Bisexual boxing icon Emile Griffith dies at 75

Emile Griffith 2

The world of boxing lost one of its biggest champions yesterday, when it was revealed that former world welterweight and middleweight boxing champion Emile Griffith passed away at the age of 75.

According to ESPN, the International Boxing Hall of Fame announced Griffith’s death, saying that the former champ struggled with pugilistic dementia and required full-time care late in life. Griffith died at an extended care facility in Hempstead, N.Y.

During his storied life, both Griffith’s boxing career and his personal life had become things of legend. Griffith’s boxing career was filled with triumphs, as he became the first boxer from the U.S. Virgin Islands to become world champion and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990, following an 85-24-2 career that included 23 main events at Madison Square Garden.

But his illustrious career was forever marred during a pivotal, televised fight in 1962 against Benny “The Kid” Paret, in which he literally pulverized Paret and knocked him out in the 12th round to regain the welterweight belt.

Sadly, Paret slipped into a coma and died 10 days later.

According to Sports Illustrated, Paret infuriated Griffith before the match by insulting him with an anti-gay slur, which was described as “gutter Spanish for homosexual.”

Griffith later explained that he wanted to win the fight, “but I never intended to harm Benny Paret.”

Emile Griffith 3

But Griffith’s sexuality continued to garner both homophobia and unwanted attention throughout his life. Over the years, Griffith described himself as straight, gay and, most recently, in a 2005 interview with The New York Times, as bisexual. But he reportedly never wanted the media to pry into his romantic or personal life.

“It was difficult to get into details with Emile. To the end, he would not want to make himself so open to everyone,” said Griffith’s friend and biographer, Ron Ross, in an interview with the LA Times. “He didn’t like to be labeled gay and still felt the world was not ready for Emile Griffith.”

Despite Griffith’s struggles with his sexuality, Ross explains that he would’ve been proud of today’s crop of openly LGBT athletes, including Jason Collins and Victor Cruz, who came out as the first openly gay pro boxer.

“Emile would be very pleased and accepting of these athletes,” Ross said. “He had his own set of rules for life, and he felt people can live their lives the way they wanted to.”

We send our condolences to the Griffith family and salute Griffith, who served not only as LGBT icon, but as a sports icon in general, as well as respectable man. Check out some other LGBT sports stars below. –nicholas robinson

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