When is it okay to beat your wife? Ask Floyd Mayweather

On December 21, Floyd Mayweather Junior was sentenced to 90 days in gaol for domestic violence; the boxing world is worried that his projected big money fight with Manny Pacquiao will fall through. Where have we heard this before?

Floyd Mayweather

Brief reports of Mayweather’s conviction and sentencing have already been published here and here. Or if you want to see the actual sentencing including the judge explaining her reasons for her leniency, there are various edits on YouTube. Okay, Mayweather and his victim were not legally man and wife, but were as good as.

Though it should be conceded that this was not the crime of the century, it is also clear that this was a crime for which there is no real mitigation, certainly not for a world boxing champion. Also, Mayweather has a track record. In March 2002, he received a slap on the wrist after agreeing to a plea bargain when he was charged with two counts of domestic violence and an unrelated battery.

Three years later he faced two separate court cases: the first which resulted in him being fined for assault and battery in a bar fight; the second which resulted in an acquittal after Josie Harris – the victim of his latest outburst – accused him of kicking her in an argument outside a night club.

It could be argued that Mayweather is accident prone, but as any of the truly great champions of the past will testify – the likes of Larry Holmes, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard – the secret is not to get into these situations in the first place. Why does a world champion boxer have to get in a bar fight? What does he have to prove if someone squares up to him?

There is though an arguably more disturbing aspect to this case than that of a professional fighter who doesn’t realise his aggression should be left in the ring and not directed at anyone outside of it – women or men. This is the attitude that somehow celebrity, fame or talent excuses this sort of thing. An extreme case of this can be found in Whoopi Goldberg’s ludicrous defence of Roman Polanski, a man who admitted plying a 13 year old girl with drugs and having sex with her, which whether or not she consented amounts to rape. According to Goldberg, what Polanski did was not “rape rape”, whatever that is supposed to mean.

In Britain, the former professional football player Paul Gascoigne admitted beating his wife, and received nothing but sympathy. A soccer player who had even more charisma than Gascoigne (and an even bigger drink problem) was George Best. Best could literally do nothing wrong in the eyes of the tabloids in spite of a track record of violence against women. In 1984, he was convicted of assaulting a police officer – among other things. On his release, a tabloid newspaper published a serialisation of the non-story of the time he spent at Ford Open Prison.

The case though or rather the individual who most resembles Floyd Mayweather is Mike Tyson. Admittedly, Mayweather is not in Tyson’s league – yet – and hopefully he has not only run his course as a spousal abuser but will never resort to sexual abuse, but it is the response of the boxing world and to some extent the media that should give most cause for concern, in both cases.

In February 1988, at the height of his powers, Tyson married Robin Givens, a trophy wife with brains, charisma and a career to match her good looks. He beat her, and she filed for divorce. In July 1991, he lured an 18 year old Desiree Washington to his hotel room, and raped her.

Granted bail – where many men wouldn’t have been - he was convicted and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment with 4 on probation.

At the time of the rape, a big money fight with Evander Holyfield had been in the air. Holyfield would subsequently whip Tyson twice, and Lennox Lewis finished off what was left of him before hanging him out to dry. Although by this time, Tyson was no longer unbeaten, the anticipated fight with Holyfield would still have been one of the biggest fights in history, like the still anticipated Mayweather-Pacquiao clash. Take away the boxing talent and the celebrity from Tyson, and what was there after his 1992 conviction? A foul-mouthed trash talking violent punk who didn’t know how to treat women, but that wasn’t what the boxing world and the media saw. With a handful of dissenting voices, no one cared what Tyson had done, no one cared about the victim, all the talk was of when he is released and can he recapture his crown and former glory? Some even made crude jokes about Desiree Washington, suggesting either that she hadn’t been raped, or that she deserved it.

Will Mayweather-Pacquiao still happen? Probably, fights of this nature – big boxing, big money and a huge public draw – almost inevitably do. We can only hope though that Pacquiao gives him the whipping he deserves, and that whatever the outcome, Mayweather will be seen in his true colours by both the boxing world and the wider public. No sportsman or celebrity deserves our adulation for this sort of performance.

[The above op-ed was first published December 25. 2011.]

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