By Jake Donovan
A famous quote surrounding Reggie Jackson’s arrival in New York in the 1977 season – his first with the Yankees - was that he was “the straw that stirs the drink.”
The home run slugger spent much of the season deflecting criticism and offering the insistence that he was misquoted, as different versions of the conversation that took place also claimed him to have trashed Yankees captain, the late Thurman Munson.
Some 35 years later, Floyd Mayweather finds himself as the straw the stirs the boxing drink, and quite often emotions along with it. He also finds himself forced to defend nearly every comment he makes.
The latest came Monday afternoon, courtesy of his verified Twitter account (@FloydMayweather), when the unbeaten pound-for-pound star offered commentary on the current state of the NBA.
Less than three months out from his May 5 showdown with fellow boxing superstar Miguel Cotto, the boxing world once again finds itself talking about Mayweather, if only for all of the wrong reasons.
Often when a celebrity speaks on a subject out of his element, the comments will come across as misinformed. Mayweather’s remarks surrounding New York Knicks overnight star point guard Jeremy Lin, perfectly fit that mode.
“Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he's Asian,” Mayweather stated on his Twitter account. “Black players do what he does every night and don't get the same praise.”
On its own, it’s merely an ignorant take on what’s currently a red-hot topic. Mayweather’s comments – whch he tries to pass off as merely his opinion – leave out quite a bit of fact. But it’s the fighter’s history in the media – particularly his take on another certain famous Asian athlete – that leaves his every move left under a microscope.
It was less than 18 months ago when Mayweather went on a racist tirade via video posted on his UStream account targeted at Manny Pacquiao, his fiercest rival in terms of popularity as well as supremacy in the welterweight division and mythical pound-for-pound rankings.
Amidst a sea of criticism, Mayweather subsequently apologized, offering the equivalent of “my best friend is Black” whenever a Caucasian is called to task for comments classified as racially insensitive.
This time around, the American superstar isn’t quite as apologetic.
“Other countries get to support/cheer their athletes and everything is fine,” Mayweather later stated, some seven hours after his initial remarks on Lin. “As soon as I support Black American athletes, I get criticized.”
There is something to be said of fans pulling for athletes in which they can easily identify. Mayweather shouldn’t be criticized for supporting Black American athletes. But he should be – and rightfully has been – criticized for failing to acknowledge facts such as Lin is in fact an American athlete – one of Asian descent but still born and raised in the United States.
It is in the realm of self-promotion and tackling subjects beyond the specific scope of boxing that often get him in trouble.
Last fall, Mayweather took on a satellite radio disc jockey in a profanity-filled debate that left both sides looking ignorant. The incident came two years after he was torn apart by hip hop star R.A. The Rugged Man in a similar segment. It also came just hours before Pacquiao appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel Show in the days leading up to his third fight with Juan Manuel Marquez.
More often than not, Mayweather would be best served to just remain silent and let events play out.
His attempt to steal headlines in the days leading up to Pacquiao’s showdown with Marquez were rightfully criticized by many in the boxing world, fans and media alike. Yet all he had to do was sit back and let the November fight speak for itself, in which Pacquiao struggled mightily with a welterweight version of Marquez that he was expected to blow out.
Instead, many considered the superstar fortunate to escape with a decision, two years after Mayweather pitched a virtual shutout against the very same fighter in his Sept. ’09 comeback fight after more than 21 months away from the ring.
The fight was enough to strip away some of the leverage many believed Pacquiao gained in the two-years long attempt to get the two pound-for-pound stars in the ring together in what would serve as easily the most lucrative event in boxing history. Pacquiao has established himself as a bona fide box office star, drawing larger crowds (his last two events completely sold out) and drawing pay-per-view numbers on par with and in recent times surpassing that of Mayweather.
Mayweather’s argument remains that any fighter who faces him these days enjoys far and away their greatest payday, that it’s money they won’t see for any other fight, including one against Pacquiao. A large part of the proof is in their common opponents - Oscar de la Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Shane Mosley all made far more in their fights against Mayweather. Marquez made more in his third fight with Pacquiao than he did against Mayweather, though the payday at the time exceeded what he made in two combined previous fights with Pacquiao at that point.
There is enough back-and-forth in the box office reports and ring ledger to conclude that 50-50 is the only fair split considering everything else that’s on the table.
Yet that is no longer good enough for Mayweather, who put the final nail in the coffin in the latest round of negotiations when – in a direct phone call to his long-time rival – he stated that while he wouldn’t concede an even split that he could guarantee Pacquiao would make by far his greatest career payday.
The blunder came at a point when the two-time Fighter of the Year and major titlist in five weight classes rallied most of the industry on his side. Fans and media alike grew tired of the different excuses coming from the Pacquiao camp, specifically from Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum.
That wasn’t good enough for Mayweather, who always feels the need to have the loudest voice in any debate. So came the final word in an already dead-end negotiations with Pacquiao, which rather than leaving the lion’s share of the blame at his opponent’s doorstep instead once again shifted fault back in his own direction.
Like a barfly who devours that one drink too many that results in a DUI, Mayweather refuses to leave well enough alone. More of the same came with his aforementioned UStream-aired racist and homophobic rant in 2010, which came months after his dominant win over Mosley which left a far greater impression on the public than did Pacquiao’s entertainment-lacking win over Joshua Clottey.
Coupled with the Mosley win was Mayweather putting his money where his mouth was, as he kicked off the experiment of American pro boxers undergoing Olympic style drug testing in addition to that already provided by the presiding state commission for a given fight. The issue at the time was a big deal considering that it was the first dealbreaker in negotiations with Pacquiao, who was hesitant to commit to the program and wanted a specified deadline prior to the fight, which of course defeats the purpose of truly random testing.
It was a political victory on which Mayweather could have hanged his proverbial hat. However, his insistence of demanding testing for the greater good of the sport fell short of convincing when neither he nor his team would commit to speaking on how far the testing should go – specifically if his own fighters would be held to the same standards.
Somehow, Mayweather managed to avoid a jail sentence earlier this year, convincing a Clark County judge to delay his stint by five months in order to fulfill a May 5 fight date he had already booked.
The news was met with mixed reaction, though favorable only in the sense that it kept hope alive for a dream fight with Pacquiao. When those plans fell apart, Mayweather dropped another bombshell, one that kept the industry on his side for a few days.
During a February 1 hearing in front of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Mayweather was asked to demonstrate to the panel why he was deserving of a license renewal. When asked if he had a fight in mind, the superstar put to rest all speculation when he announced that his opponent would be Cotto, the third biggest box office star in North America.
With the announcement came the celebration that he found a way to turn a negative situation into a positive one. Yet his actions since then – including his most recent outburst and subsequent failed attempt at clarification – have suggested the actions of a man who truly doesn’t appreciate a second chance at a lasting impression.
Armed with a staff that includes widely respected public relations firm Swanson Communications and the backing of Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, there are plenty of means for Mayweather to get his point across without actually having to say it himself.
Instead, he prides himself on being the straw that always stirs the drink, no matter the repercussions.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]