His biggest winning battle was over alcoholism.
Once dubbed, “The Great White Hope,” Gerry Cooney has become an inspirational figure after his boxing career and after battling the demons such as alcohol and a difficult upbringing.
A recent guest of “The Clubhouse” radio show, Cooney showed a side few probably expect. Humorous. Self-deprecating. Witty and intelligent. There was alcoholism in his family from his youth. He grew to love boxing by first watching his brother and then pounding on others as he grew up on Long Island.
“When my older brother was 15, I would leave the house and go watch him box at the gym and I grew to love it as well. It gave me purpose. I was boxing in the spotlight at a young age – I was only 16 when I was boxing at MSG, winning a State Championship, and the amateur Middle Weight Championship. I loved boxing at on my own. As boxers we love that roar of the crowd and we crave it. Because of that for some of the fighters, they stay in the game too long, chasing that roar because it’s hard to give up…or because they need the money that comes from the fights, because they haven’t saved up over their careers.”
For those of us who remember, his battles with Larry Holmes were epic. To this day he and Holmes remain close friends. Another surprising tidbit from the interview was how much he liked and appreciated Howard Cosell, the brash loudmouth sportscaster whom many people could not “stomach.” The 6-6 behemoth finished his career with a record of 31-28 with 24 wins by knockout!
Now 30+ years sober, Cooney was an alcoholic even while he was boxing professionally. “I saved up and was able to not have to stay in the game too long. I was planning towards the future. However, for other boxers, they may not have thought that way or had anyone to guide them. I felt like I needed to give back and form a foundation to help all these guys with transitioning to life outside of the sport. Whatever the situation – whether they needed to get other jobs after boxing or get sober or find a school to go to – I wanted to provide the help so they could accomplish those things.”
He formed the “FIST” Foundation to help those who needed assistance. “We got therapists and other groups involved to help these boxers transition themselves to life after boxing. That desire to help others gave me purpose and I still love doing work that helps people.”
“People come up to me and thank me all the time. They ask me to come to nonprofit events of their own all the time. I go to a lot of them. When you tell the story of your own battles, with the desire to help other people, there is a respect there and people appreciate your message. You can then tell your own story to help others as well.”