Hand in Glove

7.8.2014

By Chadwick Moore

In the ring with the velveteers, the heavy hitters of New York’s first all-gay boxing class.

Francisco Liuzzi amd Parker Gregory

Books, films, and press about Griffith continue to dance around the issue of his sexual orientation. He and Henderson met at the Stonewall Inn in the 1960s and together participated in the uprising at the bar on June 28, 1969, the event that started the modern gay rights movement. Today, Henderson is the director of the SVA, of which Griffith was vice president for many years. He marched with the SVA in New York City’s Gay Pride parade in 2007.

Griffith remains a legend in boxing for a fight at Madison Square Garden in 1962. That night he unleashed a string of fatal blows on his opponent, Benny Paret, who taunted him with a gay slur during the weigh-in.  

“His whole family knew he was gay,” Henderson says. “He wasn’t secretive about it. He went out to the gay clubs more than I ever did.”

After Griffith’s death, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert recalled an interview with Griffith in 2005 in which the fighter finally came out. “He told me he had struggled his entire life with his sexuality, and agonized over what he could say about it. He said he knew it was impossible in the early 1960s for an athlete in an ultramacho sport like boxing to say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m gay.’ ”

Griffith would never see the extraordinary amount of money now flowing to gay athletes. This year, Jason Collins’s Brooklyn Nets jersey was the top-selling jersey in the NBA after he was signed to the team, and Michael Sam (see page 62) won a starring role in a Visa ad before he made the NFL draft. Griffith died in a tiny studio apartment on Long Island where he lived with Luis Rodrigo Griffith, identified in the press as his “roommate,” “caretaker,” “adopted son,” or “companion of
35 years.”  

Few of the Velvet pugilists had heard of Griffith. Fewer still have much interest in boxing outside the twice-monthly class. “As gay men, are we doing this class in a sense to prove to our younger selves, and to heterosexual male members of our family, that we can be gay and still be perceived as masculine men in a heterosexist
society?” Davis asks.   

He recalls a class in which Liuzzi advised the students, while they were learning to uppercut, to think of someone who had pissed them off. “We just all went there,” Davis says. “It’s physical and emotional. It’s cathartic.”

During class, Davis’s mind might revert back to the playground, high school, or even college, where he was a competitive cheerleader.   

“I’m thinking fuck you to all those people who never thought I was as strong as they were,” he says.

Tags: Sports
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