his decision to come out at Sports Illustrated.
Crossposted at William K. Wolfrum Chronicles