An openly gay athlete actively competing
in his or her chosen sport is exceedingly rare. It takes a person tough enough
to box to be man enough to declare his homosexuality in the notoriously
chauvinistic sports community. That is what Orlando Cruz has done and he should
be commended on many levels. It is not our place to know what a person does in
the haven of his or her bedroom but athletes are role models for children that
shape and inform the next generation. If Cruz’s honesty helps one young person
struggling with sexual identity understand that he or she is not alone, he will
have made an impactful difference. By breaking this barrier, Cruz becomes a
sporting and cultural milestone, something very few athletes can lay claim to.
has always had homosexual participants. Hall-of-Famer Emile Griffith came out
well after his retirement; similarly, legendary Panama Al Brown was secretly
acknowledged as homosexual and his affair with French poet Jean Cocteau is well
chronicled. They lived in different eras, the tumultuous 1960s for Griffith and
the 1920s’ Jazz Age for Brown, when reporters opted not to print much of what
they witnessed. In the 1990s, Canadian Olympic silver medalist Mark Leduc, who
had a brief professional boxing career, came out shortly after his retirement.
No boxer has had the courage to come out while actively fighting - until now.
is an eloquence to Cruz’s boxing style, which comes through in the explanation
for his decision to go public as well. “I’ve been fighting for more than 24
years and as I continue my ascendant career, I want to be true to myself.” Cruz
put an exclamation point on his statement to the Associated Press, ending his interview, emphatically stating he is
“a proud gay man.” With that, Cruz became the first openly gay male boxer in
two centuries. It is a declaration countless athletes in every sport have
forgone, choosing instead to hide in plain sight.
Serrano, spokesperson for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, acknowledged
the importance of Cruz’s decision. “It also gives a lot of hope to young gays
who can see in him the integrity and bravery to be who you are and face a
society that is often intolerant, especially in this type of sport.” I find
Serrano’s comment about “this type of sport” presumptuous but that is a battle
for another day. Yes, Cruz competes in boxing, a testosterone-filled activity
perceived as inherently “manly.” However, by doing so, he dispels the
stereotype of homosexual men being innately effeminate. Anyone who witnesses
Cruz in the ring has the ammunition to argue against that ignorant notion.
is an acknowledgement of responsibly by Cruz, understanding his actions from
this point forward affect others because of a newfound celebrity. “I want to
try to be the best role model I can be for kids who might look into boxing as a
sport and a professional career.” Cruz also plans to begin a campaign against
bullying of adolescents that goes beyond supporting just young homosexuals. “I
also want kids who suffer from bullying to know that you can be whoever you
want to be in life, including a professional boxer [and] that anything is
possible. That who you are or whom you love should not be impediment to
achieving anything in life.”
Cruz, 18-2-1 (9), is an elite boxer, a featherweight contender who represented
Puerto Rico in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he has yet to earn a world title shot.
How his personal revelations are accepted by the general public will come to
light on Friday when Cruz steps into a ring for the first time since his bold
pronouncement. Truthfully, opponents and the vast majority of the boxing
community will treat him exactly as before. If anything, the older working
parts of the boxing establishment such as judges, referees, managers and
influence peddlers at the sanctioning bodies have a greater ability to damage
Cruz’s aspirations. Judging from conversations I have had - and reading boxing
message boards - most admire Cruz’s honesty while 10 to 20 percent can’t resist
becoming a bigoted stereotype.
for Cruz was immediate; Miguel Cotto (Puerto Rico’s most admired active boxer)
praised his Olympic teammate, saying in a radio interview, “I have a great
appreciation for ‘Orlandito.’ I congratulate him. ‘Orlandito’ is my friend. I'm
sure it wasn't easy for him but I congratulate him. From this point forward, he
will see that his life will change a lot and things will be much better for
him.” Singer Ricky Martin, who announced his homosexuality in 2010, applauded
Cruz via Twitter, “Congratulations Boricua for your courage! I'm so happy for
you! Power to you! Peace to you and yours!” Both are needed public acts of
endorsement since Puerto Rico is a heavily Catholic country with conservative
social attitudes. Cruz extols his mother and sister for their unconditional support,
adding that his father understands him too. “Like every father, he wants his
son to be a full-blooded man. But he is aware of my preference, my taste.”
men remain hypocritical on the topic of homosexuality. Female boxer Christy
Martin is open about her affair with a woman and lesbian athletes are not held
to the same standard as men by men. Female athletes have more leeway openly
expressing their proclivities. It is a dubious double standard which men
accept, castigating the same admissions by a man as disgusting or immoral.
Someone who thinks otherwise has not heard men talk about the virtues of an
erotic movie scene featuring two women. Ann Wolfe is another high profile member
of the boxing fraternity who is openly homosexual, remaining a respected
trainer of male and female boxers. Neither Martin nor Wolfe seemed
discriminated against while boxing and it will be interesting to see if the
same can be said for Cruz.
has yet to be an openly gay player in professional football, major league
baseball, the NBA or hockey. Cruz has fashioned himself a singular spot in
sports history and allows boxing to once again spearhead the breaking of
barriers, just as historic boxing figures John L. Sullivan, Jack Johnson and
Benny Leonard changed the image of their minorities followed later by other
athletes like Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, Roberto Clemente and
Billie Jean King. Boxing is widely and willfully overlooked for its positive
social impact; for the short term, Cruz is changing that fact.
it going too far to compare Cruz to historic figures like Owens, King, or
Muhammad Ali? On a basis of athletic performance, I will argue yes. I do not wish
this to come off as flippant but homosexuality in itself is not an achievement.
However, we must understand that the gay rights movement is in its infancy
compared with the civil rights struggle of ethnic minorities or women’s rights.
In time, Cruz might be acknowledged as a truly historic figure.