Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sugar Ray Leonard Talks About Sexual Abuse

Anytime a major public figure speaks about a topic that is often shrouded in shame and silence, the space for others to do the same becomes greater. Deep bow of respect to Sugar Ray Leonard for speaking out about the sexual abuse he suffered as a young fighter trying to make it the Olympics. This is a topic many men never even tell their wives or families, a topic where shame keeps men from seeking and getting help.

To all the men who have been too ashamed to come forward and get help:
  • We believe you.
  • It's not your fault.
  • You are not alone.
  • Help is available.    

Here is a national hotline number for Adults Molested As Children United (AMACU): 1-408-453-7616 and for The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (which will connect you with a local agency), or use their online hotline through the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN).

Leonard's autobiography, where he first disclosed that he is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, is called The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring.

Let's begin with just a small section of an article from The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Sugar Ray Leonard comes forward as abuse victim

October 31, 2012 | By Don Sapatkin, Inquirer Staff Writer

Boxer Sugar Ray Leonard speaks with reporters after his speech on being an adolescent… (RALPH WILSON / Associated…)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Sugar Ray Leonard still hasn't told his parents or his 11-year-old son, and Monday was just the second time that he spoke publicly about being sexually abused as an adolescent. He had not written a speech, and he momentarily grasped for words.

During a 30-minute talk before a room full of experts and advocates, however, the boxing legend moved quickly from uncertainty to clarity - "I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse" - and then a declaration that surprised even organizers of the Pennsylvania State University conference.

"I'm going to be the poster child. I'm going to speak up. And speak out," he said.
* * * * *
Here is a longer article from The Huffington Post (via Reuters) that focuses entirely on Leonard's comments.

Sugar Ray Leonard At Penn State Conference: I'm The Sex Abuse Poster Child

Reuters  |  Posted: Updated: 10/31/2012 
Sugar Ray Leonard Sex Abuse
World title boxer Sugar Ray Leonard speaks to reporters after a speech regarding his personal experiences of abuse at the Child Sexual Abuse Conference in State College, Pa., Monday, Oct. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson) 

By Mark Shade

STATE COLLEGE, Pa., Oct 29 (Reuters) - Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard recounted his own sexual abuse by coaches he trusted, telling a Penn State audience on Monday he hoped to encourage other victims to report abuse to police.

Leonard spoke at a sold-out conference on child sex abuse hosted by Penn State weeks after former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, 68, was sentenced to prison for 30 to 60 years for sexually assaulting 10 boys he befriended through his charity for at-risk youth.

Leonard, 56, who retired after winning world boxing titles in five different weight classes, said as a youth he was sexually assaulted by men he trusted as his boxing coaches.

"Trust is a very sacred thing, especially for young people, kids, or a young boxer, so I trusted these people, these individuals who impacted my life," said Leonard said. "They told me everything I wanted to hear, and more."

The former champion said he used drugs and alcohol to "numb" his shame of being a victim of child sexual abuse.

"I beat myself up for years," said Leonard as the two-day conference got underway with Hurricane Sandy quickly approaching Pennsylvania.

Now Leonard said he wants to step into the spotlight as a leader in the fight against child sex abuse in the hopes it will help other victims find the courage to report crimes to police.

"I'm going to be the poster child. I don't care," Leonard said to applause.

"I will be that leader. I will stand right there and say, 'Yes, something must be done now. Not later, now,'" Leonard said.

Without mentioning Sandusky by name, Penn State President Rodney Erickson told the audience in opening remarks that he hoped the silver lining of the abuse scandal is that more victims will come forward rather than keep the secret to themselves.

"I hope that even more survivors will take their first steps towards recovery with the confidence that their family, friends and community will believe and support them," Erickson said.

Erickson took office after Penn State's president, Graham Spanier, and legendary football coach Joe Paterno, who has since died, were fired in the wake of Sandusky's arrest last November. An independent report by former FBI chief Louis Freeh concluded that four former university officials - Spanier, Paterno, vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley - were alerted to Sandusky's abuse but did nothing to stop it or report it to authorities.

Since Sandusky's sentencing, The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN, says the volume of calls to its sexual assault hotline has increased 47 percent. (Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Sandra Maler)
 * * * * *

This long story from the mentions Leonard at the beginning but then goes into facts and figures about abuse - not a bad tactic. Readers will look at the article because of Leonard's name recognition, then they will learn some things they may not have known.

Sugar Ray Leonard talks about sexual abuse

Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard says it was trust that made him susceptible to sexual abuse by men in his life, a trauma that he kept hidden for years.

Those separate assaults by a coach and by another man as he trained for the Olympics was something he didn't speak about for years, turning instead to alcohol use.

"There was no manual. There was no pamphlet," Mr. Leonard said as Penn State University's Child Sexual Abuse Conference began Monday. "I never heard anyone talk about this. So to me it only happened to me. I was the only one who was victimized by abuse, sexual child abuse."

He now has been sober for six years and wrote about what happened to him in an autobiography. But he said Monday that when accusers came out against Jerry Sandusky, he cried as he thought about what they endured.

His message to victims and those close to them is to maintain a support system that lets children know it's OK to talk to others about what happened to them.

"The killer is silence," he said. "When you're silent, that eats your insides, it tears at your heart. … It's such a toxin, such a poison. It will never go away until you find it in your heart to speak up and speak out against it, or about it."

His story was among those shared as the two-day conference got under way in State College, where child-abuse experts and survivors offered their perspectives on how better to prevent abuse and help victims move forward.

The conference is part of the university's ongoing response to last year's criminal charges against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and two Penn State administrators.

Sandusky, 68, was convicted on 45 counts related to sexually abusing young boys he met through his nonprofit organization The Second Mile, a charity for at-risk youth. He was sentenced to at least 30 years in state prison. The two school administrators were charged with perjury and failing to report abuse and are scheduled to stand trial in January.

"Child abuse is a tragedy for children, for families and society," Penn State president Rodney Erickson told the more than 400 attendees. "And the time to step up the effort to stop it is now."
Much of Monday's session focused on the research that has been done on child sexual abuse and prevention strategies.

University of New Hampshire researcher David Finkelhor said efforts to boost public discussion of abuse have reached "a tremendous milestone," but said clear statistics on the issue are still lacking.

About 68,000 cases were substantiated by child protection agencies during 2010, he said, contrasting it with a federal study in 2006 projecting that 180,000 cases were reported to community professionals that year and another estimating that 1.6 million abuse incidents involving juveniles occurred last year.

"For the purposes of understanding and tracking, we really could do a whole lot better," Mr. Finkelhor said.

He also said communities like Penn State are not alone in dealing with incidents that can affect many more people than just victims and perpetrators.

"Sexual abuse does a lot of collateral damage that often goes unrecognized beyond the harm to the direct victims and their families," Mr. Finkelhor said. "I think it's not uncommon in the wake of sexual abuse for whole communities to lose their sense of trust and comfort and sense of ordinariness."

Looking forward, Keith Kaufman of Portland State University said prevention could be improved by finding creative ways to reach parents, encouraging school policies that foster positive relationships, and boosting research on both victimization and offender prevention.

While campus classes shut down early Monday as Hurricane Sandy barreled toward Pennsylvania, the conference is expected to continue today with some sessions being live-streamed at

Among the scheduled speakers is Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped and sexually assaulted as a child.


Unknown said...

There is an absence in what is presented here of what the abuse was. Maybe I'm the last one to get the memo, but what encroachments are we talking about, precisely?

I am sure I can imagine what occurred, but THAT is a problem. I need a better understanding of what the offences were and how this encumbers the life of those abused.

There are statistics from the Mayo Clinic that say that about half of men who say they were abused as children claim no lasting negative effects. Were they able to shrug it off.

I guess my politically-incorrect concern here is that we conger up a widespread idea that the situation was of dire horror, creating more trauma and drama, rather than really, rationally seeing and addressing the harm.

Kimberley McGill said...

Mr. Thomas, let me clear some things up for you.

1. Most people, especially men, that have been sexually abused either deny it happened or if it is known will say it was "no big deal" because of all the shame attached to it.

2. Exactly what the abuse was isn't a criteria - there is no hierarchy of sexual abuse in children. A child is traumatized by being touched inapporpiatly and can carry the shame and pain of that right into adulthood. We don't make one persons child abuse "count more" than anothers because of the nature of it. Each case is addressed and dealt with exactly for what it is - a horrible trauma no child should have to endure.

3. No matter what the "offense" I can tell you exactly how it affects those abused. It affects every area of our lives, not just our sex life. We have difficulty trusting, we are fearful and can even develop symptoms of PTSD. We live with a pain that eats us up if we don't speak up and get help.

I am going to assume that your questions come from not having looked at the information about child sexual abuse, and therefore you are ignorant as to the effects of child sexual abuse.

Because if I don't assume that, I would have to assume that you either relish hearing about the details or you lack compassion. It's my sincere hope that neither of those are the case.

Unknown said...


There of course has to be a hierarchy of abuse. Yours is exactly the Chicken Little thinking that was my concern.

When my father dried me off with a towel when I got out of the tub at age five, was THAT child abuse?

Whereas, I would certainly say that an adult engaging in common adult sexual practices with a child would be a traumatising event for that child.

It does not constitute "blaming the victim" for a person, or the public, or professionals to step back and seek to assess what happened and the ramifications in each instance of what appears, on surface, to be sexual abuse of a child. Indeed, it should be mandatory that people who are objective and rational intercede such that folks who apprehend things in a wild, emotional, irrational way don't blow things up and make matters worse for everybody.

Bill's blog post, here, doesn't say anything. It's emotion without content -- though it is suggested that Sugar Ray may have been more forthcoming in his Penn State address.

william harryman said...

Sorry Tom, I am with Kimberly on this one.

You want to know how we know Leonard was abused? It's this:

The former champion said he used drugs and alcohol to "numb" his shame of being a victim of child sexual abuse.

"I beat myself up for years," said Leonard.

The "what" is almost never relevant - the real issue is the intent of perpetrator and feeling of violation, shame, powerlessness, and so on in the victim.

Here is an operational definition of child sexual abuse:

Situations "in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. Forms of child sexual abuse include asking or pressuring a child to engage in sexual activities (regardless of the outcome), indecent exposure (of the genitals, female nipples, etc.) to a child with intent to gratify their own sexual desires or to intimidate or groom the child, physical sexual contact with a child, or using a child to produce child pornography."

The real issue however is the impact on the victim:

"Psychological, emotional, physical, and social effects include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, poor self-esteem, dissociative and anxiety disorders; general psychological distress and disorders such as somatization, neurosis, chronic pain, sexualized behavior, school/learning problems; and behavior problems including substance abuse, self-destructive behaviour, animal cruelty, crime in adulthood and suicide. A specific characteristic pattern of symptoms has not been identified and there are several hypotheses about the causality of these associations."

The first principle in working with survivors, as I mention in the post, is "We Believe You."

I believe Leonard experienced abuse, and just because he did not detail how he was molested and by whom (naming names) does not in any way diminish the shame and violation of trust he experienced and then tried to live with - in silence.

Human beings are not born feeling ashamed, and no one uses drugs and alcohol to numb themselves unless there is wounding so painful it feels unbearable.

I haven't read the book, but my guess is that Leonard sought therapy at some point, likely to stop using drugs and alcohol, and until that time he probably did not know that his chemical issues were related to what happened to him as a young man.

I believe him, and I honor his choice to become visible and to help make it safer for other men to admit that they were abused and seek help.

Unknown said...


Thank you -- but you're missing my point.

I think that it is typical when issues in this realm get brought up that the public (including me) gets greatly inadequate context.

What you are presenting in your blog post is the public disclosure, not the specific case which (to the public) remains shrouded in a high degree of mystery.

My first reading of the post leaves my wandering mind suspicious that there is likely a high element of Sugar Ray being desperate to get back in the limelight. Sugar Ray says "I'm going to be the poster child." Uh huh.

I do doubt the all-abuse-is-the-same argument that you and Kimberly make. AND the idea that each abused child -- even if the event(s) were minor or marginal -- MUST make the adult-that-was-the-child A VICTIM.

In the cases re Catholic priests it certainly seemed that there was this sudden flood of complaint that occurred when filing lawsuits (ie, getting lots of money) became possible for victims and those who could claim to be victims.

Also, becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol does not occur just to those who are sexually abused as children.

And, lastly, it may be that, in therapy, as a therapist, you must forge an atmosphere of "believing," but objectivity must come into play at some point, too. Not everything that you are told as a therapist will be true. A part of your job, I would suppose, must also be to sort out all that is going on from what you hear. People are complicated. They lie to protect their myriad, multidimensional wounds, too.

Unknown said...

Bill, The reason I have interest in this topic is that the top columnist for the Bee ended one of his pieces in September, regarding homeless people camping on the American River, thus:

"What is it going to take for authorities to take action [against the homeless]? When I was on the parkway, I could imagine unspeakable things happening in remote areas where no one would hear the screams of, say, an abducted child.

"It's only a matter of time."

Interest in pedophilia in the last 35 year is the opposite of what it was prior to then. I'm 58 years old, now. When I was growing up all this hullabaloo was unheard of. Kids were told "don't take candy from a stranger." And that was it. We thought the problem had to do with poisoned candy.

If you read the article "The emergence of the paedophile in the Twentieth Century" it is remarkable how a seemingly non-existent problem has become a tsunami.

Were people totally wrong about childhood sexual abuse before 1975, or has the pendulum of overstating the problem -- and creating victims to some extent -- swung too far in the other direction which is also not right?

In other words How can it be that there was so very little in the way of complaint before 1975?

william harryman said...

The reason it was so little reported prior to 1975 is because it was taboo to talk about it.

The reality is that sexual abuse of children was fairly normal prior to the 1920s and 1930s - often by family members, though, not strangers.