Puerto Rican featherweight boxer Orlando Cruz became what is believed to be the first pro boxer to come out as openly homosexual while still competing. Describing himself as "a proud gay man", on Thursday, Cruz said he is relieved about his decision but had initial reservations.
"I developed physically and mentally to take such a big step in my life and in my profession, which is boxing, knowing that it would have pros and cons, highs and lows in this sport that is so macho," he said. "I kept this hidden for many, many years."
His announcement came just two weeks before the 31-year-old southpaw faces Mexican fighter Jorge Pazos for the WBO Latino title. Cruz is 18-2-1 with nine knockouts, and is ranked as the World Boxing Organization's No. 4 featherweight boxer.
Cruz said he met with psychologists and others prior to making the announcement, and indicated that he does have the full support of his family, manager, and trainer. He praised his mother and sister for their unconditional love and said his father has always supported him.
"Like every father, he wants his son to be a full-blooded man," Cruz said. "But he is aware of my preference, my taste."
Few active professional athletes have openly admitted being gay. We have yet to have an openly gay player in the NFL, NBA, or Major League Baseball.
Cruz received praise for his decision from Pedro Julio Serrano, spokesman for the U.S.-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Serrano said it breaks stereotypes that gay people are not participants in sports like boxing.
"It also gives a lot of hope to young gays who can see in him the integrity and bravery to be who you are and face a society that is often tolerant, especially in this type of sport," he said.
Across social media, reaction to Cruz's announcement was largely positive. Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin was among those who sent messages of support. In 2010, Martin announced he was gay.
There were some messages on Twitter that expressed concern for Cruz's safety and wondered if other fighters will be reluctant to compete against him. Dommys Delgado, president of the Boxing Commission of Puerto Rico, pushed those comments aside.
"Orlando has proven to be an excellent boxer with very good chances of becoming a world champion," she said. "We do know that it is a very macho sport. Those who don't want to fight with him, well, don't fight."