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Damien Hooper Interview: Faces Choice Betw...

Glax0r's Photo Glax0r 29 Oct 2014

Aboriginal boxer faces choice between world crown or jail time

Australian Broadcasting Corporation: 28/10/2014

Reporter: Conor Duffy

Indigenous boxer Damien Hooper has been given a choice between becoming world champion or going to jail after the Olympic boxing contestant was paroled for assaulting a police officer in what could be a last chance to fulfil his promise and be a role model for his community.

LEAH SALES, PRESENTER: Indigenous boxer Damien Hooper from Queensland has been told he has a choice - stick on the straight and narrow and you could be a world champion, slip up and head for a long stint in jail.

It's a cliché but the prodigiously talented boxer is at a true fork in the road.

He's so talented that he's already competed in the Olympics.

But last month he was sentenced to 18 months in jail for the serious assault of a police officer.

He was then immediately paroled, giving him a rare chance to come good again.

It's likely his last one though, as Conor Duffy reports.

BOXING ANNOUNCER: Eight fights, eight wins, seven by way of knockout, Damien super Hooper!

DAMIEN HOOPER, BOXER: He like went back and I started smashing him again.

CONOR DUFFY, REPORTER: In Toowoomba in Queensland's south Damien Hooper is reliving his latest victory.

His uncle and beloved Nan have gathered to watch his knockout win on the Gold Coast.

(Speaking to Damien's Nan) How proud are you of him?

DAMIEN'S NAN: Ah look, my heart bursts with pride. Yep, really. I love him so much.

CONOR DUFFY: Damien Hooper's mum wasn't around when he was growing up. His Nan is the only parent he's ever known and her flat is still crammed with the boxing medals he's been handing her since he was 11.

DAMIEN HOOPER: My Nan is just my parent and my main person in my life.

CONOR DUFFY: And you mentioned your father was in jail, is that right?

DAMIEN HOOPER: Yeah my father, I heard he was in jail since I was, to the day I was born for ten years.

CONOR DUFFY: His Nan had her hands full raising him and ten cousins and siblings.

Much of his early years were spent in skate parks, where he was introduced to drugs and alcohol and was in and out of juvenile detention.

(Speaking to Damien) And so that was smoking pot and drinking alcohol at eight?

DAMIEN HOOPER: Yeah like at a young age, like eight to ten, that's the age I started testing it out.

CONOR DUFFY: So young.

DAMIEN HOOPER: So young you know and not even developed.

CONOR DUFFY: Damien Hooper discovered boxing at his local PCYC.

GARETH WILLIAMS, COACH: Damien's potentially the best I've ever seen. If you look at some of the fights in his amateur days, when he was having 40 fights a year, and the people he was beating when he was sick and he was sore.

CONOR DUFFY: Boxing became his salvation and his coach Gareth Williams took him in when he was 16.

GARETH WILLIAMS: He got in trouble with the law. He just did stuff that a lot of people know is wrong, when he didn't think they were wrong. Like I said to him before, what'd you do for lunch at school, he said oh I just stole a pie and a coke from the local shop.

CONOR DUFFY: The partnership soon took Damien Hooper from delinquent to champion and a Youth Olympic title.

SPORTS ANNOUNCER: And a gold medallist here at the Young Olympic Games.

DAMIEN HOOPER: I got gold, nothing matters, I'm on top of the world.

SPORTS ANNOUNCER 2: The 20-year-old wore a t-shirt featuring an Aboriginal flag into the ring.

CONOR DUFFY: At the London 2012 Olympics he failed to win a medal, but made headlines for wearing an aboriginal t-shirt instead of team colours, leading to a reprimand.

SPORTS ANNOUNCER 2: Officials have cancelled the boxer.

DAMIEN COOPER: I am very proud of what I did. You know I have white skin, my dad's white, my mum's black, but I was raised by an old elder Aboriginal lady and she taught me the importance of respect and culture.

CONOR DUFFY: After the high of the Olympics though Damien's inner battles returned.

His brother Troy died in an industrial accident and he turned back to the bottle.

DAMIEN COOPER: When that happened I lost my self. I didn't care about life. I abused alcohol, I just gave up on a lot of things and boxing, you know, I didn't know what I was going to do with my boxing as well you know.

CONOR DUFFY: He soon landed back in court pleading guilty to assaulting a taxi driver.

A respected indigenous elder, Darby McCarthy, who sat in on his sentencing gave him a good talking to.

DARBY MCCARTHY, FORMER JOCKEY: And I did say to him Damien, you want to walk straight to be a role model for this community anyway, I speak for this community and I say to you walk straight, if you want to be a role model, and I believe he has.

CONOR DUFFY: But Damien struggled to stay on the straight and narrow.

In August Damien Hooper faced another charge of assault, this time for spitting on a police officer 18 months previously.

(Speaking to Damien) You were sentenced to 18 months jail but got paroled immediately.


CONOR DUFFY: Your offence involved spitting on an officer and telling him you hoped he got a disease.


CONOR DUFFY: The officer spoke about the anguish this had caused. How much do you regret that incident?

DAMIEN COOPER: Yeah I have a lot of regret and a lot of sorrow and I'd like to apologise to that man and I did send him a letter of apology to him, I hope he received that

(Damien Cooper in a classroom with students)

TEACHER: What we're going to do is try and untangle each other as a team.

DAMIEN COOPER: We can do this guys, maybe you go under, yeah, you go under.

CONOR DUFFY: Damien Hooper was spared jail because of his rehabilitation. Crucially his work in schools across Queensland promoting healthy eating and leadership.

DAMIEN COOPER: My role model is my grandmother; I've got her tattooed on my neck here.

CONOR DUFFY: You came really within inches of getting a fairly lengthy jail sentence.


CONOR DUFFY: How do you ensure from here on that your story does end up being in the ring and not inside?

DAMIEN COOPER: Yep, I accepted the fact that I was probably going to go to prison and I was very sorry for what I've done, I was very regretful. But you know someone, the judge has seen the good I can do. I want to be the person that the kids can look up to and say, he's been through rock bottom, he's been through hell.

BOXING ANNOUNCER: And he gets rock up high as Damien Hooper changes levels. This has been a master class from the former Olympian.

CONOR DUFFY: Damien Hooper just won his ninth professional fight by knockout.

He's now managed by former world champion Ricky Hatton. His next fight will be in November, after that a move to the states is on the cards to campaign for a world title.

DARBY MCCARTHY: Leave the past and let's see you produce brother, we want to see you produce and be good at what you're doing, which you are.

CONOR DUFFY: How far do you think he could go?

GARETH WILLIAMS: As far as he wants.

CONOR DUFFY: World champion?

GARETH WILLIAMS: World champion. Everything goes to plan, he will be the world champion.

DAMIEN HOOPER: I really want to be a world champion, just for the people and myself, and my brother who's up in heaven watching me now.

LEIGH SALES: I hope I do get to read you that world champion story one day and not the alternative.

Conor Duffy reporting.