This happens every time. Two athletes agree to duke it out in front of people for millions of dollars and the dilemma ensues: Who is the good guy? Who is the bad guy? Who will I root for? It is a debate as woven into sports as “Who’s your team?” and was easier to navigate back when sportswriters followed the unwritten rule of just writing about what players did on the field while ignoring the racism, the wife beating, and the fact that some people were just horrible to everyone around them. Those rules are gone, thank goodness, but everyone wants to pick a side—the right side—anyway.
And so even though Floyd Mayweather Jr. sucks, and even though he has signed up to spar against horrible people for the two most recent fights of his anyone cares about—Manny Pacquiao, then Conor McGregor—the urge remains. One of them has to be good, right? Or at least less bad? Someone has to be worth rooting for?
No. Not even close. In this case, like before, they both suck.
The many failures of Mayweather—and the ways reporters, boxing promoters, and TV networks spent years papering over them—have been well documented here at Deadspin. He’s gone to prison for beating women, which he gets away with denying mainly because photos have never been published. (This is only because Las Vegas authorities, who benefit from his fights, have made them nearly impossible to get). He can’t pay his taxes on time and doesn’t even have enough cash on hand to pay them all now, even as the press falls all over itself to play up his rich-guy branding. He even had his own racist rant back in 2010 when he went on an extended Ustream roll in which he called Pacquiao a “little yellow chump” and a “faggot,” saying he would “make that motherfucker make me a sushi roll and cook me some rice.”
He later apologized, telling the Grand Rapids Press he “didn’t really mean it.”
“Some of my guys are Muslim, some of my guys are Jews. Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, whites ... it doesn’t matter. I got nothing but love in my heart. All I want to say is, if anybody was affected from what I said the other day, I apologize as a man. I was just having fun. I didn’t really mean it.”
So—leaving aside that this isn’t actually a competitive fight—you should root for McGregor, right? No. The same way people rushed to forget that Pacquiao (an elected politician) actively worked to make life more dangerous for women in his home country and is openly homophobic because they needed a “good guy” to take down Mayweather, there’s been too little discussion of the way McGregor has made racist comments as much a part of his persona as the Irish flag—and turned to using them right around the same time his fighting career took off.
At a press conference about fighting José Aldo back in 2015, McGregor said, “If this were a different time I would invade his favela and kill anyone that was not fit to work. But we are in a new time, so I will whoop his ass in July.” A collection dubbed “All of the Conor McGregor insults to Jose Aldo” on YouTube shows this, as well as him laughing at calling Aldo a pussy.
The next year, he said opponent Nate Diaz was “like a cholo gangster from the ‘hood ... He makes gun signs with the right hand and animal balloons with the left hand.” The full clip is below.
Then came Tuesday’s press conference, which was the start of 24 hours of McGregor seeming to say as much racist stuff as he could. At the press conference, he told Mayweather: “Dance for me boy! Dance for me son!”
After that press conference, in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel’s Guillermo, McGregor called Rocky III the movie with the “dancing monkeys in the gym.”
Finally, McGregor doubled down on his use of “dance for me boy,” saying it again yesterday at another event, then throwing in that Mayweather had “50 stripper bitches on his payroll,” and asserting that Blac Chyna was also a stripper bitch as well as part of an insult directed at Rob Kardashian.
Somehow, just as with Mayweather’s past, and just as with Pacquiao’s past, the majority of the fighting press, perpetually beholden to the UFC for access and interviews, acts like this is normal. Meanwhile, there’s no reason to think McGregor won’t keep saying “Dance for me boy!” at every single stop on this godforsaken press tour. Mayweather, in turn, has responded to questions about McGregor’s racist comments incredibly well, with a calmness and poise.
So who do you root for? The misogynist who can’t pay his taxes on time or the guy who is openly racist and laughs about it? You don’t have to root for either of them; for that matter you can root for either of them, knowing that they’re both assholes and realizing that sometimes assholes are really good at sports. For too long, sports sold itself as a reprieve from the outside world; there would be no misogyny, no racism, no class struggles here. But it doesn’t work that way. Real people, same as you and I, are athletes and, like the real world, that means that some of them are misogynists and racists. The rest—the hype, the false narratives, the assignations of good versus evil—that’s all just marketing.