Retired boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard said Monday he cried for Jerry Sandusky's accusers after hearing of the former Penn State assistant football coach's arrest on child sex abuse charges nearly a year ago.
An abuse survivor himself, Leonard said he hopes the accusers can draw from his own story and willingness to speak out about a problem that drew national attention and crushed the reputation of one of the country's most famous college sports programs.
"What I had heard about Penn State _ I cried for those victims," Leonard told reporters after speaking at Penn State's inaugural Child Sexual Abuse Conference. "Because I knew what they'd dealt with, what they lived with ... It's such an awful thing that eats away at you, that makes you feel that you're to blame."
Sandusky, 68, was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison earlier this month after being convicted on dozens of criminal counts covering abuse allegations both on and off campus. Eight accusers testified at the trial.
Leonard said he didn't plan to reach out to the accusers. But asked what advice he would pass on, Leonard said it would be to "surrender. And surrender means, `Yes it did happen,' but now deal with it. Speak up, speak out. Because if it happened to you, you can prevent it from happening to somebody else."
Penn State hopes to become a leader in the research, treatment and prevention of child sex abuse.
About 68,000 cases of abuse were reported to protection services in the U.S. in 2010, according to data cited by University of New Hampshire researcher David Finkelhor. A 2006 study estimated there are 180,000 cases known to professionals.
But Finkelhor cited an academic study that estimated there may have been 1.6 million "contact sexual offenses" of juveniles in 2011.
Leonard revealed last year in a book that he was sexually abused by a coach while an amateur, something that haunted him throughout his life and led him to turn to alcohol and drugs.
The issue is still difficult for Leonard, who said he has been sober for six years. He choked up at times during his speech Monday.
Leonard said he was abused in separate instances by two men, both of whom are now dead. He did not identify them.
"People need to hear more of this. You know what, use me, I will be that leader," Leonard said. "I will stand right there and say, `Yes, something must be done now.' Not later, now."