The many failings of Floyd Mayweather to follow the basic rules on how to be a good human being are well documented. He’s a serial woman beater who once evicted his father and pleaded no contest to threatening his children. His odiousness speaks for itself. But his competitor, Manny Pacquiao, is busy (via his handlers) doing his best to paint himself as a good guy, the man who will get revenge for all the wrong Floyd has wrought on the world. Good vs. evil is an easy sell of a narrative, and sportswriters have been quick to buy it as fact. But it’s insultingly shallow, and requires conveniently forgetting that Pacquiao is a shithead too.
Like Mayweather, Pacquiao’s dirty history is a mixture of personal failures amplified by the power that comes with wealth and celebrity. He has spoken out against gay marriage, insisting he has gay relatives but still opposes same-sex marriage because, “It’s the law of God,” was a mostly absent congressman in his home country last year, and didn’t step in when a basketball player in the Philippines was fired for stating the obvious—that the 5-foot-7 Pacquiao’s basketball career was a stunt and a joke. His concerns about the laws of God apparently didn’t conflict with allegedly mauling a fellow politician or cheating on his wife. The Phillippine government says he owes tens of millions in back taxes. And should you try to take comfort in thinking that perhaps Pacquiao at least respects women more than Mayweather does, remember that he fought against legislation in the Philippines that would mandate sex education, subsidize contraception, and expand family-planning offerings. And he is not just some random celebrity with a platform; he’s a politician who actively affects policy. That’s objectively more harmful than the usual powerless bigot-athlete.
Freddie Roach wants you to forget all that. Given his man’s cut of the PPV pot, he’s literally banking on it.
The longtime trainer fed mindlessly scribbling reporters their talking points, and they’ve dutifully repeated them. USA Today is just one example, in a piece under the all-knowing headline. “Pacquiao fueled by Mayweather’s domestic abuse.”
“Manny is really against domestic violence,” Roach said. “It is a big issue maybe in the Philippines for him and being a congressman he can control some of that stuff. That is a big plus for me that Manny does not like the guy, I think the killer instinct is going to come back a lot faster.” ...
“(I see the fight as) good against evil, yes. I have even thought about bringing a couple of the metro cops from Vegas in to tell Manny how many times (Mayweather) has been arrested and how bad of a guy he is, but I decided I can’t go that far. He already doesn’t like him; I think we are OK.
The article doesn’t say what, if anything, Pacquiao has done or might do back in the Philippines to prevent domestic violence. Hell, it doesn’t even quote Pacquiao himself. This is pure, cynical salesmanship from Roach, who worked with post-prison Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist whose victim testified that the boxer laughed about the assault while she cried.
Then there’s Rolling Stone, which portrays Roach utilizing Mayweather’s badness as a training tool:
But with Mayweather, Roach can work Manny’s natural antipathy: He’s a bad guy, he’ll whisper into Pacquiao’s ear sometimes. He’s bad for boxing. You’ll be doing a courtesy to the world if you knock him out.
“He knows he’s a bad person,” Roach says.
At least reporter Michael Weinreb actually asked Pacquiao about his feelings toward Mayweather, though he got an answer oblique to Roach’s straightforward trope-usage. “Usually I don’t comment on his personal life,” Pacquiao tells Weinreb. Perhaps that’s true; it’s also a convenient way of outsourcing the media manipulation while keeping his hands clean.
Even older than leaving the hype to the hype men is the urge to package a fight in biblical terms, good vs. evil, the bad boy vs. the avenging angel, the evil woman-beater versus the defender of all. To see exactly how much stock to put into these roles, recall Mayweather’s 2001 bout with Diego Corrales, who had been charged with assaulting his pregnant wife. Leading up to the fight, Mayweather declared he would beat Corrales for “every battered woman in the world.” Mayweather won and went on to be arrested multiple times on charges that he violently battered the women in his life. Virtue is fungible.
Which leaves us here, three weeks from the biggest fight of the young century. There are plenty of reasons, based purely on what’s likely to happen inside the ring, to avoid the fight. But sports is never just about the act itself. It’s about the the storylines, the unknown, the unexpected, the sides we choose, and what those choices say about us. We do define ourselves by the team or the athlete we back. And in this case, we have no comfortable choices.
Sure this all can be categorized and analyzed until the lesser evil is identified to our satisfaction. What’s worse, beating up women or trying to make it harder for millions of them to get birth control? Do you mind less the absent politician or the abusive father? Which is easier to tolerate, a man who leveraged his fame and fortune for favors across the Philippines or a man who leveraged his fame and fortune for favors across the United States? Athletes are human; they exist on the same ethical continuum as the rest of us, stretching from saints to sinners with a long, murky middle where most reside. It should be enough to sell this fight that Mayweather and Pacquiao are the two best boxers of their generation. But don’t let the appeal to morality confuse you: that’s all they’re good for.
Image via Associated Press