Eight months ago, a national conversation about the epidemic of domestic violence was ignited when a graphic video of former Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiance Janay Price in the face surfaced.
All of a sudden, an issue that had been in the shadows for far too long was front and center, and the majority of the nation was outraged, and rightly so.
In the United States, it is reported that one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. Each year, domestic violence is responsible for at least two-million injuries and 1,300 deaths.
The NFL took the brunt of this outrage, and with its feet held to the fire, the league took steps towards improving its domestic violence policies. Other sports leagues followed suit, and even if it was all a P.R. stunt, at least a good message was being sent—the nation, or at least the sports media and fans, wasn’t going to turn a blind eye to domestic violence anymore.
Right now, eight months feels like a lifetime ago.
On Saturday night, in what is being humbly billed as the fight of the century, Floyd Mayweather Jr.-a man who has been convicted of domestic violence five times in the last 14 years-will fight against Manny Pacquiao in an extravaganza that is projected to generate over $300 million.
Suddenly, that line that we all collectively drew in the sand when the Ray Rice video came out has been washed away.
The fans and members of the media who were preaching no tolerance back in September are now touting another message: look the other way.
Stephen A. Smith of ESPN’s First Take might be the loudest voice—both literally and figuratively—that is standing up for Mayweather’s right to fight. Of course, this isn’t a surprise—Smith has been a Mayweather apologist for years, as Daniel Roberts thoroughly chronicled on Deadspin, and even when Rice’s video was in the news Smith was leading discussions about the ways in which women provoke domestic violence. However, Smith’s comments in the lead-up to this boxing match have been particularly appalling.
A few weeks ago on his television show, Smith actually got angry about the fact that there are people in the media bringing up Mayweather’s long, well-documented history of domestic violence. According to Smith, the lead-up to the fight should be about boxing and boxing only. He proceeded to rudely dismiss the show’s host, Cari Champion, when she expressed her (very legitimate) concerns.
“When you take the position that you take, Cari, I have no problem with it,” he said. “You’re a woman, you should feel that way.”
With that, Smith categorized domestic violence as merely a women’s issue, something that the manly men and boxing fans (clearly one in the same) should not concern themselves with. Besides this being offensive in a social and moral sense, it’s also factually incorrect; many men are the victims of domestic violence as well.
What Smith is trying to do here is to cleanly separate Mayweather the boxer from Mayweather the woman beater—something that is not only an impossible thing to do because that’s not how human beings work, but also a task that is made more difficult by the fact that in both incarnations, it’s Mayweather’s fists doing the talking.
It certainly doesn’t help that there has never been an attempt by Mayweather to rectify his reputation. He has never apologized for hitting a woman, never even taken responsibility for his acts. Whenever anyone brings up his criminal past, he blatantly avoids and redirects the question.
In an ESPN Outside the Lines special on Mayweather’s domestic violence rap sheet, a reporter asked Mayweather about his past and the message that his domestic violence convictions send.
“I just say, I want everyone to turn in on May 2, Mayweather vs. Pacquiao,” he said with a smile. “This is a fight you can’t miss.”
He’s simply spewing the same message that Smith is—why should domestic violence matter when there’s boxing to watch?
Of course, Smith is far from the only member of the media who is trying to bury Mayweather’s past. Katie Couric had the opportunity to interview Mayweather for her show on Yahoo, and instead of doing her job as a journalist, she turned the segment into a puff piece full of giggles and praise. The one time she actually brought up domestic violence, she provided Mayweather a platform to smear his victim and claim that he was “restraining a drug user.”
Couric never questioned or pressed Mayweather on this, despite the fact that in the event in question in September of 2010, two of Mayweather’s sons actually saw their father beat their mother, Josie Harris. The estranged couple’s oldest son, Koraun, escaped from the house and summoned the help that saved his mother. Their youngest son, then nine, gave the police a statement that read, “He was punching her and kicking her. He was punching her in the head and he was stomping on her sholder (sic).” TMZ even has video of Harris being taken out of the home in a stretcher after the incident. Mayweather went to jail, albeit for a paltry 60 days, for this crime.
On Fox Sports One’s new show Garbage Time, host Katie Nolan brought up Mayweather’s history of domestic violence in a conversation with radio DJ and host Peter Rosenberg, a big fan of boxing.
“I read the article on espnW about that,” Rosenberg said, most likely referencing Sarah Spain’s column. “If he’s done what he’s allegedly done, then obviously this is a bad dude. However, the article seemed to write off the idea that he could be a target.”
Of course, as Nolan pointed out quickly, there is nothing alleged about his abuse—seven incidents over 14 years involving five different women and resulting in five convictions is a pattern of domestic violence that can’t be easily brushed aside. The excuses that the public typically uses to discredit and disregard domestic violence accusation aren’t applicable in this case.
Still, most fans are, like Rosenberg, clinging to false hope that this isn’t something real. That makes sense—after all, it’s pretty uncomfortable to watch an unremorseful serial abuser be deified for entertainment purposes.
Sports are supposed to be an escape, and if this doesn’t ruin it completely, it should at least put a wrench in the fun for some people.
But, as Saturday approaches, it becomes more and more clear that Stephen A. Smith’s strategy—that ignore-the-distractions mentality—is going to be the one that pervades. It seems inevitable that this fight will break all records and that over three million people will buy a $100 pay-per-view fight and put money directly into the pockets of a man who is already the highest-paid athlete in the world, the same man who considers women property and batters them.
Nobody is going to hold Mayweather truly accountable for his actions outside the ring. Not the law, with its plea deals and suspended sentences; not Mayweather’s friends and family, who are all on the payroll; not the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which continues to grant Mayweather the license to fight in Las Vegas; and certainly not the media or fans, most of whom will be completely sucked into Saturday’s spectacle.
Call it cognitive dissonance if you want, or perhaps willful ignorance. Or consider it yet another sign that this country still doesn’t think that domestic violence is that serious of an issue.
Mayweather is expected to make upwards of $150 million for what will be, at most, a 36-minute fight. Statistics tell us that in that same time period, 720 acts of domestic violence will be committed across the country.
An important conversation was started when the Rice video surfaced. Unfortunately, it seems it became too inconvenient to finish.