Continued from page 1

He spoke to psychologists, talked with his family. They were all supportive, but in the end the decision was his and his alone to make.

“I don’t want to hide any of my identities,” Cruz said. “I want people to look at me for the human being I am.”

The decision by Cruz to come out comes 50 years after Emile Griffith _ who would later say he enjoyed the company of both men and women _ was taunted with a gay slur by Benny Paret at the weigh-in at Madison Square Garden for their welterweight title fight. Griffith would go on to knock out Paret with a savage series of punches in the 12th round, and was still celebrating when Paret was taken from the ring on a stretcher.

Paret died 10 days later in the hospital, something that has haunted Griffith ever since. In a 2005 interview with The New York Times, though, Griffith said he wanted to give Paret a beating for what he said.

“He called me a name. … So I did what I had to do,” Griffith said.

Cruz said he won’t respond to any slurs, and isn’t concerned what his opponent thinks or says. He’s the No. 4 ranked featherweight by the WBO and is focused on resurrecting a career that floundered when he was stopped in two straight fights in 2009-10.

He believes he is good enough to win a world title and, should he win his next fight, would be in line for a shot at the interim WBO belt.

“I don’t care if the other guy is homophobic,” Cruz said. “My focus and concentration will always be on winning the fight. I am hungry now, very hungry to become a world champion.”

He has already become a champion of gay rights activists, who cheered when he came out. And he hopes that kids who are bullied will see what he did and understand that who you are or who you love shouldn’t be a barrier to what you can accomplish.

He’s happy with himself, pleased with what he’s done. Instead of dreading what might come next, Cruz feels a sense of liberation and relief.

For the first time in his life, he has nothing to hide.

____

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg