After being taunted with homophobic slurs for his interest in men, Emile Griffith would knockout Benny Paret so bad he would die days later…
Emile Griffith and Benny “Kid” Paret’s rivalry in the boxing ring is etched in history for its tragic culmination. Their intense trilogy of fights within a year, culminating in Griffith’s fatal victory over Paret on March 24, 1962, is a stark reminder of the brutal nature of the sport. Paret, only 25 and a recent welterweight champion, faced Griffith, a year younger, in a match that would end in irreversible tragedy.
Before their final, fateful match, an incident at the weigh-in set the tone for what was to come. Paret, aware of Griffith’s bisexuality, taunted him with a homophobic slur, “maricón.” This deeply personal attack, especially in an era when secrecy about one’s sexuality was paramount, ignited a fire in Griffith. The anger and humiliation he felt at that moment were palpable and would later find a devastating outlet in the ring.
The fight itself was a harrowing spectacle. Griffith, channeling his pent-up rage, unleashed a barrage of uppercuts on Paret, who, trapped against the ropes and corner post, could offer no defense. The referee, Ruby Goldstein, known for his cautious approach in fights, shockingly delayed intervening. By the time he did, Paret had already slipped into a coma from which he would never recover, dying ten days later.
Griffith’s victory was overshadowed by immense guilt and a haunting fear of repeating such a tragedy. Known for his gentle nature outside the ring, the incident profoundly affected him. His subsequent fights were marked by a noticeable reluctance to fully engage, a shadow of the fear of causing another fatality.
In the years following his retirement from boxing in 1977, Emile Griffith’s life was a journey marked by introspection and the struggle to come to terms with the shadows of his past. The tragic fight with Benny Paret cast a long, somber shadow over his life, influencing his actions and thoughts long after he had left the ring.
Griffith’s later years were punctuated by personal challenges and health issues. In 1992, a brutal attack outside a gay bar in Manhattan left him with severe injuries, including brain damage and broken bones.
Griffith’s health deteriorated further as he suffered from dementia pugilistica, a condition common among boxers due to repeated head trauma. This condition, also known as “punch-drunk syndrome,” led to a significant decline in his cognitive abilities and overall health, marking his final years with hardship and dependency.
Emile Griffith passed away in 2013, leaving behind a legacy that transcends boxing. His life story serves as a powerful narrative about the struggles of athletes, the impact of societal attitudes on personal identity, and the enduring human spirit.