Featherweight boxer Orlando Cruz has revealed the moment he realized he was a homosexual man as a 19-year-old after he competed in the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
The Puerto Rican native, the first openly gay man in the sport’s history, reveals a painful, decade long journey after he discovered the truth about himself and the internal battle he fought as he feared the consequences of revealing his sexuality in the testosterone dominated field.
Cruz says that he kept his identity a secret but decided to open up to his family and close friends in 2010. He came out to the public in October 2012.
The 31-year-old told the New York Daily News that though he had a girlfriend in 2000, he experienced his first sexual encounter with a man at the age of 19 – after he had competed in the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
The boxer debuted as a professional following the games.
The experience was disorienting for the athlete, who struggled to come to terms with how to face the truth.
‘I was wondering, “What is wrong with me? Am I crazy? What is going on?”‘ Cruz told the News.
He did reveal the truth to his mother, Dominga Torres, and faced the fury of his girlfriend when she discovered the truth.
He didn’t think coming out in the field of boxing was even a viable option for him because when rumors began to spread that he was gay, he feared even entering the ring for fear of harassment by fans.
‘He was afraid to fight, afraid of the reaction people would have,’ Juan De Leon, Cruz’s longtime trainer, said.
‘He kept on giving me excuses why he couldn’t fight, and (even when he did fight), I could see it in his face that he wasn’t all there. He would be in the ring, but his mind was completely outside the ring.’
He finally revealed his identity to the public and fans in October 2012.
Cruz said he met with psychologists and others before making the announcement, adding he has the full support of his family, trainer and manager.
Few active professional athletes have come out.
Pedro Julio Serrano, spokesman for the US-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, praised Cruz for his decision and said it breaks stereotypes that gay people are not involved in sports like boxing.
‘It also gives a lot of hope to young gays who can see in him the integrity and bravery to be who you are and face a society that is often intolerant, especially in this type of sport,’ he said.
Reaction to Cruz’s announcement was largely positive across social media, with many praising him for taking what they called a brave step given the sport’s violent history.
Among those who sent messages of support was Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin, who announced he was gay in 2010.
Cruz, who began boxing at the age of seven, holds the WBO NABO featherweight title.
‘I am free. I feel so free,’ Orlando Cruz now says about his state of mind in the aftermath of his decision to be open about his identity.