Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Mama Said Knock You Out.
Again, Again ... and Again.

TKO ... then death
MSG March 1962

Many gay men grew up with taunts and bullies. Mine: Danny Cole in the eighth grade. His mission: to make my life a living hell. It worked for a minute, until yours truly—then nicknamed "stringbean"—began doing push-ups, fighting back and playing sports. Later we attended rival high schools, and Danny's anti-Rod aggression was channeled onto the gridiron and the hoops court. Our fights earned us technicals, fouls, penalties ... and warm seats on the bench. Some years later we bumped into each other over Memorial Day weekend at the old Traxx in DC. Surprise, surprise. But that's a different story ...

Tonight, USA will broadcast the extraordinary story of a gay man who was taunted and fought back ... with tragic consequences. Ring of Fire documents the story of Emile Griffith and his ferocious fight-to-death with Cuban fighter Benny Paret in March 1962. Griffith literally beat Paret into a pulp, and he died 10 days later. Why? "I got tired of people calling me faggot."

Last week in the Times', Bob Herbert interviewed the former champ who is still conflicted over his sexuality. Andy pointed out yesterday, that it was common knowledge that Griffith frequented Midtown gay clubs. Then, Griffith denied his sexuality and filmmakers Dan Klores and Ron Berger do not confront the issue that forced Griffith into becoming a modern-day gladiator.

In a BBC interview, the filmmakers defend their work, saying their goal was to document the fight, not make editorial judgments. "People want us to say what we think about boxing, which isn’t for us to make a judgment about, or for anybody. Is Emile Griffith gay? They want specific things."

[See the BBC report. Windows Media Player Low Medium High]

True, viewers often do want specific things ... like context, which is lacking. Boxing is a ferocious and violent sport and people sometimes die. On the other hand, gay men are often pushed into retaliation. Is/was Griffith gay? What have we learned since 1962? What does Griffith say?

Today the former champ has no apologies about the fight. In the Times interview, Griffith continues to say that he was sorry Paret died. But he adds, "He called me a name. So I did what I had to do." Griffith says Paret's death was tragic, but the names "touched something inside." It's a tragic story, and 43 years later the champ is still haunted by that night.

Attitudes in professional sports have not changed very much—especially in hard core games like boxing and football. Herbert sets the record straight and the boxer admits to a life on the deep DL. He says he is not gay, but admits to having relations with men and women. Today, the champ says he is tired of running, and hopes to ride in this year's Gay Pride Parade.

Thanks to Bernie for the heads up.

Ring of Fire: USA 9/8c
Boxer on the DL: Towleroad
The Haunting of Emie Griffith: New York Times
Film Focus: Ring Of Fire - The Emile Griffith Story: BBC

[See the BBC report. Windows Media Player
Low Medium High]