Peter Quillin was shocked when his longtime friend, NFL Hall of Famer Curtis Martin, told him he had to learn to use the n-word.
Martin was in a boxing gym working out when Quillin asked him for advice.
“We’ve been friends for 15 years,” Quillin said of Martin. “This particular day, he said to me, ‘I see something very special in you, but I hope you learn to say one word?’ I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, and I said, ‘What word’s that, Curtis?’ And he looked right at me and said, ‘The n-word.’”
Quillin, a former world champion who meets Alfredo Angulo on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET, FS1) in Bakersfield, California, in a super middleweight bout, had the same thought as just about anyone else. When he heard ‘n-word,’ he immediately thought of the vile racial epithet used to demean African Americans, and he was puzzled by it.
“He said, ‘The n-word you need to know is no,’” Quillin said. “Unfortunately for me, I didn’t really understand what he meant at the time until much later on. But I realized it’s important for athletes to learn to say no.”
Quillin, like many star athletes, made millions of dollars after growing up without any money. Learning to handle that kind of money is a dicey issue for so many athletes and there have been numerous documentaries made on the topic.
Quillin’s good nature worked against him. When he began made six-figure paydays, he suddenly learned a hard lesson: Family members learn about those big checks and suddenly saw him as something of a walking ATM.
He estimates he’s lost close to $500,000 by either loaning money to family members that hasn’t been repaid or being on the hook to repair damage to rental properties he owned that he rented to them.
He’s been asked to pay child support for relatives, buy them cars, invest in businesses and all manner of other schemes.
When a beloved uncle died, Quillin paid for the funeral, which he doesn’t regret and which he says was the right thing. But he said later, his cousin came to visit him and then tried to steal his iPad.
A cousin had gotten into trouble and called Quillin seeking help to be released from jail.
“He said, ‘I need you to help me because I got into something and it’s all a big misunderstanding,’” Quillin said. “He needed money for a lawyer, and I was going to put up one of my houses for his bond.”
This is one of the times Quillin got lucky. He told a friend what he planned to do to help his cousin, and his friend quickly urged him not to do it.
Because it was family, Quillin hadn’t considered what would have happened had his cousin not shown up for court as required after being released on bail.
“I told my cousin, ‘I’ll be there for you, cuz, but I can’t put up one of my houses,’” Quillin said. “It turns out he did do wrong. He threatened someone with a gun. He didn’t shoot anyone; he actually ended up shooting himself. But I realized what could have happened to me had I put my house up for the bond.”
Quillin’s personal life has often gotten in the way of his career, and though he’s an ex-middleweight champion with a 34-1-1 record and 23 knockouts, there’s a sense that he could have done more, could have gone further.
He wants to make a run at the super middleweight title and is doing so as a wiser, more cautious man. He’s found God, he said, and said he proselytizes to those who reach out to him.
He’s clearly been scarred by his negative experiences, but is still investing in real estate to use as income when his career ends.
“My story, my testimony of what God has done for my life is something I try to use to help others get to where they want to be at,” Quillin said. “I’ve been through a lot of things in my career, whether it was battling with depression or battling thoughts of suicide. It’s tough knowing I made money through my own hard work and my talents and being the only one in my family who made money and then I have family members who think I owe them.
“So many things happened in my career, I can bring light to others and this is why God put me on this platform. I have been through a lot and I have come out the other side, whole and stronger and a better man.”
He sighs as he thinks about what he’s just said. He’s been through far more than the average person and yet he’s still competing at a high level at 36.
He’s come to understand he can’t solve the world’s problems and he’s learned to say no.
“People come to me with what I call these ‘couch ideas,’ that they come up with sitting on the couch and not by doing hard work, and they want me to give them money for this,” he said. “I realize the best thing I can do for them is to tell them about God, because God can change their lives. They think my money can change their lives, but I tell ’em, ‘Money ain’t gonna change your life. Only God can do that.’
“In some cases, it works and in some cases it doesn’t. I have a wife and three kids and the thing I have come to know, my most important thing is protecting them, providing for their needs not only today, but in the future. Going the way I was before, that caused me a lot of stress and anxiety and just a lot of problems. Now, I know what’s important and I feel that’s made me a better man, a better husband and a better father, but also it will make me a better boxer because I don’t have all that stuff nagging at me any more.”
More from Yahoo Sports: