Most of us will never forget the kid with the electric smile and lightning quick fists who went on to strike Olympic gold in 1976 and later became one of the greatest prized fighters ever.
Sugar Ray Leonard is an icon who effortlessly transcended his sport.
We’ve known for years how witnessing alcohol abuse and domestic violence shaped him as a kid, but now, according to his upcoming autobiography, The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring, Leonard claims he was a victim of sex abuse at the hands of an unnamed “prominent Olympic boxing coach.”
Leonard writes in his book that the coach had him and another young boxer take a bath in a tub of hot water and Epsom salts while he watched. Leonard was 15 at the time. Some years later, Leonard said that same coach unzipped his pants and put his hands and mouth on his private areas, according to story published in the New York Times.
“Before I knew it, he had unzipped my pants and put his hand, then mouth, on an area that has haunted me for life,” writes Leonard, whose book is due out next month. “I didn’t scream. I didn’t look at him. I just opened the door and ran.”
It seems a little difficult to imagine because we don’t think of prized fighters as victims. We certainly don’t think of a man who toppled such greats as Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran as someone who could be victimized by rape.
But apparently he was, and some 40 years later he is talking about it, perhaps in hopes of shedding light on the fact that this happens to even the presumed strongest of individuals. Leonard, who has had struggles with cocaine and alcohol abuse, originally decided not to be as forthcoming about the rape in his book. Leonard told the Times that when he first decided to write about the incident, he "offered a version in which the abuser stopped before there was actual contact."
“That was painful enough,” Leonard writes. “But last year, after watching the actor Todd Bridges bare his soul on Oprah’s show about how he was sexually abused as a kid, I realized I would never be free unless I revealed the whole truth, no matter how much it hurt.”
Contact Terrance Harris at email@example.com.