Orlando Cruz Comes Out as First Openly Gay Professional Boxer

TIME speaks to the featherweight about his decision

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GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

Orlando Cruz, left, faces Cornelius Lock during the North American Boxing Organization featherweight-title fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sept. 19, 2009, in Las Vegas

Featherweight Orlando Cruz is being called the bravest man in boxing — and not because of his work in the ring. Cruz has come out as the first openly gay active professional boxer in the sport’s history. “I have always been and always will be a proud gay man,” he said in a public announcement on the evening of Oct. 3.

Cruz, 31, competed at the 2000 Olympics and is currently the fourth-ranked featherweight in the world, according to the World Boxing Organization.

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“This is something that I’ve been contemplating for years,” the Puerto Rican boxer told TIME, in Spanish. “It’s a difficult decision for many people, but I want to be me. I want to be Orlando Cruz, and I don’t want to pretend.”

Cruz’s announcement came with the twin goals of being true to himself and being a better role model for young fans. He says he has encountered homophobia in the boxing world, but he declines to elaborate on the form that the discrimination took. (And on Thursday, boxing fans on Twitter were not universally happy about Cruz’s news; one fan wrote that Cruz “messed up his whole career [and] he will really be the most avoided boxer.”) His family has known of his sexual orientation for years, and he said he was very happy with his decision to come out — and the positive messages of support he has received from fans and fellow pugilists alike only boost that confidence. “It has to come from you,” he says of choosing the right time to come out. “Every person has that decision to make for themselves.”

(MORE: Olympic Homophobia: Why Are There So Few Openly Gay Athletes?)

But while coming out is a personal decision, there are wider benefits to doing so, says Cyd Zeigler Jr., president of Outsports, the Web hub for the gay sports community. “What athletes say and what they do and how they live their lives has an affect on our culture,” says Zeigler. “When gay athletes come out of the closet and straight athletes come out in support of gay rights, those actions and those words have a reverberating effect. It opens eyes.”

The eye-opening is particularly true for a sport like boxing, which Zeigler says is, along with football, “probably the last place you would think there would be an openly gay athlete.” And — even though, USA Today notes, boxer Emile Griffith came out as bisexual after his career was over; even though NFL players like Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe have recently spoken up in support of marriage equality — that stereotype has persisted until now. And stereotypes work both ways: media portrayals of gay people can often be dominated by clichés that could be knocked out by men like Orlando Cruz. Zeigler says that, as a kid, he thought he couldn’t possibly be gay because he didn’t like “Broadway and Cher and Madonna.” An athlete who was both tough and gay in his public life would have been — as Cruz hopes to be — a good role model.

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But Zeigler says that while he was swarmed with e-mails and tweets after the announcement, he wasn’t shocked that Cruz came out. “I’m not surprised because our culture has changed,” he says. “There’s probably still this idea for other athletes that they don’t want to get beaten by a gay man, but gay people are everywhere.”

And Cruz, despite the big decision he made, is similarly calm. He has other things to focus on now, like his next match, on Oct. 19 in Kissimmee, Fla., against Jorge Pazos. He’s still the same fighter as always, a man who’s been boxing for more than two decades. “I’m just looking for people to respect me as the professional that I am when I get inside the ring,” he says. “This happens to be my job.”

— Orlando Cruz interview conducted and translated by Alfonso Serrano

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169 comments
MarkPhikSenders
MarkPhikSenders

People think that gays must be a sissy. Actually, most gays act and beheave like heteros. You can't even spot most gays in the streets. Some even get married and have kids.

TNT
TNT

Let say for the sake of arguement that this boxer has an infection that is transmitted by saliva and blood, now everybody that comes in contact with him in the ring and outside is exposed to that infection. So, how does he justify being a public danger. Just saying!

Arvind Nath Pathak
Arvind Nath Pathak

Orlando Cruz ,a successful Athlete Boxer is a symbol of A MAN NOT BEING A SISSY BEING GAY ,Love they say is blind to your sex but alive to what you are blessed with orientation for, coming out of womb, and i personally don't feel it's my concern with whom u fall in love with ,Man or woman ,as long as it is LOVE ,I M ALL FOR !

Homebound Annie
Homebound Annie

In regards to the last two sentences of this TIME article:  Since when does "sexuality" have to do with his profession?   The world does not need to know people's sexuality, or anyone's sexuality for that matter.  Sex and work do not mix-it's inappropriate and NOT professional.  A person should be judged on their work ethic, not their sexual preference.  Keep sex out of the professional conversation.  Sex is a private, personal issue, let's keep it that way.  

cooldoods
cooldoods

It would be interesting to see how his career turns out after this announcement. Heterosexual boxers (I presume all or the rest of them) will probably avoid fighting him because they wouldn't want to be beat by him on the ring. As for those who will fight him, they'll probably have some anti-homosexual sentiment in order to psyche themselves for the fight.

US_Army_Veteran
US_Army_Veteran

About 65% of society is gay, lesbian, or bi especially in traditionally masculine sports and jobs. 

ptran
ptran

Who cares. Boxing is a dying sport anyway and that is another reason people don't watch Boxing anymore.

Tim
Tim

Boxing isn't a dying sport. I boxed against my best friend in his backyard just last weekend.

Shawnee Anderson
Shawnee Anderson

Geez, you couldn't get a better picture of Cruz than him getting hammered?  

romano71
romano71

Good for him...why are the rest of professional gay athletes still hiding? Come out, come out, wherever you are....

Tracey Rainey
Tracey Rainey

Who cares?  I don't go around broadcasting "hey, I'm a proud heterosexual female..."  So ridiculous.

Orville Lloyd Douglas
Orville Lloyd Douglas

Your comment Tracey is very ignorant and also heterosexist. Due to heterosexism there is an assumption everyone is heterosexual and that is simply not true. Also, gay male athletes such as Orlando Cruz go through so much they deal with so much homophobia because of straight men. A heterosexual athlete gets to talk about his girlfriend or wife in the media yet a gay male athlete has to hide his homosexuality due to not wanting to lose sponsors, endorsements, fans ect. So for Orlando Cruz to have the courage to come out in such a macho and homophobic sport as professional boxing takes an incredible amount of courage.

Paul Hanson
Paul Hanson

It's not ridiculous. You don't get knocked down or ridiculed for your preferences, but this guy will, and worse. He may even lose some fans. Gay guys are not welcomed in macho sports like boxing.

Josey wales
Josey wales

I agree Tracey, I just don't understand where we are headed and how we are getting there,, 1 question, do you work for verizon

ChiTownArt
ChiTownArt

Of all pictures to post, could they get the freeze frame right before that devasting punch?

Tim
Tim

I feel sorry for the other guy. Cruz probably really belted him after that.

David Robertson
David Robertson

Look at the difference between pro-equality straights and anti-gay straights.

Pro-equality straights are respectful, nice, believe in acceptance, believe in love and are generally intelligent.

Anti-gays are mean, nasty, insulting, rude, classless, offensive, and ignorant.

No contest. It's clear what position is the correct one to hold.

David Robertson
David Robertson

Someone sounds insecure and paranoid. Too bad. Don't blame gay men for your internalized identity issues.

David Robertson
David Robertson

Have punches in the face resulted in you being a moron?

David Robertson
David Robertson

So, you infected him? Is that how you know he has HIV?

David Robertson
David Robertson

Stand up for what? Ignorance? You're doing a very successful job of it.

Not all heteros have a gay vs straight mentality.

David Robertson
David Robertson

First of all, being anti-gay is wrong. Second, being anti-gay makes you a bigot. Third, Orlando Cruz has integrity and is doing his part to make the world a better place. You're doing nothing but bringing hate to the world. Hence, he's more successful than you and a better person than you.

Christianity isn't a licence to be an anti-gay bigot. You are a loser.

David Robertson
David Robertson

Using your history in the Marines to justify an irrational paranoia of gay men. How manly!

Sports are for anyone, sexuality is irrelevant......if you can play, you can play. Given the fact I personally know gay and bisexual men active in sports as we speak, you're wrong.

You're no real man. The sexuality of other men affect you. Not "real man" behavior. BTW, no-one is attempting to "lay" with someone like you, trust me. You're a punk slinging insults over the PC. You are a loser.

paddyomalley
paddyomalley

How many boxers who still have some of their brain intact want to risk having some nancy with boxing gloves spray blood on them?  Not many is my guess.

grim
grim

Aaaaand there ends a career. Nobody is going to fight him now that HIV+ is almost a certainty

 

Tim
Tim

It isn't a certainty.  Most gay men do not have HIV.  Anybody who is promiscuous (including heterosexuals) run the risk of catching HIV.

grim
grim

 Gays account for 2% of the population and a whopping 68% of HIV+ in America. Tell me another lie, please.

David Robertson
David Robertson

OK, so I'm sure you would say the same thing in regards to a black fighter? Since they make up over half of HIV cases in the gay and straight communities. How about womanizing straight men like Floyd Mayweather?

BTW, about 1/6th of men who have sex with men (the word gay is not used in relation to HIV) have the virus.

David Robertson
David Robertson

No-one is scared of a bigot. Your backlash threat mans nothing. There are more of us (gays+pro-gays) than there are of you hateful creeps.

Now run along and get a life-----being so irrationally hateful towards gay folk isn't healthy.

David Robertson
David Robertson

Your opinion is a result of your perverted mentality.

Realroomus
Realroomus

Gays men are  menace to the society... all the buzz about being gay ...when school children are being deceived by these gay men of going out of the natural way to the artificial ways of man .... being gay is not natural ,homosexuality is bad ... can any one be more sincere to give me a perfect ending of any gay men he or she knows ..???  

Bad Boy
Bad Boy

It's known fact he had a very close relationship with his assistant.

David Robertson
David Robertson

Oral sex is not natural. Oral sex is a menace to society. It causes disease and is bad. School children are being deceived in thinking it's OK to do oral.

Bad Boy
Bad Boy

Haters are a menace to society and most believe that people like you are closeted self loathing gays.  There are plenty of gay men throughout history that enabled us to prosper.   Most notably Nikola Tesla.  Remember that when you use anything electrical.

grim
grim

 Tesla was not gay. I can understand you picking him out though. Strange does not equate homosexual. Please pick another.

David Robertson
David Robertson

Nikola Telsa was celibate, never married and many assumed this was as a result of he being gay and not wanting drama surrounding his sex life affecting his work.

Tim
Tim

Congratulations Orlando!  That took courage. 

garyc350
garyc350

Maybe that punch in the face will knock him straight.

Mr. Politits
Mr. Politits

More power to him.  Maybe he will do the same for many of his fans like when I finally saw the light and grew above the hatred when Rob Halford of Judas Priest came out. 

LazarusRisen
LazarusRisen

Call him a derogatory gay slur to his face and he'll probably break your muthaf**king eye socket

Bo Cobb
Bo Cobb

Pretty Great !  Tks Orlando Cruz for your honesty!   Blessings!

Spangler789
Spangler789

About 3 out of every 100 people you will ever meet, see or hear about are gay.