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Keith Strudler: Good Money After Bad (Boxer)

When I began gainful employment, one of the first things I had to do was set up my 401-K, which felt odd for someone hoping to afford rent next month. I vividly remember being given several investment options, from highly aggressive to conservative, which I assumed meant it wouldn’t go into a pyramid scheme. But one of the options was based more on emotional health than long-term wealth. It was, for lack of better terminology, a socially conscious investment plan. Essentially, your retirement dollars would only be invested in corporations that take a moral high ground. I’m not exactly sure what that criterion was, but I’d say, for example, Philip Morris wasn’t on the list.

As I filled out my 401-K paperwork, I thought long and hard about what fiscal path to take. I was a newly minted academic, filled with the self-righteous morality that typically comes with the diploma. I denounced the ills of corporate abuse and social injustice like everyone else in the academy. So when it came time to fill out my investment future, I chose – the aggressive one. You know, the one that would make me the most money when I’m 67. Sure, it would have been nice to invest only in solar panels and organic farms, but why should I suffer when everyone gets fat off the land? You can’t buy a retirement home in Florida with morality. And I’m only one person, right? What difference can I make?

Such, oddly enough, is the rhetoric around this weekend’s mega fight between boxers Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, an event that should generate between $300 and $400 million, the majority coming from pay-per-view subscribers like us, each paying almost $100. Some 60% of that will go to the favored and undefeated Mayweather, while Pacquiao takes the rest. So it’s quite simple to see how your and my entertainment dollars will go directly into the pocket of these two gladiators, not that they need it.

The only problem, or moral dilemma is that Floyd Mayweather has been involved in no less than six domestic abuse cases, including one that landed him in jail for two months. The details of that particular case are uncomfortable at best, including an incident involving a handgun and a series of threats.  This isn’t new information, of course, as Mayweather’s transgressions are both historic and public. But for many, particularly those who only show interest in boxing at moments like these, this old news is headline fare. To people considering watching, and buying a fight for the first time since Mike Tyson, this can be both confounding and dissonant.

In light of this new old news, advocacy groups, and even journalists have called for sports fans to boycott this self-proclaimed landmark event. In other words, don’t send your money to, excuse the language, a wife-beater. This fiscal relationship is perhaps more direct in boxing than, say, football. In the pay-per-view world, your $100 spend goes directly to Floyd Mayweather. That’s not true in the NFL, where your eyeballs offer a much less direct payday to Ray Rice, or any of the other football stars whose off-field aggression overshadowed their hits on the gridiron. So paying for this fight feels a little dirtier than enjoying Monday Night Football, even if that’s an unfair rationalization. To be honest, holding one on principle and not the other is both easy and hypocritical, like how we denounce animal abuse yet whole support an industry of factory slaughterhouses. Just because it’s less transparent doesn’t make it any less real.

Leaving that aside, the question remains, should we watch, even pay for athletes like this? Should we watch someone who beats their wife, a dog killer, heck, even a murderer? The simple answer is it depends. If your hope is to help change the landscape of domestic abuse in this country, the reality is that boycotting this fight has about as much impact as signing an online petition – basically none. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t copy the worst behaviors of our star athletes, making them less role model and more physical specimen. On the other hand, if you want to hold yourself to a higher standard, refraining from supporting someone who did what Floyd Mayweather did repeatedly, then yes, you should refrain. You shouldn’t watch the fight not because it makes a difference, but because it’s the right thing to do. And you shouldn’t watch the NFL, college football, and pretty much any other sport in the mediated landscape. That’s the uncomfortable reality about sports – it’s not all nice guys, even if we fancy them to be. Of course, I probably shouldn’t be preaching. Not with the 401-K that I have. 

Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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