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TELEGRAM TO: JIMMY CARTER, THE WHITE HOUSE.
Now it was the turn of the one they call Sugar. His last fight had been against a Cuban in Montreal more than six months ago, and when it was over they had given him a gold medal. "I'll never fight again," Sugar Ray Leonard said then. "My journey has ended, my dream is fulfilled." But there he was last Saturday afternoon in Baltimore, climbing into the ring to face a sturdy Puerto Rican named Luis Vega, and for this six-round fight they would give him $40,044.
"Why?" Leonard smiled at the question one day last week. At the Olympics he had said he would attend the University of Maryland rather than turn professional. "I guess you could say it was reality," he said. "And my responsibilities." Reality for Leonard is his mother Getha, a slender, attractive nurse. She suffered a mild heart attack just before the Olympics and no longer is able to work. Reality is his father Cicero, who is hospitalized with meningitis and tuberculosis of the spine. Reality is the support of his 3-year-old son, Ray Charles Leonard Jr.
"Even then it wasn't an easy decision," Leonard said. "I meant it at the time when I said I didn't want to fight anymore. But I felt I owed it to my family. They are down and I am capable of lifting them up and putting them in a good financial position."
In addition, there were heavy outside pressures. After returning from Montreal, Leonard was besieged daily with offers to turn pro, and for endorsements and speaking engagements. People would call at 3 a.m. Strangers were always knocking at the door. The handsome 20-year-old shook his head at the memory. "The living room was always full of people," Leonard said. "They'd sit around all day, and half the time I didn't know who they were. Every time I opened the front door another stranger would walk in."
Desperate, Leonard sought out an old and trusted friend, Janks Morton, who had helped train him as an amateur. In turn, Morton introduced Leonard to another Maryland friend, attorney Mike Trainer. "I'd trust Mike with everything I own," Morton told Sugar Ray.
Working gratis, Trainer lined up Leonard with Arthur Young and Co., the accounting firm, and a public-relations man, Charlie Brotman. Then he talked 24 friends and business associates into underwriting Sugar Ray's career with an investment of $21,000, to be repaid within four years at 8% interest. Finally, Trainer incorporated Leonard, the sole stockholder, as Sugar Ray Leonard, Inc. Leonard draws a $475 salary twice a month; the rest of what he earns will be invested.
"You can't believe the things Sugar Ray had been trying to do on his own," Brotman said. "He just didn't know how to say no. Everyone wanted him as a speaker, and he was running everywhere morning, noon and night."
Leonard signed on as a boxing analyst with CBS, and last month in Las Vegas he worked at ringside when his Olympic teammates, Howard Davis and Leon Spinks, made their pro debuts. He has been offered roles in movies, and the people who made Roots say they wish he had come along sooner, that he was a natural for one of the parts.
"The offers coming in are tremendous," said Brotman. "Motown records wants him to do a song for them. And the licensing people—dolls, games, T shirts—are talking numbers that spin my head. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. What Sugar Ray makes as a fighter probably will be only one-third of what he makes overall."