The choice for Grand Marshall of this year's International Boxing Hall of Fame will draw some surprised stares from non-hardcore boxing fans, or fans whose interest dropped off in previous eras. But the boxing heads at Canastota to check out the Sunday parade, which kicks off at 1 PM, will not be thrown off when they see Bushwick, Brooklyn bred actress-activist Rosie Perez smiling and waving to boxing devotees who have come to see fighters Arturo Gatti, Virgil Hill, referee Mills Lane and a host of other luminaries enshrined.
Perez is a constant Twitter presence, enthusiastically commenting on fights (and not just the super fights, either, she follows the doings in the sweet science rather obsessively). Her enthusiasm suggests that her dimples are in full bloom as she takes in the action and givers her Twitter take. The respect and admiration she shows for the game and its participants has won her a new demo of fans, who are appreciative of any positive voices who aren't inclined to critique the sport and point out its diminished place in the wide world of sports since the 70s. Perez also attends fights, especially in the NY region, when her work schedule permits.
"I'm the grand marshall," she told NYFightblog when asked about her role in Canastota. "I'm very honored. I can't wait to meet all the boxers that I've watched and admired for so long."
Is she looking forward to shaking hands with any particular enshrinees, or boldfaced names who are attending the 24th gala?
"I'm looking forward to meeting them all," she said.
Asked if any particular bout flipped a switch in her brain, and rendered her addicted to the sport, she said, "I don't remember any particular fight. It was just a thing we did, we watched boxing."
I admit, I'm quite please that Perez is boxing's "first fan." She fits--I think she can identify with the fighters who come from humble circumstances, as she did.
She's had to blow off the critiques from naysayers, who told her early on to lose her accent, like so many fighters who swim upstream against the flow of doubters who don't think they should be in such a sport, or don't possess the talent or will to climb the ladder to a prominent place in the game.
Also, her devotion to the sport serves as a reminder, or a notice, to the close-minded who don't think the sport can or should appeal to females. Why the heck shouldn't a sport which exhibits regularly the triumph of will over conventional wisdom be embraced by women, who, if you haven't noticed, still are battling the forces of ignorance and inertia which keep them earning 77 of every dollar a man does in the United States.
You can follow Rosie on Twitter and see for yourself how much of boxing fan she is.
Note: A shorter version of this piece appeared on ESPN New York.