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Sugar Ray Leonard and his entourage swept across the Harvard campus yesterday, spreading the retired champion boxer's message of supreme faith in individual effort, education, and the American Dream.
In a series of public appearances and meetings with top-ranking University officials, Leonard colorfully explained his credo: "We can all be somebody; we can make a mark on society--not just a pencil mark, but with magic marker, so it stays."
He discussed his decision to leave the ring after sustaining a serious eye injury, his desire to further his own education while still pursuing careers in broadcasting and acting, and his admiration for Harvard. The reception he received was uniformally warm and admiring, at times emotional and inspiring.
Wants a Scholarship
Sitting casually amid a clutter of television cameras, microphones and cables during a morning press conference in the Quincy House Senior Common Room, Leonard jokingly described his private meeting with President Bok: "I requested from him a scholarship."
"To attend a university like Harvard, that's the cream of the crop," he added, explaining that his nine-year-old son. Ray Jr., has "already decided to come here."
Leonard, who retired last month at the age of 26 as uncontested welterweight champion of the world, toured the University as the guest of the Harvard Foundation, the administration's race-relations agency.
At each stop during the day, he emphasized the need to respect minorities for their accomplishments and work toward progress through activities such as scholarship and athletics. The world of Sugar Ray Leonard, he said, referring to himself frequently in the third person, has been a fair and rewarding place. "We are all given God's gift of some talent," he told one audience at Radcliffe's Agassiz Theater, "mine just happens to be beating up on people."
Praise From a Brother
The boxer stood in front of the dilapidated jungle scenery from an undergraduate Gilbert and Sullivan production and received a series of ovations from the crowd of about 150 students and local residents. In the middle of answering one question, Leonard was interrupted by Brother Blue, a popular Cambridge story teller and street performer.
"You have class," Brother Blue bellowed from his front row seat, gesticulating frantically to emphasize his point. "They ask us what class we graduated from, but your graduated from the class of class--summa cum laude!" Leonard flashed yet another broad smile, and the theater echoed with loud applause and cheers.
But Leonard stressed throughout that he was here as someone who appreciates the need for scholastic training, not just smooth style. "Materialistic things are okay; you've got to have it," Leonard said, sweeping one hand across his well-tailored gray, corduroy suit. "But what I value most is what's up here," he added quickly, tapping his forehead.
Asked repeatedly about his decision to quit boxing, Leonard explained that he had only launched a professional fight career to raise money for his young family. "I said all along, I was waiting for a message [to retire]," he said. "The eye injury was a message."
Leonard tore the retina of his right eye sometime after defeating Thomas Hearns in September 1981. He retired with only one loss and 32 professional victories, in addition to a gold medal from the 1976 Olympic Games.
The champion defended his sport as a way for disadvantaged young men to find success, but he endorsed recent calls for increased regulation of fight schedules and supervision. "I would keep the best of boxing what it is," he said, suggesting more intercollegiate and even high school competition.
As to the prospects of a return to the ring to fight either Hearns or Marvin Hagler, Leonard had one consistent answer: "No way."
"I'll be looking into maybe going back to school, to continue my TV commentating, maybe to do some acting, but no more of that," he said soberly. "I've made a final decision to set examples in other fields now.
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