Oscar de la Hoya is as Good as Gold

UPDATED: August 5, 2009
PUBLISHED: August 5, 2009

A boxer with more than 40 professional fights (not to mention
amateur bouts) under his belt probably shouldn’t be worried about
his looks, right? A lifetime of bruises, cuts and scars tends to
dampen expectations. But when you’re Golden Boy Oscar de la
Hoya, image isn’t just about vanity; it’s the means to continued success. So when the Staples Center in Los Angeles
added his image to the collection of bronze
statues honoring the area’s most celebrated athletes, de la Hoya had only one
concern: “I’m going to drive by it every day to make sure they don’t age it.”

He was joking (mostly), but de la Hoya knows that to achieve his goal outside the boxing ring,
he must rely on his reputation and well-known face. De la Hoya is building an empire, using his
marketability as the foundation. His Golden Boy Promotions rakes in millions annually, mostly
through real estate ventures, boxing promotions and other commercial projects targeting his large
Hispanic fan base. But de la Hoya wants to do more than use his fighting
career as a springboard to a successful business career. His now 14-year-old
Oscar de la Hoya Foundation strives to bring health and educational
services to some of Los Angeles’ poorest communities—places de la Hoya
knows a lot about.

De la Hoya fought his way out of poverty and his crime-stricken East
L.A. neighborhood to become a boxing legend. He thrust himself into the
national spotlight when he captured a 1992 Olympic gold medal, dedicating
the victory to his mother, who had recently died of breast cancer while he
was training for the games. He possessed nimble feet and a lightning-quick
jab and hook, but it was de la Hoya’s boyish good looks and eloquent,
articulate nature that drew even the most casual fans to boxing as he rose to
stardom. By 1997, he was considered the greatest pound-for-pound fighter
in the world. But de la Hoya, every bit as intelligent and determined as he
appeared in the ring, was already turning his attention to life after boxing.

“My mother [had] strong beliefs about education,” he says. “What she
really instilled in me is the fact that the more success I have, whether it’s
inside or outside the ring, the more I have to give back. And those words
will always be with me; I’ll never stop giving back to as many people
as possible.”

The results are inspiring. The foundation constructed a state-of-the-art
youth center on the site of de la Hoya’s former training gym. A public
high school adjacent to the center bears his name. The foundation has
also funded a neonatal intensive care unit, a labor and delivery center,
and a cancer treatment center—a lasting testament to his mother’s fight
against cancer.

Each effort pushes de la Hoya to do more, he says, because he stays involved—visiting
cancer patients, talking with mothers in the infant care ward or just being available to
help. “I’ve held the babies on my arm, babies who are struggling,” he says. “I’ve had
moms cry on my shoulder because they’ve lost the battle. It’s a diffi cult battle, but what
keeps me going is seeing these people and the appreciation they show; it’s unbelievable.”
When patients can’t make it to appointments, the clinics provide free private bus transportation.
“I’ve driven those buses myself,” he says. “I’ve been able to go and surprise
families. Those little things there really count because you show them you really care.
That’s what really counts to people.”

De la Hoya’s success as a boxer, a businessman and now a philanthropist begs the
question: How? How has this man won at almost everything he’s done? The blueprint,
he says, isn’t difficult to follow: “Never give up and have a positive attitude. I’m a very
positive thinker, and I always have a vision of what’s ahead. I make sure that I tackle one
obstacle at a time and never spread myself too thin. What boxing did for me was teach
me to never give up. I’ve had some tragedies in my life—like the passing of my mother—
that made me want to quit. But you can’t give up.”

He makes it sound easy—work hard and good things happen—but even de la Hoya
admits that getting the foundation off the ground was tough at first. He spent months
pounding the pavement, knocking on doors and using his popularity to convince
people that he was serious. In the end, he says, it was dedication and perseverance that
paid off.

“The sport of boxing is not the NFL, it’s not Major League Baseball or the NBA, [all of
which are] well-received by the media and masses here in the states,” de la Hoya says.
“It was a struggle to convince corporate
America that, yes, we’re in the sport of
boxing, but we’re good people. We’re
people who are sensitive to these kids,
people who know the struggles and
what it takes to start from the bottom
and work
your way up. I
lived it. I grew up
in East L.A.; I grew up in a humble
neighborhood and humble beginnings.
It was a struggle at first, but once we
showed them we could do it, it was a
domino effect.”

With more credibility come larger and
more ambitious projects. The foundation
worked with Green Dot Public Schools,
an organization that runs a number of
successful charter schools throughout
poor Los Angeles communities, to
create the Oscar de la Hoya Animo Charter High School. The school
attracts quality teachers and students eager to learn, in part because
of its relentless focus on parent involvement. As a result, enrollees
outperform students at similar state schools, and the majority of kids
attend college after graduation. “Our goal is to spread throughout
California,” de la Hoya says. “Our school is a perfect example that
if you do it right—if you have the right teachers—you can be
successful. These kids are graduating and moving on to college, so
the goal is to build as many schools as possible.”

And while de la Hoya is hardly ignoring his multimillion-dollar
business ventures, he is making them work toward his charitable
goals. His real estate firm recently turned an old beer distribution
warehouse in South Gate, Calif., into
an affordable mixed-use development of
shops and housing units. For many nearby
residents, it was the first time they could
consider new construction. The primary
goal of any investment is to realize a profit,
but de la Hoya believes you can marry business
and community outreach. “If we’re
building communities for people who are in
need, we’re building a dream for them,” he
says. “We’re building better neighborhoods,
better communities. Therefore, people feel a
sense of ownership and pride, which leads
to less crime and raising kids who want to
be successful. Everything I’ve touched, everything I’ve done, the
ideas I’ve had, they all roll into one.”

In boxing, they call such one-two punches “sequences” or “combinations.”
Land a few good ones in a row, and you’re likely to be
raising your arms in triumph minutes later. For de la Hoya, life after
boxing isn’t that much different after all.