Boxing Olympian Sugar Ray Leonard was called a hero Monday, but this time it wasn’t for his boxing success.
Leonard came forward for only the second time in public at the Penn State Child Sexual Abuse Conference speaking out about his two experiences with being sexually abused as a child.
Head football coach Bill O’Brien introduced Leonard to the hundreds seated at the conference.
“[Child sexual abuse] is a subject that is near and dear to my heart, to our football program’s heart, and to the university,” O'Brien said. “Sugar Ray Leonard is one of the sports icons of the 20th century whose name conjures the image of a champion.”
Leonard said he was about 13 years old when it first happened. It was his coach, who was someone who was supposed to support his athletic ability, financially and emotionally.
The second time, Leonard said he just put his head down and thought to himself that it couldn’t be happening again.
“I could smell his breath right now,” he said. “I said not again. I said God, please, not again.”
The coach proceeded to put his hands inside Leonard’s shirt and then down inside his pants.
Not long after, Leonard said he jumped out of the chair and ran off, crying.
“It hurts to cry that hard,” he said.
Despite what happened at such a young age, Leonard said he went on to win the gold medal in boxing at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and many other world titles, never really forgetting what had happened to him.
He eventually turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain, he said. It took a hangover on national television and a failed marriage to lead him to several Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and eventually sobriety.
Six years of sobriety later, Leonard said he now looks to be the “poster child” for child sexual abuse. Leonard said he no longer wants to shy away from his past.
“Our kids don’t deserve this,” he said. “If we don’t come together as a community, as citizens, as parents, then it’s a shame.”
But the answer to solve sexual abuse is not simple. Leonard said it is comprised of having more preventative measures and through educating our children.
Only the night before the conference, Leonard said he spoke about his experience with abuse with his 15-year-old daughter for the first time, who traveled with him to the conference. Leonard said he has never spoken about it with his 11-year-old son or even his parents but intends to.
Despite his fame from his boxing career and even appearing on the reality show “Dancing With the Stars,” he said his greatest accomplishment in life would be eradicating child sexual abuse.
“It will never go away until you find it in your heart to speak out about it,” he said. “Speak up and speak out.”