Sports

Sugar Ray Leonard: Hiding Sexual Abuse ‘Was Killing Me Inside’

Fri., Jun. 10, 2011 7:39 AM EDT
by Nicholas Robinson

Sugar Ray Leonard recently revealed that he was sexually abused by his boxing coach at the age of 15, which shocked many of his fans. And while Leonard is still dealing with the effects of the abuse, he’s now saying that he’s relieved that the painful secret is out because holding it in was “killing me inside.”

“I had to get that out because it was killing me inside, I was dying inside. I told no one. I kept this to myself for 30 something years,” said Leonard in an interview with CNN news on June 9. “”I said it to my first wife, Juanita, but I said it under the influences of alcohol, because a guy doesn’t talk about those things, especially me as a fighter. I could have kicked their [his abuser's] butt but I didn’t.”

According to Radar Online, Leonard discussed in detail the abuse in his memoir, The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring, sharing that the abuse first occurred after attending a boxing match with his “prominent Olympic boxing coach” and another teen boxer. After the match, the coach made the two young boys take a bath together while he watched.

Two years later, his coach took the abuse even further when he molested Leonard as they sat in his car.

“Before I knew it, he had unzipped my pants and put his hand, then mouth, on an area that has haunted me for life. I didn’t scream. I didn’t look at him. I just opened the door and ran.”

The sexual abuse left Leonard emotionally scarred and eventually led him to salve his pain with drugs and alcohol, sending him down a dark path that deeply affected his family.

“I resorted to my Band-Aid, which was cocaine and alcohol, and I did  a lot. I became less of a father, less of a husband. I was just a jerk, I started believing the hype too much. Because I didn’t have boxing and because of what happened to me when I was 15, 16, I was hurting,” he said.

Although Leonard’s tale of sexual abuse is indeed tragic, he explains that his life is nothing short of a story of triumph and success.

“My life is not a sad story. I had a wonderful career, I had wealth, I had fame. I had obstacles that I had to overcome and this book was so cathartic and therapeutic that it released things that I had on my chest so long,” he said. “I am so glad that I am releasing this, as painful as it is, it’s OK … I learned to surrender though my program. I’ll be sober five years in July and that is my biggest accomplishment.”

Hopefully, Leonard’s story can inspire more conversations about sexual abuse and addiction. The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring is currently on sale nationwide. –nicholas robinson

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