There are gay and lesbian athletes in golf, rugby, athletics and skittles. Ninety-nine per cent of them are not open about it. Why? Sport and its image, and marketing, do not lend themselves to say, a Ryder Cup golfer being hugged by his husband on a green as the Europe team celebrates a victory. It’s all about the players and wives.
But it’s poppycock of course. Gay golfers are out there.
The Puerto Rican featherweight Orlando Cruz, first and foremost, is a boxer and a sportsman. In truth, his sexual orientation is irrelevant. What is relevant, however, is that many professional sportsmen choose not to reveal it, for fear it will dent their image and standing. He kept it “hidden for many, many years”, he revealed yesterday.
The 31-year-old southpaw challenges Mexican Jorge Pazos for the World Boxing Organisation Latino title in a fortnight, and victory could put Cruz, ranked as the WBO’s No. 4 featherweight, in line for a world title fight. His record is currently 18-2-1, with 9 KOs
It will be interesting to see if his homosexuality affects his world title opportunities. It may provide a litmus test. The only other professional boxer who was quoted as saying that he had relations with men and women was U.S. Virgin Islander Emile Griffith, who told The New York Times in 2005 that he struggled with his sexuality. His comments came decades after he ended his 18-year career as a professional boxer.
Griffith is best known for his 1962 fight against Cuban Benny Paret, who taunted Griffith with gay slurs before the bout. He also reportedly patted Griffith’s buttocks and called him a “maricon”, spanish used to mean “faggot”. Griffith meted out a horrible beating on Paret and knocked him out. Paret died 10 days later.
Ready for fallout
Cruz admitted he was prepared for the fallout from this announcement.
Boxing’s testosterone-driven nature and the well-worn stereotypes espoused by its fan-base have largely contributed to boxers not being openly gay in the past.
Apart from the inevitable homophobia on internet message boards, with bigoted individuals who will want to prove their machismo by denouncing Cruz for his sexual orientation, Cruz will most likely get some jibes from fans.
Sport is cruel. Always has been. But my experience of the boxing fraternity is that in spite of it being a sport which draws tough individuals to its ranks, compassion and acceptance is also one of its qualities.
There has been nothing from the boxing fraternity itself in the last day to suggest any derision for Cruz. Rightly so.
On the periphery, when were internet forums not inundated with bigots venting on race, religion, and sexuality? Once the initial news is digested, Cruz is unlikely to face a rough time from anyone within the sport.
Cruz began boxing at the age of 7 and ended with an amateur career record of 178-11, winning seven Puerto Rico National titles and went to the Olympic Games for his country in 2000, concurrently on the Puerto Rican team with the revered Miguel Cotto. He turned pro shortly after the Sydney Games.
His highest profile bouts came with the end of his unbeaten record with back-to-back defeats against Cornelius Lock and Daniel Ponce de Leon in 2009 and 2010, the former battle taking place on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather against Juan Manuel Marquez.
There have been many lesbian and gay athletes in professional sports. Women’s boxing star Christy Martin announced she was gay just as her legendary career was ending. Tennis players Bill Tilden, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King and diver Greg Louganis were open about their sexual orientation.
Some waited a little longer into their careers to announce it. Gareth Thomas, the rugby union player for Wales, ‘came out’ a couple of years ago, and received support from fellow professionals. Paralympian Lee Pearson and cricketer Steven Davies, too, have come out without supporters, rivals or team-mates blinking an eye lid.
It is likely to be no different for Cruz. Some will view him as courageous, others may even accuse him of using his sexuality to market himself. But let’s hope Cruz’s decision may help other athletes to follow suit and to be themselves, without fear of any reprisal, in either a personal or professional capacity. (Adapted from The Telegraph)