Gay taunts ended in ring tragedy

One of the Caribbean’s greatest boxers
has just had his biography published in which he discusses being a bisexual
sportsman in an era that did not readily accept gays in the post-war years.

Emile Griffith was a welterweight
and middleweight world champion in the Sixties.

He was the first fighter from the US Virgin Islands ever to become a world
champion.

Now 72, Griffith is a frail and
forgetful man suffering from dementia pugilistica, who is looked after by his
adopted son Luis in their apartment in New York.

Griffith was selling his book
Nine…Ten… And Out. The Two Worlds of Emile Griffith at the second staging
of the Caribbean Awards Sports Icons in the Bahamas in November.

Openly bisexual from a young age,
Griffith was ahead of his time in terms of being a professional sportsman who
was not ashamed of his sexuality.

Sadly, Griffith is best known for a
controversial 1962 welterweight title fight in which Benny Paret
died ten days after being knocked out.

Paret was a former friend who
suddenly started taunting Griffith’s sexuality in the build up to their fight.
Consensus was that Griffith was so enraged with the gay baiting that he
literally beat Paret to death.

The facts are though that Paret had
a pre-existing medical condition and he could have died in any fight around
that time.

In 1971 Griffith married Mercedes
‘Sadie’ Donastorg who was a member of the dance troupe Prince Rupert and the
Slave Girls at the time, only two months after meeting her. Griffith adopted
Donastorg’s daughter.

In 1992, Griffith was viciously
beaten and almost killed on a New York City street after leaving a gay bar. He
spent months in hospital and has never fully recovered.

Never hiding his sexuality, Griffith
was nevertheless not always willing to publically explain his feelings. He once
said in Sports
Illustrated
: “I like men and women both. But I don’t like that word:
homosexual, gay or faggot. I don’t know what I am. I love men and women the
same, but if you ask me which is better … I like women.”

He recently said in Newsday:
“I keep thinking how strange it is … I kill a man and most people understand
and forgive me. However, I love a man, and to so many people this is an
unforgivable sin; this makes me an evil person. So, even though I never went to
jail, I have been in prison almost all my life.”

Nine…Ten… And
Out. The Two Worlds of Emile Griffith by Ron Ross is published by Dibella
Entertainment, price US$20.

SPORTSgriffithSTORY

Griffith received an award at CASI2.
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