The CBZ Newswire


by on Apr.13, 2010, under Guest Columnists, Reviews

By Jeff Hawkins

Several years back, there were minor rumblings as to the ethnicity of NBA basketball star Jason Kidd. Was he black or was white?

Kidd, who is African American, but is very fair skinned, initially refused to dignify the question.  In essence, he was saying: “What difference does it make? Will ‘you’ like me or appreciate my skills any differently if you know one way or another?”

People said, “of course not,” but they still wanted to know.

With Emile Griffith, questions about his sexual orientation were the same. Is Emile gay or is he straight?  Those asking said it didn’t make a difference, but they still wanted to know.

About 5 or 6 years ago, Bernard Hopkins in an interview discussing the middleweight greats of the past, made a “matter of fact” statement about Griffith being gay.  Given the fact that Emile at the time had not spoken on the matter publically himself, Hopkins’ statement was met with curiosity, but brushed aside just the same as “Hopkins being Hopkins.”

When the brilliant documentary by Dan Klores and Ron Berger, RING OF FIRE: The Emile Griffith Story, came out in 2005, many of those questions were answered. By Emile himself.

But at the same time, while the questions of “is he gay?” were answered, the documentary illustrated that that question and its answer were only just a PART of Emile Griffith.  There is so much more about the Man, than just that answer.

Now comes the brilliant companion to the Griffith documentary, the defining biography on Emile Griffith, Nine…Ten and Out! The Two Worlds of Emile Griffith, by Ron Ross.

Ross, who also wrote Bummy Davis vs. Murder Inc., another must-have book in anyone’s boxing library, weaves a masterpiece in detailing Griffith’s life, ring career and, of course, the topic that has interested so many, for reasons that Emile himself can not quite understand: Emile being Gay.

When you read about his life growing up; coming from the Island of St. Thomas to the Bronx in NYC; the ring battles that Ross recounts in brilliant detail; the relationship that Griff had with his trainer and father figure, Gil Clancy; the torment and anguish that he went through when Benny Paret died in the ring following their third bout; his stint as a trainer and the bond he had with his charges, such as Juan Laporte; his nearly dying of kidney failure following a mugging in 1992; and his relationship with Luis Rodrigo, whom Emile became the Legal guardian to in 1979, you can appreciate and understand just how full and complete a life Emile enjoyed and at times endured.

Ross does not attempt to minimize or downplay Emile being gay, because that IS a part of his life as well.  But it needs to be understood that it was not the ONLY part of his life that is worth recounting.

Emile is more than a bit uncomfortable with the term GAY.  He was and is, a private and sensitive man who does not like being labeled.

Towards the end of the book there is a conversation with Luis and Emile after Griff was elected VP of the Stonewall Veterans Association, which is an organization in Greenwich Village headed by and for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and or transgender.  There was a flyer that listed the main attraction for the ceremony as: ‘GAY BOXING CHAMP EMILE A. GRIFFITH.’ Emile was upset with the flier.  Why were they calling him Gay?  Luis explained because he had been nominated as the VP of the organization and because he had stated previously that he was indeed gay.

Griff responded with, “Okay, but why do they have to make such a big deal about it?”

To Emile, being gay was indeed a part of who he was, but it wasn’t the only part. Why indeed is it such a big deal?  Why is it so important for us, fans of Griffith, to know whether he indeed was gay or not?  What changes with knowing?

In the end, nothing changes about Emile Griffith. That really is the lesson that Ross gives to his readers.

The only label or title that I believe that Emile was ever truly comfortable with was:


As Ross shows us in his book, that will never change. And if that was what was important to Emile, then that is what should be important to us.

Nine…Ten and Out! The Two Worlds of Emile Griffith is for sale online at

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