In a one-page press release last week featherweight boxer Orlando Cruz joined the rarest group in sports: openly gay athletes. "I've been fighting for more than 24 years, and as I continue my ascendant career I want to be true to myself," said Cruz, 31. "I have always been and always will be a proud gay man." While it's not unusual for sports stars to come out when their careers are over— swimmer Greg Louganis and boxer Emile Griffith are two examples—few have done it in their prime. Cruz is believed to be the first active boxer to declare himself to be gay.
Reaction to Cruz's announcement has been largely positive. Miguel Cotto, a teammate of Cruz's on Puerto Rico's Olympic team in 2000, congratulated him. Most boxers have expressed indifference to Cruz's sexual orientation, and none have indicated an unwillingness to fight him. Last week Top Rank attempted unsuccessfully to get Cruz out of his scheduled Oct. 19 fight against Jorge Pazos in Kissimmee, Fla., to match him against undefeated prospect Mikey Garcia on HBO in November. "Fighters are not going to say no to fighting him because he is gay," says Top Rank promoter Bob Arum. "It's irrelevant."
Cruz isn't likely to attract a new fan base to boxing. Years ago Arum says he promoted a gay fighter who was considering coming out. Curious, Arum approached leaders in the gay community to gauge how much interest there would be in watching him fight. "The feedback we got was 'No, gays don't like boxing so it doesn't matter,'" says Arum.
Still, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) plans to approach Cruz about working with their Spanish language programs, while for his part Cruz hopes he can be a role model for kids who grew up like him. "I want kids who suffer from bullying to know that you can be whoever you want to be in life, including a professional boxer," said Cruz. "Anything is possible. Who you are or whom you love should not be an impediment to achieving anything in life."