Hall of Famer Sugar Ray Leonard, who rose to prominence when he won a gold medal at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, says in his forthcoming autobiography “The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring” that he was sexually abused by an Olympic coach.
The 55-year-old Leonard, who retired in 1997 with a 36-3-1 record, told the NY Times that the coach, who he called “prominent” but did not name, abused him twice. First, the ex boxer wrote, the coach accompanied Leonard, then aged 15, to a tournament in Utica, NY. The coach had Leonard and another young boxer take a bath together, while he watched them. Leonard termed that situation “inappropriate.” He told the Times that years later, the same man sat in a car with him and performed oral sodomy on the young fighter.
This disclosure is sure to set in motion a desire to learn the name of the alleged abuser. The head coach at the 1976 Games was Pat Nappi, who was also the head coach in 1980 and 1984. He died at age 75 in 1993. Tom “Sarge” Johnson was an assistant to Nappi at the 1976 games. He died in the 1980 plane crash which killed 14 US boxing team fighters and eight support personnel. The squad was in Poland for a set of matches and their plane crashed near Warsaw International Airport.
An August 9, 1976 Sports Illustrated story by Pat Putnam refers to Nappi and Johnson as the sole coaches for their squad. “They prayed together often, the fighters and their coaches—Pat Nappi, a quiet Italian-American from Syracuse, N.Y. and Tom Johnson, a gregarious black man from Indianapolis…,” Putnam wrote in his take on the superlative '76 crew, which took home five gold medals.
Common sense says that Nappi and Johnson could be implicated in the Leonard abuse situation. However, it must be noted that the situation occured a quarter century ago, and there were possibly other coaches who had access to Leonard at the time and were affiliated with the USA boxers. But the shocking revelations by the ex boxer cast a shadow on everyone who fits the description of the alleged abuser, so it was not without much deliberation that TSS dug a bit deeper into the scandalous tale.
Leonard's book, which comes out June 6, will also shed light on his substance abuse issues, which mushroomed when he stepped away from the ring, and found himself with an excess of free time, and a lack of direction.