By Josh Dobbin
You’ve got a series of images in your head, and a series of emotions activated, just seeing the name. You don’t even have to follow football much to have them.
Again, as a near Pavlovian response, you’ve got a cloud of words and thoughts that jumped to the fore. It is a kind of perverse incentive to anger: with very little effort, it makes you a better person for the simple mental act of disliking these people, and for wishing them ruin and banishment from the public sphere. They are, by dint of their actions, clear-cut bad guys, performing uncontestably bad actions. People who, in strange acts of transactional magic, as we read or hear about them, define us as de facto good guys by our opposition and reaction to them. We can play this game with a variety of names, across a variety of spheres of entertainment or news: Michael Vick, George Zimmerman, Bill Cosby. Jian Ghomeshi. Roman Polanski.
It’s OK to dislike and disown them. To shun them; they’re terrible people who have allegedly done terrible things.
But there’s another name I can throw at you, and at the internet in general, which would fail to trigger this same kind of Emperor-Palpatine-from-Jedi-The-hate-is-swelling-in-you-now.-Take-your-Jedi weapon. Use it.-I-am-unarmed.-Strike me-down-with-it.-Give-in-to-your-anger response. And it is rather curious that it does not.
OK, here goes:
Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
See? If you are being honest, all that registered was a sad kind of pop and a fizzle to the Rage-O-Meter. And, if you’re a boxing fan like me, more than likely a stubborn and selfish desire for a long denied super-fight with Manny Pacquiao, the likes of which has not been seen since the days of Hagler and Leonard, or Ali and Frazier.
See, I love boxing. I have always loved boxing. As a little kid, Muhammad Ali was as close to a real life superhero as one could get. (He even fought Superman to a standstill. )
I grew up in the 1980s, and followed Alexis Arguello, Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran. When Livingstone Bramble, a villain straight from the movies (he was rumored to practice dark witchcraft, and trained with a loose python around him) destroyed Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, I went into my room and cried.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. is arguably one of the greatest technical boxers to ever enter the ring. His virtuosity and focus elevate the sport to an artform. This is just fact. Also just fact: he’s an abusive, misogynist, violent, angry, bitter, crass, terrible person who has beaten women for decades, called his rivals “faggot” and, to add insult to injury, came out IN DEFENSE OF RAY RICE when video surfaced of him knocking his then-fiance out in an elevator, and coldly dragging and dumping her limp body around like it was a sack of garbage.
And still in all, there’s little to no actual outrage about it. That’s just Floyd. If it comes up at all, it is labeled quickly and awkwardly as “controversy,” before discussing the juicy possibility of a Pacquiao showdown. People dislike him, but in the same manner that one may dislike a professional wrestling “heel” character; it just adds to the draw of his appeal in the ring.
Bill Cosby is alleged to have drugged and raped 13 women. No matter how you feel about the allegations, it is still now hard to watch clips from the COSBY SHOW without that being at the front of your mind, and being uncomfortable. His brilliant stand up performance, HIMSELF, which launched the second and most lucrative act of his career, is now a joyless curiosity, in light of what we know about the allegations against him.
Michael Vick, despite his comeback and whatever numbers and statistics he posts, will always be “the guy who killed those dogs.” The opening scenes of the NAKED GUN movies are exquisitely strange, watching OJ Simpson bumble his way through a series of cartoon misadventures and slapstick gags. These are now permanent “asterixis” next to all of their accomplishments. It may still be a funny movie, but you squirm knowing at all moments: “Hey, that’s a murderer.” This is now their legacy. And (if the allegations against Cosby are true), rightly so.
So why is Floyd Mayweather, who plead guilty to a series of accounts of battery in order to avoid a raft of charges that could have gotten him over 30 years in prison , not saddled with the asterix of “(common law) wife beater?” Why does he still command tens of millions of dollars in prize purses and get cheered in front of a crowd of thousands at the 2014 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, where a fawning presenter asks him to autograph his forehead, vowing to “never wash this forehead again?”
You may think that Mayweather is not within your sphere of awareness, so the history and allegations simply do not register. “Ah, but I don’t follow boxing. I don’t even like the idea of boxing.”
But you don’t need to be a boxing fan like I am or even vaguely aware of the world of boxing to have a reaction. The charges and convictions are out there, and have been reported. Football to me is endless hours of boredom and jargon and holds only the remembered emotion of being excluded by boring and vaguely racist uncles during Thanksgivings past. It is the reason why, in my childhood, 60 MINUTES was so often delayed. I know the rudiments of the rules by way of Madden on the Sega Genesis, that I learned to play in college to be social. I’m no football fan, and yet I’ve got the same hard-wired button in my skull that that you doubtless have, at the mention of Adrian Peterson, the pressing of which delivers a mainlining of sweet and pure indignation, anger and disgust, right into the lizard brain. Thinking of a beating one’s son so severely as to lacerate his testicles? Then pass it off as an act of old-fashioned discipline that crafts character? It is a bright, glowing, singing fury in my gut.
I want him gone and out of whatever career he may have had. I want his contract severed, I don’t want anyone to pay money to see him play a game ever again.
But I’ve got a confession to make: If you were to put a shotgun to that selfsame gut and tell me I had two minutes to answer what team he played for, and in what position, I would simply ask you to pull the trigger and save us both the tense one hundred and twenty seconds and be done with it. It doesn’t make my visceral reaction to Peterson any less honest, though. Or does it?
Floyd Mayweather, Jr is the single highest paid athlete in all of professional sports. His serial abuse of women and mental torture of his own children is a matter of public record. It somehow fails to garner that same rushing sense of condemnation, to the point of wishing his career would end and he wallow in ignominy, never to be seen by pleasant society again. If you told me tomorrow there was a date certain for the Pacquiao/Mayweather Super Fight, in my heart, a part of me I’m not particularly proud of just wants to see that fight.
In my head, I know I shouldn’t, and maybe —just maybe— in the crucible of personal stances taken, I’d end up following my head and my enumerated morals, and not purchasing or viewing the fight. I’d like to think that. But oh, how I’d struggle and agonize over that decision, and how I WOULD WANT TO SEE IT.
Let’s revisit what we know about Mayweather, Jr.’s documented abuse allegations. These are not new, on record they go back over a decade.
In 2001 Floyd slammed the head of Melissa Brim, the mother of his daughter, into a car door and punched her repeatedly. Later that year, at a mall with Brim and his daughter and after another argument, he had some of his entourage take the child away in order for him to punch Brim in the neck, then flee before police could be called.
In 2003, in a casino nightclub, Floyd encountered two women he disliked (they were friends of Josie Harris, the mother of three of Floyd’s other children, and Mayweather did not approve of them) and attacked them, punching both, one in the head and one in the jaw. When security came to break it up, Mayweather grabbed a female security guard and violently shook her. Mayweather was found guilty of two counts of battery. He was given a slap on the wrist with a suspended sentence and counseling. He had the verdict vacated with charges dismissed per negotiations. Which is legalese for “paid to go away.”
Four months later, in an argument with Josie Harris, the mother of three of his children, Floyd Mayweather beat her and lacerated her face as she was dragged from his car. Floyd was arrested as she pressed charges, but Harris would eventually recant all of her statements, resulting in his acquittal. She would also receive a diamond ring valued at a half a million dollars from Mayweather. These two events seem related.
That is not the end of it. If you will pardon the pun, the hits keep coming.
In perhaps the most publicized and the most viscerally horrible of his many violent outbursts against the women in his life, in September 2010, Floyd confronted Harris, who he was no longer seeing (he had a live-in girlfriend at the time), furious that she had been connected romantically with an NBA player. She was living in a separate home owned and paid for by Mayweather, along with their children. Harris called the police, who arrived before any battery took place, and asked that they make sure Mayweather leave the premises. He agreed.
But he returned at 5:00 in the morning, with a member of his entourage, being let in by one of the kids. He woke up Josie Harris by screaming at her that he had seen the texts to and from C.J. Watson, then of the Chicago Bulls. When she admitted to being with him, Mayweather savaged her, beating her about the head, pulling her around the room by the hair and twisting her arm. All this in front of their three terrified children. Floyd “Money” Mayweather (he is often photographed with large piles of cash) told his children he would “beat their asses if they left the house or called the police,” then returned to abusing their mother. His son, Kouraun, managed to get out and alert authorities. His written statement is heartbreaking and harrowing. He was told by his raging and rampaging father to go to his room and stay there while his mother was being beaten. He did, for a minute, before he found his courage and went for help.
This is the man Floyd Mayweather is. This is not a man for whom you should forego washing your forehead in attempts to preserve his Sharpee’d autograph. This is a man whose unrepentant, serial assaults and abuses, over a decade, to his children’s mothers are as well documented as they are (relatively) unpunished. Charges stemming from this last incident carried with them the possibility of over 30 years in jail. Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr. accepted a plea deal of guilt to misdemeanor domestic assault and harassment, which carried a sentence of 90 days. He served two months, getting out early for good behavior.
So why do we give him a pass? It is an easier question to ask why he isn’t in prison. The answer is his nickname. Money is the root of all of it; money paid in settlements, money paid to keep victims in gilded cages of dependence, and not the least of which, the millions upon millions that Floyd’s uncontested skill and poise in the ring bring into Las Vegas. Why he remains unpunished by the legal system is a naive question to pose. He’s rich and he makes everyone in Vegas rich. The thornier question is: Why don’t we want to hold him accountable, why don’t we want to shame him, as we want to hold Peterson, Rice, or whomever else from a relatively long list accountable, and worthy of shame?
I think the answer is ugly. We don’t want to because it means we lose out on something we like. It is not easy to hold him accountable, because boxing is not a team sport with jerseys and replaceable faces, and he’s the best in the world and we want to see him fight people. Acknowledging how terrible he is would mean that we wouldn’t get a super-fight.
But why is, then, so easy to grab pitchforks and torches elsewhere?
Proposition: In exchange for our anger and hate, for easier targets, we get to be good guys. it is the most primal of marketing appeals: Eat cake, lose weight!
And we don’t need to wonder about our consistency, because the lines are so clear. This is the FOX NEWS business model in short, as it relates to politics: Your anger makes you blameless. But, much to my chagrin, I see that I am not immune to the appeal of it, when it is applied in other areas.
Easy outrage, as a commodity, is what is mainly bought and sold in commercial journalism. Not just any outrage, but easy outrage.
Internet journalism most specifically, but for-profit journalism as a whole. This is far from new. We call it “clickbait” today, but it is not a newly minted coin of the era of 4G wifi and self-selected, instant data streams and twitter feeds. Back in the 1890s it was called “Yellow Kid Journalism” and it described cheap and tawdry, scare-headline driven stories, often overblown or misleading narratives, hyperbolic crime coverage, and a heavy reliance on sensational images and drawings. “Yellow Kid” referred to the popular cartoon strip of that name, which was a merchandising juggernaut of its day, and drove sales for the two papers that carried it: Pulitzer’s World and Hearst’s Journal American. It got shortened to “Yellow Journalism” as a general pejorative to describe the idea of sensation over substance and the easy stirring of dark passions as a sales tool.
But really, the product being sold in all instances is convenient outrage. That’s what we’re buying. And make no mistake- it is in good and steady supply; there is much to be honestly and truly outraged about, and many causes for righteous indignation. They surround and overwhelm us. The supply of outrage is bountiful.
But what are we really buying, when we consume outrage as end unto itself? Often, it a momentary rush of self satisfaction and bright lines of moral certitude. We are purchasing a place to stand: THIS guy is a sonfabitch, and anybody who says otherwise is even worse, as they are enabling the sonofabich, and I am in no way, fashion or form a sonofabitch, because I’m AGAINST that sonofabitch. Stupid sonsabitches.
I’m not saying that it is not fit and proper to be outraged at the idea, if true, of a wealthy and powerful Bill Cosby, plying would-be career climbers or hopeful proteges with knock-out pills to violate and rape them, then paying them off for their silence and acting as a moral scold and bastion of rock-ribbed values and decency in front of the cameras. Or to be honestly sickened at the reality of Michael Vick, murdering dogs by hand for the crime of not being vicious enough. Or to truly and empathetically die inside considering the scars of Peterson’s son, and the mental and spiritual ones that will outlast the beatings. What I’m suggesting is that maybe it is easy to be outraged at a 77 year old Bill Cosby who is no longer a relevant part of our day or life; many millennials know him only as a bit of trivia from Nick At Nite in any case. We were done with Bill Cosby. The next big story out of him, if this had never happened, would be his funeral and the week of memorial it would engender. It may be easy to throw out any random football player, because the larger game continues on, with or without him. And hey! It makes sports talk-radio more compelling for the week, doesn’t it? A good scandal to get the juices flowing.
Meaningful, lasting outrage with Floyd comes at more dear a price. It isn’t easy to throw away Floyd Mayweather Jr, because, damaged and terrible as he is, he has a value to selfish people: He carries with him boxing’s last Holy Grail for the foreseeable future: the shot at a once-in-a-generation event fight, of two living legends in their sport meeting and determining who is the best in the world. And to revitalize the sport itself, with a crossover event that gets even non-fans excited enough to pay to see it. There’s been a lot of rumbling in the boxing circles that it is really going to happen this time. The two camps have had playful Instagram sniping wars (here and here) and social media beefs to stoke the fires, and Mayweather’s uncle has signaled that Pacquiao is formidable and deserves respect after his recent decisive win against Chris Algieri.
With a shunned or disgraced Mayweather, we don’t get the big party and event.
And we want the big party.
Australian comedian Jim Jeffries has a routine on gun control where he breaks down the essential underlying argument at play, dispensing with the dubious sophistry of appeals to protection and security:
I am all for your second amendment rights. I think you should be able to have guns, it’s in your Constitution. What I’m not for is bullshit arguments and lies. There is one argument and one argument alone for having a gun. And this is the argument:
Fuck off! I like guns!
It’s not the best argument, but it’s all you’ve got.
The real reason why Floyd Mayweather Jr. gets to keep on handing out Nickelodeon awards, signing foreheads in front of cheering crowds, while we can safely dispense ourselves of Rice or Peterson (or whomever else) is because of the same principle. Fuck off! I like super-fights!
The end result that would benefit me the most is the coward’s way out: If Floyd never makes that fight with Manny Pacquiao. It would tarnish his legacy, in the long run, and he’d be remembered as a technical virtuoso who ducked the one big fight that could have truly defined him as a legendary great. He’d go down as a coward, and it would place him in the spot of someone whose true worth was never tested; it would place him in the spot of someone who, in the final measure, was unsure of himself and how he’d perform.
More damningly and comfortingly, though, it would absolve me of the moral dilemma on whether or not I would end up watching it, and tacitly supporting his continued career, out of a selfish sense of desire to see high stakes, legendary fighting. Which would place me in largely the same spot, I suppose.
Josh Dobbin is a human, being.
He currently travels ninety miles per second around the sun, one hundred and thirty six miles per second around the galaxy, and one hundred and eighty five miles per second within the local cluster of known galaxies.
He accomplishes these spectacular feats all while standing still. You can buy his book, Of Love and Snackcakes, here.