Sexual orientation in boxing, well, in any sport really, has always been a touchy subject. Rare is the athlete who "comes out" as homosexual during his active pro career.
However, Orlando Cruz released a statement tonight coming out as a gay man and it's actually quite a great read:
"I've been fighting for more than 24 years and as I continue my ascendant career, I want to be true to myself. 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."
While this is obviously a boxing story, this is also a story that cuts to the heart of combat sports' macho, often times homophobic culture.
Too often when a fighter or UFC personality is upset and calls someone a "faggot" or says that something was "gay" it is treated by many fans as "hey man, it's just words." But understanding the true impact of those words is something important.
Cruz's statement not only took courage, but is quite touching in his understanding the capabilities he has to be a role model by being true to himself in the face of a culture that is not often welcoming to who he truly is.
Cruz, 31, is currently ranked No. 4 in the world by the WBO at 126 pounds, and has a pro record of 18-2-1 with nine knockout wins, and has won twice since back-to-back losses to Cornelius Lock and Daniel Ponce De Leon in 2009-10. His biggest pro fight to date was against Lock, which took place on the Mayweather-Marquez pay-per-view on September 19, 2009.
So, as a #4 ranked fighter, he is likely only a few steps away from a potential title shot (even if non-sanctioning body rankings don't quite see him on that level yet).
He is also a member of the same 2000 Puerto Rican Olympic team that produced long time championship level fighters Miguel Cotto and Ivan Calderon.
Update: I should probably have added this when the story first went up.
But one of the saddest stories in boxing history revolves around gay slurs and a closeted gay fighter.
Former champion Emile Griffith was a closeted gay man but many people in and around boxing knew or had suspicions about his sexual orientation. When facing Benny “Kid” Paret in 1962, Griffith delivered a violent beating, culminating in a 12th round flurry to a defenseless Paret who was simply being held up by the ropes. Paret never woke up, dying 10 days later.
Paret had reportedly called Griffith a maricón (the Spanish "version" of "faggot") and Griffith said that he was extremely angry in the ring over the slur.
There's an outstanding documentary on the Griffith/Paret situation called Ring Of Fire, which I advise every fight fan to watch.
This is one of the stories associated with homosexuality and boxing.
I'm quite happy to have Cruz's courageous decision to come out and be a role model as a positive story for a new age in the sport.