Before we begin our discussion about whether Sonny Liston was a heroin addict or not, or whether he died of a drug-induced speedball injection or not, we need to first pause for a moment in order to put this ongoing debate into its proper perspective. I don’t want this debate to keep us from focusing on the real problem; the problem of addiction in America. ―Addiction continues to be one of society‘s most complex and prevalent problems. Millions of Americans abuse alcohol, drugs, and nicotine every year. No culture is exempt from substance abuse—it is an equal opportunity disease that crosses all cultures.

Over the past several decades, researchers have come up with many theories on the origins of addiction. But regardless of whether the origin is genetic, neurochemical, psychosocial or political, the devastation that substance abuse spawns is part of our historical and present reality.  ―Today, substance abuse disorders continue to proliferate in alarming numbers, especially in the African-American community.

African Americans comprise approximately 12% of the population in the United States, yet in 1999 they accounted for 23% of admissions to publically funded substance abuse treatment facilities. Consequently, there is a great need for more culturally sensitive and efficacious treatment targeted to the special needs of this minority population.

Where is the evidence that Sonny Liston did not die of natural causes and was a heroin user? Why doesn’t anyone believe that my grandmother Geraldine was telling the truth about Sonny’s alleged fear of needles since childhood? But there was a question that if Sonny was afraid of needles why did he have old needle marks on his arms at the time of his death.

Well, let us not forget that Sonny may have disliked needles as we all do but he could not have gotten around the fact that he would sometimes need to get shots in order to keep him healthy when he fought abroad. Or needed bloodwork as part of his prefight medical exam. In order to check for hepatitis. Because boxers have a tendency to get cut while fighting.

I’m sure that the Athletic Commission had him qualify medically in order to travel to Europe and to other parts of the world. For example, he might have had to get vaccine shots to avoid typhoid fever. When was his last check-up before he died? He did get into car accident months before he died, complaining about chest pains. He spent about three days in the hospital after his accident.

Now, this was also a very strange question to ask someone who knew nothing about the world of drugs and drug users. So from the onset, there was this assumption that Geraldine Liston knew that Sonny used heroin. Or that she somehow condoned that type of lifestyle. Maybe she helped him strap his belt around those massive biceps of his so that he could bring a vein to the surface. Or maybe she held the needle for him because his hands were so large he could not possibly have held such a tiny object on his own. Or she could have kept a look-out for the cops while he prepared the syringe. These types of questions and accusations showed a lack of respect for not only my grandmother but also for the Black community as a whole.

There was a time in this country when you could still say and do anything you wanted to Black people and never have to suffer the consequences. ―Although African-Americans have made tremendous social and economic advances during the past several decades, the tradition of Black Americans being viewed as a racial group, rather than a cultural group, continues to adversely affect their psychological well-being.

Until recently, white male populations have dominated studies of substance abuse, with little focus on gender, ethnicity and etiologic variations. These cultural biases and the emphasis on majority American values and lifestyles may contribute to the presence of substance abuse behaviors in the African-American community. –

Excerpt from “Beast The Deconstruction of Charles ‘Sonny’ Liston”


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