Emile Griffith won world titles in three weight divisions. But the closeted gay boxer suffered nightmares for decades after he knocked out an opponent who’d called him by a gay slur, and the man subsequently died.
Although he happily hung out at gay bars, Emile Griffith remained closeted in his professional life.
Well… sort of…
Rumours abounded about the boxer from the Virgin Islands who lisped, dressed immaculately, and worked as a lady’s hat designer.
The Miami News described him as an over-sensitive, highly emotional young man among a list of other traits broadly hinting at Emile’s sexuality.
“When he won, [he] went around and kissed everyone that didn’t duck first.”
Emile Griffith remained closeted for fear of the reaction of the general public and the boxing industry.
Despite constant gossip and speculation, no one ever said anything to the closeted gay boxer’s face.
…until March 24, 1962.
Emile Griffith vs Banny Paret
At the weigh-in for the 1962 title fight, Emile heard his manager say “Hey, watch it!”
Turning around, he caught his Cuban opponent pretending to fck him. Benny Paret then directed a homophobic slur at Emile, in Spanish.
“Hey Maricón, I’m gonna get you and your husband.”
Emile Griffith lost his temper but his manager separated the boxers.
“Save it for tonight, Emile.”
That night, the referee stopped the match in the 12th round after Paret experienced numerous blows to the head. Benny Paret slipped to the canvas unconscious. He died 10 days later.
Emile Griffin suffered depression and nightmares for the rest of his life over the death of the poor young Cuban boxer with a widow and baby son.
Despite numerous newspaper articles making it clear what Paret said to him, he also remained in the closet for many years. When he finally came out, Emile claimed he was bisexual and that his attachments with men were more social and emotional than sexual.
However, he finally came out as gay in a 2008 book about his life.
An unforgivable sin
After decades of pondering on the subject, Emile remained bewildered by society’s hypocrisy.
“I kill a man and most people understand and forgive me. However, I love a man, and to so many people, this is an unforgivable sin.”
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