There’s a tendency in the days leading up to a big sporting event to politicize, socialize and ethicize the competition, as if the athletes represent something more than themselves or their team. Sure, we take sides. That’s what sports are all about. There’s little to criticize in that. If only it were just that.
To invest ourselves on a greater level emotionally, the most arbitrary of monikers are attached to teams. In this year’s college basketball national championship, it was Wisconsin and the champions of a four-year education against Duke’s one-and-done villains. It was as if the game itself was some sort of referendum on the ethics of college basketball. By the way, Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker just entered the NBA Draft with a year of eligibility left.
Or think back to the Super Bowl, which pitted the cheating Patriots against the straight-and-narrow Seahawks. However, according to some, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll may have left the same post at USC because of sanctions about to be levied on the program by the NCAA. Even in the build up to this year’s NFL Draft, people were openly campaigning for good guy Marcus Mariota to be drafted before the heelish Jameis Winston, as if the former Oregon Duck’s mere presence in the pros would be enough to convince the entire NFL to clean up its act.
Now, as we approach the Saturday’s megafight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, I can’t help but become irritated by the growing hypocrisy amongst non-fight fans looking for a reason to feign interest. The general public thinks that Mayweather, bane of the boxing world, is facing Pacquiao, born-again saint (and karaoke enthusiast). But why not call this what it really is: A very big fight between two very flawed men.
Mayweather’s history of domestic violence is well documented. In 2012, he served two months in jail for beating the mother of his children. His trainers, dad Floyd Sr. and uncle Roger, have also run afoul of the law – the former served time on a drug trafficking charge, while the latter pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery after he allegedly choked a female boxer. The Mayweather who will fight on May 2 remains unrepentant about his past: When asked about his convictions, his reply was as chilling as it was succinct: “Only God can judge me.”
But Mayweather’s behavior doesn’t make Pacquiao the good guy. We want to see Mayweather lose so badly that Pacquiao has somehow become the boxing world’s superhero. But don’t forget that reports of his philandering are plentiful, and those indiscretions nearly ruined his marriage. His promoter Bob Arum referred to a period of time when Pacquiao was a “degenerate gambler” in a New York Times piece. Sure, he found religion. And I’m not here to find criticism in religious doctrine. I believe in second chances too. But let’s not ordain Pacquiao our champion of morality.
If Tiger Woods found religion, would we all of a sudden cast him as the same? No. That’s because he plays a “gentlemanly” sport. Standing beside Mayweather, Pacquiao seems like a much better person. But give him better competition in the arena of morality, and he falls short. He isn’t worthy of representing more than himself, his boxing team and his championship belts. We can love the fight but not the fighters.
I’m not hating on the fight. Only tempering the idea of what it should represent. Pick a side, sure. But only because you’re a fan of that fighter as an athlete – don’t manufacture outside-the-ring personal feelings about either man. If we should be rooting for anything, it’s that the fight lives up to the hype.
Or just hope the two beat the crap out of each other. They deserve it.