Orland Cruz, in 2009. (Hogan Photos)
Featherweight boxer Orlando Cruz, a 31-year-old Puerto Rico native, has come out, and announced that he is homosexual.
The southpaw, who turned pro in 2000, and owns a 18-2 2-1 record, with 9 KOs, put out a statement which loudly and proudly told the world a secret that he has been holding on to. “I've been fighting for more than 24 years and as I continue my ascendant career, I want to be true to myself,” Cruz said. “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. I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican. I have always been and always will be a proud gay man.”
Cruz repped Puerto Rico in 2000 Olympics. He is set to fight on Oct. 19, against 20-4 Jorge Pazos in Lorida. he has won two straight, over Michael Franco and Al Delgado, after losing two in a row, to Cornelius Lock and Daniel Ponce De Leon, via stoppage.
My take: Bravo. Good for Mr. Cruz. Boxing hasn't seen such a public pronouncement from an active participant. Hall of Famer Emile Griffith battled rumors that he was gay, in his heyday, but kept under wraps his lifestyle, for the most part. The issue came to a head when a foe, Benny Paret, called him a “maricon,” a slur for a gay man, at the weigh-in for their March 24, 1962 bout. He'd mocked Griffith before their second bout, with a limp-wrist routine, and added injury to the insult by winning a split decision. Before their third scrap, held six months later at Madison Square Garden, Griffith lunged at Paret, but got full-on revenge hours later during the bout. He thrashed Paret badly–threw about 24 unanswered blows– to the point that Paret suffered brain damage, and died, ten days after the bout.
The Virgin Islands native Griffith didn't go out of his way to protect his preference; more than once, he'd head from a fight at Madison Square Garden, still in his trunks, and put on mink coat, and head to a gay-friendly bar to unwind. Why didn't he tell the world? “Promoters wouldn't touch him,” said former light heavyweight champ Jose Torres in a 2005 Sports Illustrated article on Griffith. “It wouldn't bother me, but most fighters would hate him. And then, if someone loses to him? You lost to this gay guy? Get out of town!“
To the writer, Griffith danced, parried, countered lightly. “I will dance with anybody,” he told Gary Smith. “I've chased men and women. I like men and women both. But I don't like that word: homosexual, gay or faggot. I don't know what I am. I love men and women the same, but if you ask me which is better … I like women.”
Griffith had to wrestle with the issue privately and publicly during a different era. Despite some holdouts, the continued presence of some dinosaurs of that era's ignorance and bias who still cling to the belief that one makes a conscious choice who one is attracted to, our society has advanced immeasurably in the arena of tolerance and acceptance of gay people, athletes and otherwise. CNN anchor Anderson Cooper confirmed in July what many knew, that he was and is gay, and was met with not much of a ripple. Shoulders were shrugged, and that, friends, is progress, mighty progress. By now, only the remarkably stubborn, and some would argue, remarkably hateful and judgmental, attach a judgment to a person based on who they'd like to smooch with. My guess is that Cruz might hear of a couple stupid zingers on Twitter, but beyond that, I think his announcement will be like Cooper's. The world will keep spinning, and after not too long, we will forget about his sexual orientation, and assess him as we would any other boxer. Can he punch? How is his chin? Of course, we do already know about his heart, his reservoir of guts…He's got loads of heart and guts. Bravo, Mr. Cruz, you scored a KO win with this announcement, and you have helped another bunch of young people, some of them boxers, yes, summon the courage to tell their friends, and family and the rest of the world that they are gay, and proud of it.