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Leonard says coach abused him as teenager

Associated Press / May 18, 2011

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NEW YORK — Sugar Ray Leonard says in his upcoming autobiography that he was sexually abused by a coach as a young boxer in the early 1970s.

In “The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring,’’ the Hall of Famer writes that an unnamed “prominent Olympic boxing coach,’’ who has since died, accompanied him as a 15-year-old and another young fighter to a boxing event in Utica, N.Y., in 1971. He had the teenagers take a bath in a tub of hot water and Epsom salts while he sat on the other side of the bathroom.

They suspected “something a bit inappropriate’’ was occurring but did not want to question a strong male authority figure.

Several years later, Leonard describes sitting in a car in a deserted parking lot across from a recreation center, listening intently as the same coach, said to be in his late 40s, explained how much a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics would mean to his future.

He was flattered, filled with hope, as any young athlete would be. But he writes: “Before I knew it, he had unzipped my pants and put his hand, then mouth, on an area that has haunted me for life. I didn’t scream. I didn’t look at him. I just opened the door and ran.’’

Leonard, who turned 55 yesterday, won a gold medal at the 1976 Games then went on to capture five world titles in five weight classes.

He writes: “I do know that I was in a lot of pain as I chased my dream of winning the gold.’’

He adds that when he first decided to discuss the incident in the book, which is co-authored with Michael Arkush, he offered a version in which the abuser stopped before there was actual contact.

Through his publisher, Leonard declined to comment for this article, saying he will begin doing publicity for the book in June. But several people who were close to him when he was routinely banking multimillion-dollar purses for title bouts were taken aback when told of what he has revealed in the book.

“This is the first time I’ve ever heard that, and I’ve known Ray since he was just a kid,’’ said Dave Jacobs, who was Leonard’s first trainer as an amateur and later served as assistant trainer for many of his professional fights. “He never talked about that to me and no one in the group ever mentioned it, so I assume he never talked about it to them either.’’

The book is due out next month. The account of abuse was first reported by The New York Times yesterday.

Material from The New York Times was used in this report.