Every time an athlete comes out as gay, we at Outsports get asked what it means. My answer is usually along the lines of it's great news, but don't expect a flood of athletes to come out. This is how I feel about the news that featherweight boxer Orlando Cruz became the first openly gay pro boxer.
"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 told USA Today.
It's awesome what Cruz did and he will be a role model; every athlete that comes out is. But this doesn't mean we will see a parade of fighters (or other athletes) coming out. It doesn't work that way. Coming out for anyone is an intensely personal decision and 1,000 people will have 1,000 different coming out stories. Many of these stories will share common themes, but we all make our decision based on family, friends, career, geography and myriad other factors unique to our lives. Cruz, for example, told the Associated Press he did not make this decision lightly:
“I developed physically and mentally to take such a big step in my life and in my profession, which is boxing, knowing that it would have pros and cons, highs and lows in this sport that is so macho,” he said. “I kept this hidden for many, many years.”
Cruz said he met with psychologists and others before making the announcement, adding he has the full support of his family, trainer and manager. He praised his mother and sister for their unconditional love and said his father has always backed him.
Out athletes can spur some to step forward. We ran a story on former Pittsburgh Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy coming out and this led a gay former Minor League Baseball player to contact me and tell his story (it will be published soon). But these are more the exception than the rule.
Boxing should thank Cruz for his honesty and bravery and I hope it embraces him. The sport has become irrelevant on the American sports landscape, with people much more into mixed martial arts. Normally, a minor title fight between two featherweights in Florida would attract zero attention, but I guarantee that people will follow Cruz's Oct. 19 bout against Jorge Pazos. The UFC has talked about having an openly gay fighter and a boxer beat them to the punch.
It took huge balls for Cruz to come out in a violent sport like boxing and it will lead others to question if they have what it takes to be out and proud in their sport. If even one more athlete -- or non-athlete -- is inspired to follow his lead, he will have made a difference. On this count, Cruz is a champ in my book, whether he wins in the ring or not.