WASHINGTON, D.C. – Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs Wednesday. The former welterweight, junior middleweight, middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight champion spoke on the need for further funding for type 1 diabetes research.
“During [a] time of great personal accomplishment, privately my family faced tremendous challenges as my father struggled to manage his diabetes. We are not alone in this fight,” Leonard testified. “Nationwide, more than 24 million people have diabetes, a chronic disease that imposes a huge emotional and financial burden on patients and their families.”
Leonard’s advocacy for diabetes research stems from the struggle his father, Cicero, has experienced with the disease. While the former Olympic Gold Medalist is always used as the example of pampered professional pugilism when juxtaposed with the careers of some of his contemporaries like Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Aaron Pryor, Leonard revealed to the Committee that his decision to turn pro following the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal was prompted by his father’s astronomical medical bills from diabetes.
“As I closed the book on my amateur boxing career, I planned to begin a new chapter in my life as a college student at the University of Maryland, but I had to face the reality of my father’s illness and the incredible medical bills that resulted from his life with diabetes. My decision to turn professional was based on the desire to help my family cover the costs of my father’s care,” stated Leonard.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when cells of the pancreas stop making insulin because they have been destroyed by the body’s immune system. Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes, begins when fat, muscle, and liver cells do not use insulin properly and results in the body being unable to produce enough insulin to respond to meals. The American Diabetes Association reports that the total annual cost of diabetes in the U.S. economy is $174 billion, $116 billion of which is for medical care and another $58 billion is for complications.
Leonard has served as chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Walk for the Cure and supports the organization’s Southern California Chapter through his recently formed Sugar Ray Leonard Foundation. While his testimony focused on his knowledge and experience battling diabetes, Leonard was able to draw from his boxing experience to provide inspiration for funding research to combat this disease. In his testimony Leonard stated:
“One of my most memorable fights was my re-match against Roberto Duran. I lost my welterweight crown to Duran just a few months earlier, and I couldn’t wait to get my title back. In the rematch, I fought a smart and skillful match. With just seconds to go in the 8th round, Roberto Duran turned around, walked back to his corner, threw up his hands and said, ‘no mas.’ He quit.
“Now, it would be easy for these children here today to say ‘no mas.’ The fight against diabetes is a tough one. Some days, nothing seems more difficult, more impossible, to battle. There are days we all think about saying ‘no mas.’ But it’s clear these children have fight in them. They’re willing to go as many rounds as it takes to beat this formidable opponent.”
Leonard was part of a celebrity panel that included Mary Tyler Moore, who is the International Chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers. Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman [I-CT] joked that the level of excitement for each witness depended on one’s age.
“I don’t want to date myself but I’d be honored to be in the presence of Sugar Ray Robinson,” quipped Lieberman.
The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee held the hearing because of the Committee’s jurisdiction over the federal budget.