When professional boxer Orlando Cruz came out last fall, all he wanted was respect. Respect for his sexuality and acceptance for who he truly is. Now, months later, another elite athlete, Jason Collins, is joining Cruz in the history books as the first openly gay player in the four major team sports.
“We are two individuals that are making history,” says Cruz in Spanish, after publicly announcing that he identified as gay last fall. “But I want them to recognize my talents. I don’t want people to recognize me as the boxer who came out in October 2012.”
The Puerto Rican boxer says he can relate to Collins and the pressure that comes with putting your personal life and sexuality in the spotlight.
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“I understand the physical and mental preparation that Collins went through to make the announcement,” says Cruz, who spent two years in counseling in order to prepare to come out to his family and the rest of the world. The 31-year-old fighter says that for years he was living a double life, at times crying every night for weeks because he couldn’t share with others who he wanted to be.
“I was really surprised because my town in Puerto Rico embraced me even after my announcement. It’s a state that doesn’t really accept the LGBT community,” says Cruz.
Just like his hometown, family and boxing teammates were accepting of him; Cruz says he is extending that same support to Collins and is happy he had the courage to come out.
“Coming out does not make him less of a man because he is a great athlete,” explained Cruz. “He is living the dream of every high school kid who wants to play basketball. He should always keep his self-esteem up because he has the right to be where he is like any other athlete.”
Cruz says it’s not always easy to reveal your sexual identity when you are in a sport that is often ‘full of machos.’
“He is the first active gay basketball player. But I was the first in boxing. I feel very happy that I’m inspiring other athletes to gain the courage to do the same.”