By Robert Coster
A great Champion has left us: Emile Alphonse Griffith deceased at the age of 75. Griffith was 3 times welterweight champion, Junior Middleweight champion and Middleweight Champion, a Hall of Fame great. He marked boxing with his unforgettable battles with other boxing greats: Luis Rodriguez, Dick Tiger, Nino Benvenuti, Carlos Monzon.
But, behind the ring greatness of Emile Griffith the boxer, there was also the personal tragedy that marked and dramatically changed the life of Emile Griffith the man. It happened on March 24th 1962 when Griiffith mercilessly pummeled his arch-rival Benny Kid Paret to his death in the 12th round of their third and final battle. Emile’s ferocious beating of his opponent was attributed to Paret’s homophobic taunts at the weigh-in.
In fact, Griffith’s life can be divided into two parts: before and after his tragic fight with Paret.
Emile was never the same after that tragedy. Griffith never again showed the fury that he demonstrated against Paret; he bacame a stylist, holding back on numerous occasions when he had an opponent hurt. And, above all, Griffith, the man, lived the next century of his existence trying to come to terms with his sexuality and looking to atone the fact that his fists had killed another man. Retired from boxing, physically and mentally diminished by a brutal,almost fatal beating at the hand of a group of homophobic thugs, Emile sought peace and forgiveness by going to visit the Paret family.
This fact says a lot about Emile, a sensitive, tortured man. Griffith’s journey led him to visit Paret’s grave and to throw himself into Paret’s son arms, sobbing and saying “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, forgive me.” Paret’s son did provide solace to the sick old man in front of him by telling him that he indeed had forgiveness in his heart. Now that the curtain has fallen on the earthly existence of Emile Alphonse Griffith one can only wish him peace and honor his memory.