Friday, May 27, 2011

2 comments Buzz Bissinger Really Doubts Sugar Ray Leonard Was Sexually Abused

One of the biggest things that irritate me when it comes to sportswriting are the double standards. There are plenty of things "real" sportswriters get away with writing that would cause these same sportswriters to go into a hissy fit, much like Buzz Bissinger actually did when discussing blogs on "Costas Now" a couple years ago, and talk about how blogs and "illegitimate" journalism is ruining their profession. Sugar Ray Leonard revealed recently he was sexually abused by a trainer. Buzz Bissinger has written a column basically calling this bullshit. If a blogger or online sports magazine without the journalistic credibility of Buzz did this, Buzz would flip out, just like he did a few years ago on HBO when talking about blogs.

Since it is Buzz writing the column, it's perfectly fine of course. He's a professional sportswriter who has legitimate questions, much like when he wrote a column about the NBA, essentially calling everyone racist, and then admitted IN THE COLUMN he didn't care about the topic nor did he research it. If he is one of the people holding the flag for traditional sports journalism, it is doomed forever.

Let's get to Buzz calling bullshit on Sugar Ray Leonard about being sexually molested. Now imagine this was written by Deadspin and think how Buzz would respond to the accusation Sugar Ray is lying, especially since he makes it clear he KNOWS Sugar Ray Leonard.

The New York Times published an eye-popping story yesterday. Sugar Ray Leonard, the last boxer to hold the world in his hands with his speed and stamina and charisma, is about to publish a book in which he claims he was sexually abused as a teenager.

These claims are obviously bullshit to Buzz Bissinger. The reason I THINK Buzz calls bullshit on this will be quite clear to you in a minute.

The book, The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring, is not slated for publication by Viking until next month. But the Times’ Harvey Araton got a copy. Quoting at length from the book, he relates that Leonard was intimidated into having oral sex with an Olympic coach before the 1976 Summer Olympics.

To Buzz, this is a desperate grab for attention from Leonard. Forget that Leonard has no history of seeking attention-grabbing behavior from the public by making outrageous claims. That's unimportant to Buzz.

I happen to know Sugar Ray Leonard.

I know a lot of people. It doesn't mean I know every single secret they have.

I happen to know him well when it comes to the intimate details of his life. In 2007 and 2008, I spent hundreds of hours interviewing him for a screenplay that never came to fruition.

Here's the real reason Buzz has his panties in a wad over this allegation by Sugar Ray Leonard. Not shockingly, Buzz is pissed off because he is being a selfish douche. If Leonard had told Buzz Bissinger back in 2007 and 2008 he was sexually molested by his coach, it would have given this screenplay a much better chance of coming to fruition. Not only would Buzz has created some (forgive me) buzz around the screenplay, HE would be the guy who broke this story and he could potentially have a better shot at convincing a moron Hollywood executive to buy the screenplay due to these allegations.

Buzz is just mad he didn't break the story and he didn't get the chance to make money and receive fame from being the one who wrote the screenplay where these allegations surfaced. Buzz is jealous that Sugar Ray Leonard held back on him, which in Buzz's fucked up self-important head makes him feel Leonard is just making a grab for attention since that's EXACTLY what Buzz would have done had he been fortunate enough to be the one to write about these allegations.

The interviews were on tape and owned by the production company Redbird Cinema. In addition, Leonard had the contractual right to reject anything that he felt might not be appropriate. There was no reason for him to hold back, and he did not hold back.

Apparently he did hold back.

He went into great detail over all the positive aspects of his life—the triumphant victories over Roberto Duran and Tommy “The Hitman” Hearns and Marvin Hagler that made him world welterweight champion. But he spent just as much time on the bad—the abuse and terrorization of his first wife, Juanita; his disenfranchisement from his children; the copious intake of cocaine followed by the copious intake of alcohol; the distrust that developed over everyone, including his own brother, as he became convinced that they perceived him only as a money pit;

But he didn't mention the sexual abuse, which clearly means Sugar Ray Leonard has made these allegations up.

He was honest about his failings, and so brutal about them that it became wrenching.

When Buzz says "wrenching" he means "financially profitable."

The one incident he never mentioned was the sexual abuse.

It is so odd he didn't mention the time a coach tried to blow Sugar Ray Leonard in a car. You would think this would be the first thing that would come to Leonard's mind when talking about his life. It makes for great casual dinner conversation and doesn't sound permanently scarring at all.

I keep asking myself why yesterday, given his wincing candor about so much else. Did something happen with that coach?

(Buzz Bissinger) "So Sugar Ray, tell me a little bit about your life. (starts the tape recorder)"

(Sugar Ray Leonard) "Do you want me to start before or after one of my coaches watched me take a bath in Epsom salts?"

(Buzz Bissinger) "That must have been painful. How can I make money off thi---I mean, how did that make you feel?"

(Sugar Ray Leonard) "Not as bad as the time he blew me in his car!"

(Buzz gives Sugar Ray a fist bump and then laughs hysterically) "That must have been painful. I'm glad you told me."

(Sugar Ray Leonard) "Oh I am glad I told you as well. Being sexually molested is definitely not something the victim hates bringing up. There's absolutely no feelings of shame or embarrassment by having this happen to me. I'm like most people who have been sexually molested in that I don't blame myself at all."

(Buzz's daughter runs in the room) "Dad, I am sorry to interrupt...but I have something to tell you."

(Buzz Bissinger gets very angry at being interrupted and murders the family dog) "Honey, please remember to call me 'Mr. Bissinger,' not 'Dad.' What can I do for you?"

(Buzz's daughter) "I have something to tell you in private. Can you come with me please?"

(Buzz Bissinger) "I'm doing an interview right now. Anything you can tell me, you can tell Sugar Ray Leonard. I know him personally."

(Buzz's daughter) "Remember I told you I went out with that guy a few weeks ago and we got that's why I came home with a bruise on my face? It is not true, he tried to sexually assault me. I feel like I need to tell the police, will you come with me to do it?"

(Buzz Bissinger getting very angry and red in the face) "Bullshit. You and I had lunch at McDonald's the yesterday and talked about how your classes were going. You even revealed you hated your Biology class and you just conveniently left this part about being (makes quotes in the air with his fingers) 'sexually assaulted' out? I know you very well. I doubt this happened, especially since you didn't bring it up at McDonald's when we were talking."

(Buzz's daughter) "It did happen. Why would I lie?"

(Buzz Bissinger stabbing a pencil through his own hand) "I don't know why you would lie. Stop it though. I've known you since you were born and I never heard anything about this before. Leave my sight you feeble woman (throws a chair through a window)!"

(Buzz's daughter starts leaving) "Yes Mr. Bissinger."

Something must have. But was it embellished for the sake of a book about to be published?

Because obviously if Sugar Ray didn't tell Buzz about this event, then it is clearly made up. The events Sugar Ray told Buzz were all truthful in an effort to sell a screenplay, but Buzz feels this allegation is a lie Sugar Ray is telling in order to sell books simply because he didn't let Buzz in on this secret a few years ago.

Maybe after 35 years as a journalist I am too cynical. But at his peak, nobody in sports knew how to market himself better than Sugar Ray Leonard. And the revelation, 18 days before publication, has set off a publicity bonanza.

So yet again, Buzz believes everything Sugar Ray told him while they were working on their screenplay was fact, and he wasn't lying in order to get the screenplay sold...but when Sugar Ray tells another writer salacious stories, they are lies.

Was he too embarrassed and ashamed to mention it to me? Perhaps.

Yeah, maybe. This tends to be the reaction by victims of sexual molestation, so this is entirely possible.

But Leonard told me things in terms of his own personal conduct equally shocking and personally shameful as the allegation of being sexually abused. Such as hitting Juanita while she was holding their child, who was just several months old. Or, in the last fight they had before she left, taking out a gun and threatening to shoot himself.

Buzz Bissinger is an asshole. He shows a complete lack of understanding how victims of sexual molestation feel. They tend to blame themselves for the situation and are ashamed for anyone to find out. Stories of violence against his wife is shame and conduct he could control and was responsible for perpetrating. Sexual molestation is a completely different type of shame.

I am not questioning the horror of sexual abuse. It is an unspeakable horror. But unfortunately, in this day and age of the celebrity book, it has become a virtual cliché, a marketing tool to sell something. Which only diminishes the impact on those who have actually suffered terribly at the hands of it.

Another virtual cliche is the writer who covers his ass by pretending to be sympathetic while accusing someone of lying about a serious crime (like sexual molestation) while questioning whether a person was actually a victim of the serious crime.

"It's not that I think Sugar Ray Leonard is lying, it is just his allegations against his coach reflect poorly on those who actually were sexually abused."

If Leonard wanted to open up about what happened, why not do it the way Rick Welts, the president and chief executive officer of the Phoenix Suns basketball team, did this week in publicly coming out as gay: no book to sell,

Maybe because Rich Welts didn't have a book being written about his life? I am sure if someone was writing Rick Welts' life story Welts would have mentioned he was gay and put it in the book. It is clear from the fact Sugar Ray Leonard was writing a screenplay, apparently partially based on his own life, that Sugar Ray Leonard has wanted to get his life-story out there in some larger fashion than a simple article in a newspaper. So it makes sense if there is a biography being written by him, this story would be included.

It was a true public service for other gay athletes confronted with homophobia in the locker room. Inserting the issue of sexual abuse into a book about to be published is a selling service.

And let's not forget the man writing these two sentences in 2007 and 2008 was trying to use Sugar Ray's history of violence and poor personal conduct to sell a screenplay. This is hypocrisy. It is fine for Buzz to use Sugar Ray's bad conduct and personal story to sell a screenplay, but when another writer does this it is just part of "a selling service."

There are two people who know what happened, Leonard and the coach in question. Any kind of corroboration seems to be impossible

Which really means jackshit. There is a "he-said, she-said" in many sexual molestation cases. It is not like a person who is sexually abusing a child would commit the crime on a Jumbo-Tron or in public. The fact there are only two people with knowledge of this occurence doesn't meant the allegations aren't true.

According to Araton’s story, nobody in Leonard’s inner circle was ever told anything.

Probably because Sugar Ray was embarrassed and wrongly blamed himself? This reasoning has a ton of merit.

Yet he is not named in the book despite the basic rule that the deceased cannot be libeled. Why would Leonard, given the vile act he writes about, remotely want to protect him?

What would naming the coach do? What would it do other than accuse a dead man and disturb his living, innocent family members with these allegations?

Leonard also writes that he actually gave the writer who assisted him, Michael Arkush, two versions of what happened. In the first, he says the coach stopped before anything physical took place. In the second version, Leonard went further to say that coach basically forced oral sex upon him.

Ah-ha! A contradiction!

These really aren't two completely different versions. The second version is where Sugar Ray essentially talks about the one thing he had not been able to talk about publicly over his entire life. So the first version can be explained by the fact this isn't a story Sugar Ray was comfortable telling so he stopped before the embarrassing part.

At a minimum, Leonard should release the coach’s name.

What would this do? How would this prove the allegations or real or not? It wouldn't, it would just provide more chum for the shark-frenzy media to tear apart. Releasing the coach's name would serve the no purpose and really could not determine whether the allegations are true or not, since the coach is dead and couldn't corroborate. Nothing would be proven, so what good would giving the coach's name do?

I asked him to do that in an email I sent him yesterday. I know he received it, and he chose not to respond.

I wonder why?

Perhaps the problem is with the growing nature of celebrity books, in which hideously scarred childhoods and teenage years have become a requirement. The latest was Massachusetts senator Scott Brown’s autobiography, Against All Odds. He too said he suffered sexual abuse.


Leonard is also motivated to sell books as he fights to come back into the limelight after his last boxing match 14 years ago (his recent appearance on Dancing With the Stars didn’t quite turn the corner for him). He wants his book to sell. All authors want their books to sell. And sensation sells.

Even if Leonard wants the book to sell and revealed the sexual abuse in order to get the book to sell, this still doesn't mean Leonard is lying.

According to the Times story, Leonard writes that he had terrible flashbacks of the incident and believes that what happened, along with the volatile relationship between his mother and father growing up in Maryland, helped contribute to his later problems with cocaine and then alcohol and domestic abuse. But based on what Leonard told me, it was another traumatic experience entirely that began his descent.

While training to defend his title against Roger Stafford in Buffalo, he saw a floating spot in his left eye. He was examined by a world-renowned specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, who determined that he had suffered a partially detached retina. Leonard had no real choice but to retire at 26, and it was then that the descent into booze and coke began, even though he did rise again to defeat Marvin Hagler in 1987 after only one fight in five years.

So there can only be one reason for Sugar Ray's descent into alcohol, domestic abuse and cocaine? There's no way there can be two reasons? Buzz is pretty small-minded if he thinks a combination of having to retire early and the sexual abuse could not have both contributed to his decline.

The recounting of sexual abuse in the car with the coach did catch me off guard. Maybe it was the shock that bothered me—a man I thought I knew I never entirely did know.

I think it was jealously at this revelation coming out while working on a project with another writer that wasn't Buzz Bissinger.

This article is either the height of cynicism or Buzz Bissinger just being an asshole.


Anonymous said...

It's just Bissinger being an asshole.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, that sounds about right. He's very good at being an asshole.