By Guest Contributor Theresa Runstedtler, cross-posted from her blog
In reflecting on his tumultuous life and storied career, boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard recently told Guardian reporter Donald McRae, “I went through real darkness but the ring was my light. That was the one place I felt safe. I could control what happened in the ring. My heart turned icy” (my emphasis added). In his new autobiography, The Big Fight: My Story, Leonard reveals a painful past hidden behind the headlines of his historic ring victories–one of sexual abuse, a sense of rejection, and struggles with substance abuse.
What does it mean that Sugar Ray had to find safety in the violent confines of the boxing ring? What does it mean that he could only really feel empowered and free when fighting other men? McRae notes that back in the 1980s British boxing writer Hugh McIlvanney “spoke vividly of the hard chip of ice that Leonard stored in his fighting heart.” It seemed as if “Sugar Ray must have endured terrible darkness to fight with such chilling brilliance.” The turmoil of Leonard’s life outside the ring made his career in the ring a matter of financial and spiritual survival.
Yet Sugar Ray’s autobiography is much more than just a personal, singular story. His haunting revelations expose much about the racist society he lived in, and how little that society valued young black men like him in any other setting than the squared circle.