Sometimes sports can transcend entertainment, and provide athletes with a platform to make important statements about social issues. This is what Boricua boxer Orlando “El Fenómeno” Cruz has dared to do. After the tragic mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando in which 49 people were killed, including 23 Puerto Ricans, Cruz is fighting for the community.
Cruz, who lost a friend as a result of the attack, will pay tribute to the victims at his next bout.
The first openly gay boxer in the history of the sport, Cruz will fight his next match against Mexican Alejandro Valdez on July 15, in Kissimmee, Florida. Cruz is the reigning champion in the super featherweight division under the North American Boxing Organization (NABO), currently ranked fifth by the World Boxing Organization (WBO), with a record of 23-4-1, 11 of which are KO’s.
Cruz came out in 2012 and has been an active spokesperson for the LGBTQ community. In an interview with The Guardian, he spoke about the tears he and his mother shed when he first came out. Even though she accepted his sexuality, Cruz was unable to come out in Puerto Rico, the country where he was born and raised, and in the world of boxing.
But now that he is open about his identity, he sees the need to speak out against violence in his community in the best way he knows how – by making a public statement from his biggest platform, the ring. On Friday before his fight, Cruz will make the entire audience remember the tragedy in Orlando.
“Before my fight, we will ring 10 bells and my outfit as well will be an homage to these people,” he told El Vocero, a newspaper in Puerto Rico.
Being out continues to be dangerous, and Cruz is taking a stand in more ways than one inside the ring. While Cruz continues to blaze a trail for queer athletes, hopefully hatred and discrimination will be knocked out as well.