Floyd Mayweather and the Demonization of Black Athletes
A Questionable Victory?
by Theresa Runstedtler and David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan
The ongoing efforts to control, manage, and demonize black athletes, especially black boxers, once again came to a head a few weeks ago when Floyd Mayweather, Jr. beat Victor Ortiz with a “controversial” knockout punch to win the world welterweight title.
The fight promised to be a battle of two diametrical opposites. The self-assured 34-year-old black tactician with a defensive strategy was set to take on an earnest, up-and-coming 24-year-old Latino with an iron chin and aggressive style. Mayweather’s scenes in the pre-fight HBO production of 24/7 – talking into a stack of money as if it were a phone, buying a new luxury car on a whim, and fighting with his father in front of a crowd of fans – were wildly colorful, sometimes surreal, sometimes stomach-turning, and entirely bombastic. But all the while, Mayweather kept training; he kept honing his craft and conditioning his body, even pulling his entourage out of bed (and out of the club) for 2:00 am workout sessions.
In the meantime, 24/7 fashioned Ortiz into a paragon of ascetic virtue. His scenes revolved around a triumphant and righteous tale of social uplift – the quintessential good immigrant story. He came from nothing. His parents abandoned him and he still managed to pull himself up by his own bootstraps to become a successful, but humble fighter. Unlike Mayweather with his large entourage and celebrity friends, Ortiz mostly kept to himself with his truck-driving trainer and loyal brother.
The first few rounds were tight with Mayweather grabbing the early lead. In the fourth round, in what was probably Ortiz’s most effective moments in the fight, the wheels came off his attempt to defeat Mayweather. Launching at Mayweather, Ortiz landed a vicious head butt, leading Referee Joe Cortez to step in to penalize Ortiz. After several apologies from Ortiz, a few hugs, a kiss or two, and the tapping of the gloves, the fight resumed; although it appears that Ortiz didn’t get the memo leaving him vulnerable to a classic Mayweather combo that ended as many have before: with his opponent on the ground. Replays clearly illustrate that Ortiz was not paying attention and not following the creed “to protect oneself at all time,” ending the fight in what was both one of the more climatic and anti-climatic moments in boxing history.
Before the fighters even exited the ring, commentators had already denied Mayweather the victory. Described as a “questionable” win, a “marginally legal” knockout, and as one that resulted from a “cheap shot” and a “sucker punch” the victory was not simply hallow but purportedly a window into Mayweather’s dubious character. “Like the Tyson ear biting incident of yesteryear, Floyd Mayweather proved to be dirty fighter this evening who hit a man when the action had not officially commenced by the referee,” noted Jet Fan on The Bleacher Report. “To a chorus of boos, Mayweather then imploded in a post-fight interview with HBO’s Larry Merchant as he questioned Merchant’s boxing resume and then proceeded to terminate the dialogue in a profanity laced tirade. To Merchant’s credit, he stood toe-to-toe with an obvious bully who seems to relish in antagonizing men twice his age, including his own father!” A commentary on The Statesmen encapsulates the demonization directed at Mayweather that used the fight to lament Floyd’s character, pathologies and otherwise undesirable traits:
Congratulations, Floyd Mayweather. You are now the most despised athlete on the planet, non-O.J. division. Mayweather is sullying his legacy as one of the greatest fighters of our generation. His latest classless missteps came last Saturday night with a one-two punch. First, he cold-cocked Victor Ortiz in the closing seconds of the fourth round of their welterweight championship fight while Ortiz was apologizing for an intentional head butt. Yes, what Ortiz did was idiotic — first the head butt and then letting his guard down while referee Joe Cortez had his back turned toward the fighters. But what Mayweather did — perfectly legit under strict interpretation of the rules — was a punk move. But he was just getting started. Mayweather then went after HBO analyst Larry Merchant in a post-fight interview, spewing profanities before Merchant grew tired of it and yelled, “I wish I was 50 years younger and I would kick your (butt).
Apparent from the media response was both a lack of respect and a dismissal of the specifics of what happened in the ring. Rather than simply comment on the fight, the media reasserted “common sense” understandings of black athletes, reiterating the narrative of Mayweather as an immature, greedy, and petulant child who represents everything that is wrong with modern professional sports culture. The media response in this regard reflects the longstanding project of constructing black athletes as “bad boys,” which in the end “works to reinforce efforts to tame their ‘out of control’ nature” (Ferber 2007, p. 20).
Continue reading at NewBlackMan: Floyd Mayweather and the Demonization of Black Athletes.