BURBANK — A 10-time boxing champion, Oscar De La Hoya had to be mean and unrelenting in the ring. But deep down, the athlete has a soft side.
A product of youth programs while growing up on the mean streets of East Los Angeles, De La Hoya is more than happy to give up his time and lend his support to the type of programs that helped shape his life. If it has to do with helping young boys and girls, De La Hoya can’t resist.
“When it comes to helping kids, I am a real softy,” De La Hoya said. “As soft as they come.”
De La Hoya was talking to a captivated group of youngsters Tuesday at the Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and the Greater East Valley, which also serves Glendale kids. In a promotion for AT&T U-verse Espanol, De La Hoya gave the club’s members some sound advice about values, working toward goals and striving to succeed.
De La Hoya said because he was given guidance and found a place of refuge at the East L.A. Boys & Girls Club when he was growing up, he is motivated to give back.
“Whether it’s the positive or the negative, it’s very important for me to pass on that information because life is not a straight road into prosperity,” he said. “Instead, life throws you curveballs, and you have to know how to deal with it, get off the canvas and fight even harder. That’s America, and that’s what living the American dream is all about, and that’s what I’m living now.
“When you send that message and tell these kids that you can succeed and you can make something of your life, that’s a very important message to me. And if I can send that message out and somebody picks it up, then I’m doing my job.”
Although he has enjoyed a successful career as a boxer and now a business executive, De La Hoya said he has never forgotten the values he learned at the Boys & Girls Club.
“It is places like the Boys & Girls Club that gives us the opportunity to look ahead and to prepare for our future.” he said. “I had a place like this, and it meant so much to me. It really opened the door for me and gave me the opportunity to go somewhere every single day after school and interact with other kids and just have fun.
“It kept me occupied, and it kept me off the streets. It also gave me the pride in thinking that I am somebody, and I can become what I want to be.”
After speaking to the members, De La Hoya took the time to pose for pictures. Although the boys and girls were told the champ wouldn’t be signing autographs, a few lucky members received his signature on the way out, including 14-year-old Armando Tovar.
“I liked what he said to us,” Armando said. “He seemed to be a nice, caring guy.... Getting the autograph was great.”
Marcos Huerta, 16, said he was moved by what De La Hoya was conveying to the youngsters.
“I thought it was a great thing that he came out to meet us,” he said. “I thought what he said was very inspirational because since I started coming to this club, it has really changed my life. I know what he’s talking about.”
Shanna Warren, chief executive of the club, said it was a thrill to have someone of De La Hoya’s stature talk to the organization.
“He’s a great mentor, and he’s done a lot of wonderful things in the community, and we really look for positive role models for our kids to look up to,” she said. “He is also just a great public speaker, and I think the kids got a lot out of it.”
Boxing from the age of 5, De La Hoya won a gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games shortly after graduating from Garfield High.
De La Hoya defeated 17 world champions and has won six world titles in six weight classes.
De La Hoya retired in 2009 and founded Golden Boy Promotions.