In the build up to the 1962 Welterweight championship bout between Benny "Kid" Paret and Emile Griffith, Paret repeatedly called Griffith a maricón. What was once one of the bigger secrets in the boxing world, was now in the headlines. Griffith of course denied being gay. How could you not? In the boxing world, and still to this day, no one is allowed to be gay, it is career suicide. The torture and pain that Griffith endured as a gay black man in the 60's must have been unrelenting.
In the 6th round of the first televised live championship boxing match Peret knocked down Griffith. At the end of the round Griffith returned to his corner and reminded himself of what this fight meant to him, the word that Paret used to insult him repeating over and over in his mind. When that bell rang Griffith stood up a new man. In the 12th round Griffith let loose. He hit Paret with a sharp right hook and backed him into the corner, unleashing a barrage of uppercuts and right hooks in one of the most painful and slow knockouts I have ever seen. Paret slid off the ropes and on to the mat in a coma. He died 10 days later.
The rage and anger behind those punches is not uncommon to the sport of boxing. Nonetheless, I wonder what it must have felt like for Griffith to be able to put a face and body behind a life of struggle, to punch back at all the racism and homophobia that he endured over the years. The hate that eats away at your soul. To let it all out. To be free, to be himself for those 20 something right hooks in a time when he has spent a life in the closet. The pain of being human.
Griffith was never the same after that fight. He continued to have a successful boxing career but like so many boxers before and many more after him, he was exploited by his managers and left at the end of his career fighting just to pay the bills. Griffith has repeated nightmares from that night as his conscious eats away at him. In 1992 Griffith was the victim of a hate crime and nearly lost his own life when he was severely beaten up after walking out of a gay bar. Today Griffith suffers from Dementia pugilistica, aka punch drunk syndrome.