Sugar Ray Leonard Raises Child Sex Abuse Awareness In Philly

By Sarah Glover
|  Tuesday, Dec 31, 2013  |  Updated 8:16 PM EDT
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Boxer Visits Philly To Raise Sex Abuse Awareness

Ken Levine, Allsport, Getty Images

Sugar Ray Leonard during a training workout in 1990.

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Earlier this month, boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard, 57, stood in the Montgomery County home of Martha Snider and spoke about the impact of child sex abuse on his life.

"This is not about me (being a poster child for child sex abuse). It's about those kids. It's about me helping, making an impact, outside that ring," said Leonard. "This pain is so deadly. It's a wonder that I'm alive."

Leonard says a former Olympics coach performed a sex act on him when he was a teen and working to make the 1976 U.S. Olympics team. Leonard told the Philly-area crowd he began drinking and had a headache for over 40 years because he never told anyone.

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Abby Friedman traveled from Las Vegas to attend. She described the gathering of prominent business professionals and community leaders as powerful, as some came forward to share their "shocking and horrific" personal experiences. The Dec. 1 event served as a fundraiser for the Let Go... Let Peace Come In Foundation.

"The courage and fortitude that Sugar Ray possess is so inspiring. The strong man was moved to tears exposing a weak and vulnerable part of his life, sharing these horrific episodes he endured," said Friedman. "The real strength of Sugar Ray was not in his punch, but was in his spirit. That's a strong man."

Leonard has made it his mission to bring awareness to child sex abuse, as has Peter S. Pelullo, an Elkins Park native who founded the Let Go... Let Peace Come in Foundation. Pelullo says he was molested by two neighbors when he was 7-years-old. He wrote about his experience in the book "Betrayal and the Beast."

"This is not a Catholic church problem, Boy Scouts problem or Penn State problem," said Pelullo. "It's a problem tearing at the fabric of society and dessiminating our families."

Pelullo sought treatment at age 55, like Leonard who also sought help later in life.

The two crossed paths and collaborated efforts this fall. Leonard's December visit to Philadelphia was to announce he had joined the "Let Go" board of directors and to raise funds for the group's lofty capital campaign. About $30,000 was raised at Snider's home that night.

"Let Go" kicked off its $25 million capital campaign, which seeks to setup 1,000 support rooms for child sex abuse victims nationwide. Organizations, therapists and physicians will be connected via the "Let Go" network so victims may easily access recovery and treatment services. 

A national conversation about child sex abuse surfaced as a result of the Jerry Sandusky case. The former Penn State football coach was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse and is serving 30 to 60 years in prison for his crimes.

Pelullo said he was contacted throughout the Sandusky case by some of the lawyers of the victims and by others who sought healing. Leonard spoke at a Penn State conference just weeks after Sandusky was sentenced in October 2012. From the Sandusky case to the allegations of priest sex abuse, Pelullo hopes that Leonard's coming forward will help make it easier for others despite the pain. 

"I believe Sugar Ray is going to be a game changer. We can't wait for the next tragedy. Let's try to wake up the world and change the world," Pelullo said.

A Philadelphia priest's pending release from prison this week has been met with strong reaction from SNAP and other sex abuse victim support groups. Monsignor William Lynn relinquished his passport and is ready to be released from prison after a landmark decision that overturned his conviction for child endangerment, stemming from allegedly covering up priest sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The Archdiocese contibuted to Lynn's $25,000 bail. 

Leonard boxed in five weight classes, earning more than $100 million in purses over two decades. He beat Marvin Hagler by a split decision on April 6, 1987 in a showdown promoted as "The Super Fight." He finished his career with 36-3-1 with 25 knockouts and the 1976 Olympic gold medal.


 Contact Sarah Glover at 610-668-5580, sarah.glover@nbcuni.com or follow @skyphoto on Twitter.

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