Two weeks ago, featherweight boxer Orlando Cruz from Puerto Rico became the first professional boxer to come out as gay. Friday night, in Kissimmee Florida, he won his first bout since making the announcement.
In 1962, as the two welterweights were being weighed in before their match, Benny Peret called closeted gay boxer Emile Griffith a “maricón” – a faggot. In the ring, Griffith unloaded on Peret, delivering blow after unanswered blow until Peret was but a puddle on the mat. He fell into a coma, and died of the beating 10 days later. Griffith was forever a changed man, haunted by the brutality if his own actions. Once, trying to make sense of the insensible, Griffin said of his pain: “I kill a man and most people forgive me. However, I love a man and many say this makes me an evil person.”
Two weeks ago, featherweight boxer Orlando Cruz did what Emile Griffin could not. He became the first professional boxer to publicly come out as gay. Breaking the news to his family had been difficult. Orlando recalls that he cried, and his mother cried, and when she told him she didn’t care, he was her son and she loved him, he cried even harder. But announcing his sexual orientation to the world was a much more difficult decision that took months of mental preparation. Said Orlando of the process, “I have been living with this thorn inside me. I wanted to take it out of me so I could have peace within myself.”
For the two weeks after his announcement, Orlando walked on eggshells, unsure of the reception he would receive from fans and fellow boxers. “Boxing is difficult, because it’s so macho.” Orlando worried. But Friday night, when Orlando stepped into the ring for the first time since coming out, facing Jorge Pazos in a WBO title elimination bout, he was greeted by cheering fans waving flags from Orlando’s native Puerto Rico. “I was very happy that they respect me.” Orlando said after the match. “That’s what I want — them to see me as a boxer, as an athlete and as a man in every sense of the word.”
Orlando, who is the first active gay athlete in a major sport to come out, easily won his match against Jorge Pazos in a unanimous decision. “That was my moment, my opportunity, my event,” Orlando said “And I won.” It strikes me that he could say the about his personal struggle as well. This was Orlando’s moment, and he won.
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