Orlando Cruz and Sexuality: A Necessary Knockout

By Cheekay Brandon on October 6, 2012
Orlando Cruz and Sexuality: A Necessary Knockout
Cruz reminded us of an essential truth: More than a freedom fighter, he is simply a fighter.

Should Cruz fight any of the featherweight division’s elites—Orlando Salido, Celestino Caballero, Chris John—we would expect him to lose…

“Life is like boxing in many unsettling respects. But boxing is only like boxing.”—Joyce Carol Oates

Wikipedia, Billie Jean and Jean Cocteau

During the fall of 2011 (about one year ago), I was in the middle of background research for a feature article on the history of Latin American boxing rivalries. I began with Panama Al Brown, boxing’s first Latino boxing world champion, who captured the bantamweight title in 1929. 

Like many self-proclaimed super scholars, my investigations started with Wikipedia. In Panama Al Brown’s short but satisfactorily detailed entry I read an excerpt about his life after moving to Paris in 1926:

“During his time in France, he joined Josephine Baker’s La Revue Nègre as a tap-dancer. His lover Jean Cocteau helped him.”

I said to myself: “A world champion boxer and tap dancer? I need to write about that.”

I would soon discover, however, that Al Brown’s adoption of tap dancing (with Josephine Baker, no less) during the height of his boxing career was hardly the most interesting aspect of that Wikipedia excerpt. 

The entry also said “his (Panama Al Brown’s) lover Jean Cocteau helped him.”

I read “Jean Cocteau” to be a woman.

After all, I have an aunt named “Jean” and “Billie Jean” was not Michael Jackson’s lover but “just a girl.” 

I almost completely forgot about it.

Months after my article (“Mala Sangre: The Mexico-Puerto Rico Rivalry”) was published, I went back to the Panama Al Brown Wikipedia entry, interested in writing a feature about the tap dancing sub-story. In doing so, I took time to find more out about this “Jean Cocteau.” 

For one, this Jean Cocteau person was famous enough to have their own Wikipedia page, which immediately made the story more interesting: not only had Panama Al Brown moved to Paris in the prime of his boxing career and taken up tap dancing, he had been romantically involved with someone famous enough to have their own Wikipedia entry.  Not bad for a poor bantamweight from Panama.

And how did I respond when I learned that Jean Cocteau was a man? Well…not quite the way I would have hoped. It included a brief double take, a blink and an awkward eye, all lasting but a few embarrassingly long seconds.

Many “progressive” straight men can admit to similar flashes of homophobia when we are surprised by an encounter or experience that engages this part of our brain. We are well prepared to put on our open-minded hats when going to a poetry reading in the East Village (New York, NY) or Dupont Circle (Washington, DC); we are less prepared to hear that a boxing champion was romantically involved with a man. 

My problematic initial reaction illustrates why the “gay barrier” (as many have called it) needs to be irreversibly broken in boxing: Boxing has always been about defying convention.

On October 3, 2012 boxing witnessed its first modern coming out event (by an active fighter and contender) when Orlando Cruz released a statement saying that he is “a proud gay man.”

From Orlando Cruz to NASCAR

Cruz’s statement comes in the midst of run of highly visible men opening up about their sexuality. Recent cases include CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and R&B star Frank Ocean. These events are far less frequent in American-based sports, the most notable being former NBA player John Amechi in 2007.

One might have predicted that boxing, along with American football and NASCAR, might be among the very last sports to author a public coming out event. American football occupies a related tough guy niche and is widely popular in the geographical regions that harbor (largely) socially conservative fan bases. While NASCAR drivers aren’t considered tough guys in the classic sense (in terms of physical stature), they certainly extol the daredevil/diehard characteristics of males with an extra Y chromosome.
Sports like men’s tennis and soccer, on the other hand, might be considered ahead of the curve evolutionarily, probably because of their pronounced European influence (most countries in the European Union are far less socially conservative than the USA on matters of sexuality). Interestingly, neither of these sports has authored a notable coming out event by a male athlete.

On Masculinity: Lessons from Women’s Boxing?

Boxing has dealt (to some degree) with issues of masculinity vis-à-vis the debate over women’s boxing. Sexists and chauvinists argue(d) that women shouldn’t be allowed to fight for medical, ethical, cultural or religious reasons. Like most stupid opinions, the best way to increase their half-life is to intellectualize them. The critics of women’s boxing certainly tried. Fortunately, the arguments fell apart, culminating in the 2012 Olympic Games in London that featured women’s boxing as a sport for the first time.

But as much as Orlando Cruz might share in common with women boxers, there is something unique about the challenges faced by a gay male boxer. For whatever reason, not only are we comfortable with lesbian athletes, we often expect athletic and strong females to be lesbian. Ironically, many women sport’s most liberating moments came when the public learned to accept that female athletes known for their physical prowess, such Laila Ali or Serena Williams, are actually…just regular women (whatever the hell that even means). 

The plight of gay male boxers is likely to be different; they might expect to meet much of the bigotry faced by women boxers—“you fight like a girl”—along with the political, moral and religiously based discrimination that the gay community faces in modern society. 

And because boxing is an individual sport, gay boxers might not face the same challenges as those by gay athletes in team sports, where their sexuality is perceived to be a disease that can infect teammates or at least undermine the unspoken straight maleness that fosters locker room bonds (the military, of course, dealt with something very similar).

Boxing doesn’t suffer in the same way. What makes boxing so captivating, in fact, is the primacy and privacy of the competition. And because of that, boxing might provide the best opportunity to irreversibly shatter our outdated views of what masculinity really is: we can focus on individual stories and use them to humanize the diversity of human perspectives and lifestyles.

What Matters Most in the Sweet Science

I’m one of those insufferable boxing writers that actually believes the cliché that “no sport has stories like boxing does.” 

Of course, there’s no objective means through which I can compare the interesting-ness of boxing stories relative to other stories. Hell, a man with one hand (Jim Abbott) pitched a no-hitter for my New York Yankees in 1993. I can’t come up with anything similar for a boxer. 

But maybe I’m right—maybe there is a type of magic in boxing stories.

Because no sport surprises the public the way boxing does and no athletes can captivate us the way boxers do. And no sport is equipped to carry the burden of tackling social issues in sports the way boxing is.

For example, possibly too much has been written and said about Muhammad Ali. The reason we can’t forget him is not because of his hand speed or rope-a-dope tactics. It’s because in making a political stand—refusing to fight in the Vietnam War in his case—he forever imprinted his name into the public imagination. That did just as much for his legend as any right hand lead.

But Orlando Cruz is no Muhammad Ali. 

He is understood to be a good, not great, professional fighter. 

Should Cruz secure a fight against any of the featherweight division’s elites—Orlando Salido, Celestino Caballero, Chris John—we would expect him to lose.

That, however, doesn’t make his stance any less poignant. I could, in fact, argue the opposite: because he’s not a household name that commands seven-figure fight purses, Cruz put his career on the line by speaking about his sexuality.  And why did he do this? Might we suggest that Cruz being a professional boxer—who has faced pain and defeat before—helped him muster the courage to speak from his heart? Surely.

And in doing what he did, Orlando Cruz reminded us of an essential truth: More than a freedom fighter, he is simply a fighter.

Just like Muhammad Ali.

Just like Manny Pacquiao.

Just like Deirdre Gogarty.

Just like amateurs and pros from Ghana to Georgia to Guam. 

The sweet science only cares about how one studies and practices the science: staying true to the principles of discipline, preparation, determination, passion and pride.

It cares not for where you were born, what gender you are, or as Orlando Cruz just reminded us, who you love.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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Panama Al Brown - Paris (1930)



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  1. Joe 10:53am, 10/14/2012

    Darrell: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

  2. Darrell 05:13pm, 10/12/2012

    @Rob

    Getting old….dead on mate!  It must be haaaard for you not to be able to get a rise out of someone.  You really didn’t make a lot of sense….reading stuff into someone’s replies that isn’t really there must make your head hurt?!  Ha!

    Anyway, I’m done with this propaganda piece….time to get back to reading some real boxing articles.

  3. Rob 05:39am, 10/12/2012

    @Darrell - Ok, now you have put the cherry on top. Can’t you read? Did you not see the Ha! at the end indicating that it was a joke? Or are you still starving for attention? Go ask who ever tells you what to think to come up with some new stuff for you to say brother, cause it’s getting old!!! I was just trying to make a point but now I can see that you just look to say something back without really reading what I wrote. PEACE!

  4. Darrell 04:24pm, 10/11/2012

    @Cheekay

    Well to be correct, you called me a “homophobe”, I just have no problem with being labelled one…figure it out man…works for me too.  I have no problem being shunned & ostracized either, being a minority I know what it’s all about.  If I’m right, you are too…but then, who cares, I don’t.  I rest in the knowledge that really, I am right & you are wrong…you know it deep down too, ha!

    Did I throw a fit….where…where?!  Tsk, tsk…stretching it again.

  5. Darrell 04:15pm, 10/11/2012

    @Rob

    Ahhh, the standard “maybe your gay & haven’t realized it yet” argument….lame brotha.

    Lots of words for someone who isn’t supposed to be angry…pft.

  6. Planet Cheekay 08:22am, 10/11/2012

    @Darrell: You sound like you’re upset and need a hug. 

    I’d offer you one, but….well…you know.

    You called gay behavior “degenerate” and “disgusting” but throw a fit when someone calls you an “imbecile.”  The irony. 

    An actual imbecile with innate problems learning can’t be blamed for their deficiencies. You can, however, be blamed for yours. I don’t know a word to describe someone like that, but you’ve already called yourself a “homophobe,” and so I’m not sure I need to pile on any further.  To most intelligent people, “homophobe” is really, really bad.  You wear it happily.  That works for me.

    As for the “prevailing social norms” and legality: marriage rights will be extended to everyone (including the LGBT community) at some point in the near future because the “sanctity of marriage (as your friends like to call it)” has been standing on shaky legal (and moral) ground for many decades.  Its actually pretty dumb and the people who work the highest courts will soon tell us that. 

    And as for you being “shunned and ostracized:” Actual gay people are still subject to violence because of it…as in….today.  If they can get over feeling actually ostracized and bullied (which they have), then you can handle being called a “homophobe (which, again, you called yourself).”

  7. Rob 08:03am, 10/11/2012

    @Darrell - you keep proving my point. At no time did I get angry at you. I just simply stated that you are contradicting yourself by saying that you “don’t care” what other people say and then you respond with anger when someone disagrees with you. THAT is why others have called you ignorant or imbecile. I don’t think you are neither, I think you are just confused and in need of attention. Maybe it is because you are frustrated that what others taught you to think is no longer the norm, that is why I mention to you that the same freedoms you have to call gays “disgusting” is the same freedom others have to call you “imbecile”. Don’t get upset; that’s what you wanted, and even stated so in your first post. you got the attention you asked for but somehow you are still confused. (maybe you’re gay and haven’t realized it yet) HAHAHA!!!

  8. Darrell 01:38am, 10/11/2012

    No Cheekay, only half right, it is the prevailing social norm but not legal….my view is certainly not popular amongst the fourth estate & progressives, & are certainly ostracized & shunned for holding to it.  As it stands, it will likely be just a matter of time before the legal standing comes into line with what is commonly accepted (at least publicly).  You can’t claim the weaker position because you say so here…it’s not quite that easy.

    Just to be clear, I have no brook with the man personally but his sexual preference is distasteful to me & I have no qualms about saying so…in reply to public references lionizing such destructive “behaviour”.  Both personally to him & to society through the uncontrolled degeneracy implicit in that “behaviour”.

    I care not one whit for the “homophobe” tag, it has about as much shock value to me as the word “gay” to a fag.  But if you insist, I’ll gladly wear it.  As for imbecile, although dictionary meaning demands that you’re dead wrong, after all I wouldn’t make it past the word “No” at the start of my reply…you’re quite welcome to fling the vulgar epithets.  Though quite why you’re feeling so aggrieved is beyond me…..unless you are a fag/cocksmoker/poo-pusher/etc. too…

    Well, you started it!

  9. Planet Cheekay 12:35am, 10/11/2012

    @Darrell

    “Disagreement with the prevailing social norms is not hate speech.”

    Quick note on “prevailing social norms:”

    Disagreeing with the “prevailing social norms” would mean supporting same-sex marriage and gay rights, as the status quo is actually not far from your own beliefs.  This is exactly why marriage equality is not protected as a right for all, which is exactly why we debate this issue.

    I’m only mentioning this because the funniest/cutest/dumbest thing about this debate is how homophobes consistently paint themselves as victims of a social correctness conspiracy. 

    That’s….dumb. Homophobia is still the cultural and legal status quo.  Literally no one condemns my (and I assume Darrel’s) sexual orientation or right to marry. Can’t say that for people who identify as gay.

    So yeah—you can characterize gay sexual behavior as “disgusting” and “degenerate.”  And people have a right to call you and “imbecile” and “homophobe” (you called yourself that) because of it. 

    Ain’t free speech great?

  10. Darrell 07:44pm, 10/10/2012

    @raxman

    What is “hate” speech btw raxman…you define it for me, as you seem to be doing.  I’ll bet you’ll find by any definition, aside from the lexicon of raxman, that my opinion is neither hate speech nor vilification.

    Disagreement with the prevailing social norms is not hate speech.  Ball is in your court.

  11. Darrell 07:36pm, 10/10/2012

    @Rob

    I’m not upset at all Rob…you’re doing a bang up impression of it though.

    Rehashing the “progressive” yell points nicely there though….go back to sleep, baaaaabaaaa.

  12. raxman 02:54pm, 10/10/2012

    darrell - so you dont hate gays? because if you don’t you’re doing a mighty impersonation of hate. perhaps you don’t understand the meaning of the term “‘drawing a long bow” for its hardly a stretch for me or any of the others on here who have condemned you comments as hateful

  13. Rob 05:58am, 10/10/2012

    @Darrell - Have you ever heard the saying “it’s better to be thought an idiot than to open your mouth and prove it”? It fits you like a glove. All I said is that you were getting upset with people just for having a different opinion than you after you said that you “did not care” what everyone said. I didn’t even give my opinion, yet you get upset and start calling me names like a little kid (maybe you are). You clearly are an ignorant homophobe that can’t tolerate other people (who you don’t even know) having their own opinion. From your responses it looks like you want everybody to think just like you (or like you were TOLD to think); THAT is the definition of a “sheep”. I (unlike you) have the ability to come to my own conclusions.

  14. Darrell 12:52am, 10/10/2012

    raxman….tsk, tsk.  Pure hate?  Um….no.  Pure opinion based on a number of factors ranging from casual observation to religious belief & a few other points in between.

    You’re drawing a long, tired & stupidly inaccurate bow there with your “hate” accusation, jack.

    @Rob…and…..who pray tell, are you?  Another gormless sheep captured by the crushing grasp of progressive “thinking” (now there’s an oxymoron!), obviously.

  15. raxman 05:31pm, 10/09/2012

    ted - condemning someone for their sexuality is a long way from political correctness gone mad. the insanity of political correctness is, for example, when you can’t make a gay joke for fear of offending some homo’s sensibility - but what darrell is on about is pure hate. and that sort of opinion we just should not tolerate.
    by the way i like a good fag joke as much as the next bloke!

  16. Rob 09:02am, 10/09/2012

    @the thresher - He has a right to his opinion and so does everyone else. Even if their opinion is that he’s a homophobe.

  17. the thresher 07:08am, 10/09/2012

    Whether I agree or disagree, Darrell has just as much a right to his opinion as anyone else.

    I find poitical correctness simply sickening.

  18. Rob 07:01am, 10/09/2012

    @Darrell - for someone who says “I don’t care what anyone thinks” you sure do get agitated when someone disagrees with you.

  19. raxman 03:09pm, 10/08/2012

    darrell - have you ever heard of live and let live mate? or what about this one - me thinks the lady doth protest too much!

  20. Darrell 01:40pm, 10/08/2012

    Um, well, actually paul it has historically been a perverse & disgusting behaviour.  And will continue to be so though many will not want to admit so publicly seeing as it’s one of the foremost cause celebre’s of our very f#cked up modern society.

    Do you feel alright paul?  Such rage from defenders of perversity was expected…don’t blow a vein.  As for myself, I couldn’t give a flying so….

    I must admit to quite liking going against the prevailing social tides…& seeing all the faux outrage.  Boxing is a great sport!

  21. Girlboxing 04:53am, 10/08/2012

    With respect to women’s boxing, unfortunately, many women not only fight for the right to be in the game at all, but deal with reponses to their participation that question their gender and sexuality—all the time.

    This is something that male boxers do not face as a result of their decision to take up the gloves, but something females who enter the ring have no choice but to contend with.  Even institutions are hell bent on “insisting” that gender rules be “respected” with such silliness as insisting on boxing skirts for women—all of which adds up to the fact that boxing is on the front lines of gender expectations. That Orlando Cruz chose to come out as a gay man adds an interesting wrinkle to the conversation—but it certainly makes him no less of a boxer as afterall he is no different in his skills and boxing savvy just because he came out.

    My hope is that the sport can grow big enough to let fighters—male and female—do what they do best which is box while leaving all of the other questions about gender, sexual orientation and the like out of the conversation because truthfully it should be a matter of profound indifference what a person does between the sheets. What should matter when it comes to boxing is performance in the ring: nothing more or less for the men and women who are courageous enough to take up the gloves.

  22. paul 10:39pm, 10/07/2012

    Darrel Nepia, ‘‘I don’t want to know about some perverts bedroom….“habits”’’

    He said he was ‘gay’. That this statement automatically leads you to perverse thoughts says a LOT more about YOU than it does about homo-sexuality.  In fact, he said NOTHING about any perverse habits, so wherever you have taken yourself with this, perhaps it’s best if you make your way home before you find out exactly why homosexuality fills you with confusing ideas.

  23. Darrell 06:09pm, 10/07/2012

    @Planet Cheekay

    Do I win a chocolate fish for that one?  I stand by it, you keep running with the diseased degenerates…it seems to be the cool position at the moment.

    I’ll stick with the tried & true, less mud & shit where I stand.

  24. Darrell 06:01pm, 10/07/2012

    Sorry raxman, well, no not really.  There are plenty of kids who kill themselves for all sorts of reasons, my opinion of them is almost certainly not one of them….C’mon mate, I’m too big for an attempted guilt trip.

    It’s perversion & he’s a pervert…and apparently a big boy.  Why does he need to advertise his sexual preferences?  It’s not normal for anyone else, he doesn’t get a pass from me…nor a “courageous” tag either.

  25. the thresher 11:10am, 10/07/2012

    My take on gays is that I know a lot of gays who are imbeciles and a lot of gays who are great people whether they are imbeciles or not imbeciles is not predicated on their being gay. It’s predicated on their being either imbeciles or not.

  26. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 09:55am, 10/07/2012

    Cheekay Brandon-Excellent reporting once again! What’s next for Orlando….sex tape….reality show….wedding…..divorce…..fragrance and clothing line. I’d say things are looking up for him! Which reminds me…being gay doesn’t make him a bad person or a good one either for that matter! One more thing…he needs to do a better job of tucking that lantern jaw of his in when he fights guys named Ponce and Cornelius!

  27. Mike Casey 05:55am, 10/07/2012

    If Mr. Cruz makes a career out of boxing and always tries his best, people will forget that he’s gay in about five minutes flat. If he makes a career out of being gay, he would be wise not to expect everyone to love him. That’s the real world, whether we care for it or not. My only trite complaint about the modern society is that I can no longer describe myself as a gay bachelor without some wit asking me how my boyfriend is.

  28. Planet Cheekay 04:51am, 10/07/2012

    @ Darrell Nepia: “Call it homophobia, call it bigotry, call it whatever.” 

    Homophobia and Bigotry will suffice.  You made that really easy. Thanks for making the article, and Cruz’s announcement, more relevant.

  29. Pllanet Cheekay 04:48am, 10/07/2012

    @ Leighton: Yeah,  I used to believe that about coming out events as well: that many were scripted for publicity purposes. 

    The problem is this: you’re only qualified to speak on it if you’ve ever been shamed into having to hold on to a secret like that before.  After all, there’s a reason that “coming out” is a term and phenomenon at all: it’s because that secret festers and torments people for decades.  I couldn’t imagine having to do anything similar, because society doesn’t condemn my sexual orientation. 

    For that reason, its silly to *assume* that these public coming out events are for publicity.  In Cruz’s case, he probably came out because he really, really, really wanted to, and probably feels a lot better about himself now that he has.  Simply ask a LGBT you know who has come out and they’ll likely report something similar. 

     

  30. the thresher 04:28am, 10/07/2012

    “So far, Orlando Cruz hasn’t proven he can fight. Daniel Ponce de Leon made him look like a boy in with a man, and Cornelius Lock did the same. The WBO has him ranked fourth, but that’s mostly due to the fool’s gold belt of the “Latino champion” that Cruz has captured (well, he’s got the interim version. Yes, there’s an interim version.) If Cruz steps up and gets clobbered again, he’s going to have much bigger questions…” Fox Doucette

  31. raxman 01:22am, 10/07/2012

    Darrell - cue the haters? i think you just offered up enough hate of your own here mate.
    do you have any idea how many teen suicides are as a result of sexual confusion? if by coming out he encourages one kid that there is fact nothing wrong with him or her then that is good enough for me. lord knows there are enough people that share your opinions doing the opposite.

  32. Darrell Nepia 12:12am, 10/07/2012

    Sorry, but the less about this sort of stuff the better.  I don’t want to know about some perverts bedroom….“habits”.  That someone has to define themselves over the preferences of their sex life is unbalanced & disturbed.
    . Call it homophobia, call it bigotry, call it whatever.  There should be no place for this degenerate…“behaviour” in society whatsoever.  That it exists, is a given.  For the disgustingness of the said behaviour, I know…it’s a bastardized word, it should remain firmly in the shadows.
    . It offers nothing to society, and these peoples other gifts in life are NOT part of their sexual preferences, aside from disease, death & a degraded level of masculinity (for the males, not men) & femininity (for the females, not ladies).  He may box, & he’d probably beat the living crap out of me but it doesn’t make him a man, just a sad & deluded depiction of humanity…
    . In case anyone feels a need to call me a coward, my name in full is there for all.
    . OK, cue haters….

  33. Leighton 09:46pm, 10/06/2012

    An excellent article, but I have to disagree on the notion that he risked his career. In the current cultural climate of the US, coming out is far from a death sentence. Rather, the novelty of it - especially in a sport like boxing - can draw much-needed attention. Call me a cynic, but I don’t think Cruz would’ve been quite so loud about his sexual preferences if he believed it would destroy his career; I think it’s given him much-needed media attention, and I think he knew it would. Type “Orlando” into Google. Guess what’s the first search recommendation? Hint: it’s not Orlando Bloom!

    Best of luck to Cruz in his current and future endeavors, as always. Regardless of intention, we need more openly-gay sportsmen and public figures if we’re ever to wash away the bigotry inherent in our culture.

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