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Shane Mosley comes to terms with decades-old tragedy

At 39, boxer Shane Mosley may be the underdog when he takes on Manny Pacquiao on Saturday, but the healing passage of time and the support of his family have allowed him to finally open up about the loss of a beloved nephew 23 years ago.

May 04, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • Coming to terms with the death of a beloved family member has been one of the toughest challenges Shane Mosley has ever faced.
Coming to terms with the death of a beloved family member has been one of the… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Shane Mosley may be nearing the end of his long boxing career as he prepares to fight the dominant Manny Pacquiao on Saturday.

At 39, a fighter isn't likely to win against a younger, faster foe, especially one who is considered the world's greatest pound-for-pound fighter.

Yet Mosley has accomplished what those close to him say is something far more crucial in his development as a human being.

He has come to terms with something that happened 23 years ago, offering perhaps the richest understanding yet of the drive that carried the Pomona fighter to world-title belts in three weight classes.

"You're not promised tomorrow, and if you don't even try your best each day, what a waste that is," Mosley said last week inside his Big Bear Lake training compound, speaking openly for the first time about the burden he's carried all these years. "No matter what you face, you've got to believe you can overcome it until your last day — your last breath."

April 17, 1988, is a date seared in Mosley's memory. He was 16, driving his father's station wagon to pick up his 3-year-old nephew, Diamond Johnson, in Rancho Cucamonga. The two would then head over to see Mosley's best friend.

"Diamond hung with us every day," Mosley's friend, Hassan Abdulrahim, said. "Cute little kid. He'd learn boxing from Shane, and go to the mall with us and help us start conversations with girls. They'd say, 'Oh, look at those cute little green eyes,' and then we'd start talking."

Mosley so enjoyed time with Diamond that he gladly accepted babysitting assignments like the one that day.

It was raining, Mosley recalled, and neither he nor Diamond was buckled into his seat.

"I wasn't thinking," Mosley said. "I just get in the car and go."

He accelerated onto the slick on-ramp when suddenly the station wagon skidded through some gravel on the road.

Mosley didn't know a nail had punctured the car's left rear tire, creating a slow leak. The back tires spun badly and the teenager lost control of the wheel.

"We hit a curb and rolled down the hill, the car flipping all the way down," Mosley said. "As we were flipping, the car roof hit my head several times."

When the car came to a stop, it was upside down. Mosley turned to check on Diamond, but the boy was nowhere to be seen. Or heard.

"I got out dazed, looking under the brush, there was no crying or screaming," Mosley said.

As tears welled in his eyes, Mosley said, "Even now, it's sad. It's very tough, even if you believe it was God's will for whatever reason."

Emergency personnel found Diamond pinned under the vehicle, suffocated.

Mosley remembers a police officer approached, holding the boy's limp, dirt-covered body in his arms.

"The officer looked at me like it was my fault, like, 'Look what you did,'" Mosley said. "I'll never forget those accusing eyes."

Mosley's mother, Clemmie, said her son was summoned to an interview with a San Bernardino County district attorney's juvenile division representative. She said the police report noted that the speed of the vehicle at the time of the accident was estimated at 30 to 40 mph. Because of that, as well as the road conditions and the nail in the tire, her son was not charged with a crime, she said.

"It was not his fault," Diamond's mother, Venus Mosley, said in a telephone interview. "Shane has been a sweetheart throughout. I don't ever want to blame Shane."

Shane Mosley recalls returning home after the accident to what he said was "a house of sadness" and retreated to his bedroom. His parents were consoling Venus, but his father, Jack, got up to comfort the shocked boy.

"You have to remain strong," Jack Mosley said he told his son. "It's unfortunate. Accidents happen. Diamond's dead. And we still have to live."

So Shane Mosley resumed boxing, recalling the "charge that would go down my whole body" when he participated in a national Golden Gloves competition days after the crash and was hit in his sore head. He still won the fights.

Around that time, Clemmie Mosley said Shane's grandfather told her, "He's the one you should be concerned about," referring to Shane. So she made him an appointment with a psychologist. "It was just one visit," she said. "The doctor said Shane'll be fine, that as time passes it won't be as bad."

"You can't say life stops here," Shane Mosley said. "I don't live with guilt. I'm not guilty. But sorrow is hard to live with."

Diamond's death proved a devastating trigger to Venus, however, said their other sibling, sister Cerena Mosley. Venus left her job as a paralegal and moved near her parents.

Shane has said of Venus, "I'm going to take care of her."

Said Cerena: "That's one of the reasons we didn't want to bring this out to the public surface."

Jack Mosley, meanwhile, made sure his son stayed "focused on his career."

"We kept him moving forward and his mind off of [the accident]," Mosley's father said. "I told Shane when it happened, 'Diamond would want you to continue working hard, be a world champion in his name.'"

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