By Thomas Hauser
There’s a famous 17th-century carving above the door of a temple in Nikko, Japan. In recent centuries, it has been popularized in the form of three monkeys who, respectively, are covering their eyes, ears, and mouth. The monkeys embody the concept of dealing with impropriety by looking the other way, refusing to acknowledge it, or feigning ignorance: “See no evil, hear no evil; speak no evil.”
The carving would have been an appropriate logo for Mayweather-Pacquiao.
In the ring, Floyd Mayweather stands for excellence. Outside the ring, his conduct has been problematic. The media has chosen to glorify Mayweather’s lifestyle, which is excessive at times to the point of being vulgar. More troubling, much of the media has glossed over his penchant for physically abusing women.
Mayweather has an anger management problem. And it’s particularly acute with regard to women. He has been criminally convicted five times for incidents involving violence against women. On the last of these occasions, he served 63 days in jail.
When asked about this abuse during the build-up to Mayweather-Pacquiao, Mayweather consistently answered, “Only God can judge me.” As ESPN.com senior writer Tim McKeown noted, that was “a meaningless and cynical dodge.”
Mayweather is who he is and does what he does. As Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated pointed out, one of the things he does is, “Mayweather makes everyone around him rich. That means he does and says exactly what he wants exactly when he wants. He doesn’t apologize. He doesn’t admit guilt. He doesn’t surround himself with anyone who might, every once in a while, say, ‘maybe that’s a bad idea.’”
But Mayweather’s circle of enablers extends far beyond his personal “Money Team” entourage. The media has played a role. It was widely reported when Floyd went to jail for physically abusing Josie Harris (the mother of three of his children). But few major media outlets pursued the story beyond that. It was left to Daniel Roberts of Deadspin.com in a fine piece of reporting to connect the dots [http://deadspin.com/the-trouble-with-floyd-mayweather-1605217498#].
Showtime (Mayweather’s current network) and HBO (which televised the majority of Floyd’s fights from 1997 through 2012) have largely soft-pedaled his transgressions.
After Mayweather was criminally convicted in conjunction with the Harris incident, HBO aired a special in which Michael Eric Dyson (a professor at Georgetown University) interviewed Floyd and compared him with Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as an oppressed black athlete that the system was trying to silence.
“Martin Luther King went to jail,” Mayweather told Dyson. “Malcolm X went to jail. Am I guilty? Absolutely not.”
Dyson then segued to the idea that there was a ”racially-based resentment” against Mayweather and declared, “I think about Jay-Z on Ninety-Nine Problems, when he goes – the cop asks him a question, and he says – ‘Are you mad at me because I’m young, rich, and I’m famous and I’m black. Do you got a problem with that?’”
Dyson failed to mention Mayweather’s previous convictions involving violence against women.
At another point in the interview, Mayweather told Dyson, “People want to know how much power Floyd Mayweather got. I can guarantee you this. I’ll show you how much power I got. If I was to fight Manny Pacquiao, I‘ll let Barack Obama walk me to the ring, holding my belt. Can I make it happen? Absolutely.”
Showtime (Mayweather’s current network) seems to have given him control over most of its Floyd Mayweather programming. More troubling, Showtime and HBO (two companies with a tradition of editorial integrity and excellence) agreed to a “non-disparagement” clause that discouraged commentary on either network regarding Mayweather’s violence against women during the build-up to Mayweather-Pacquiao.
The rest of the media fell in line. As Mayweather-Pacquiao approached, there was an endless stream of content about “Money Mayweather” and “The Fight of the Century.”
From TMZ, we learned that Mayweather wears a custom-made mouthpiece with gold flakes, diamond dust, and hundred-dollar bills sealed inside.
USA Today reported that Mayweather had bought more than one hundred cars (including sixteen Rolls Royces) from Towbin Motorcars in Las Vegas. "We never know when Floyd will get the bug to go car shopping," Jesika Towbin-Mansour told the newspaper in describing Mayweather’s nocturnal shopping habits. “But it's worth the effort.”
“A Rolls-Royce,” USA Today informed its readers, “can run north of $400,000. A Bugatti passes $2 million like a speed bump. And Mayweather owns three of them. The champ pays in cash; sometimes duffel bags full of it. There's so much cash that the auto dealership had to buy a new cash-counting machine just to accommodate Mayweather.”
Press releases from the promotion (dutifully quoted by the media) informed the public that (1) Twizzlers are one of Mayweather’s favorite snacks; (2) when dining out, Floyd always orders a glass of hot water and lets his silverware soak in the glass before using it; and (3) Mayweather’s morning routine includes brushing his teeth for ten straight minutes.
It was all aimed at engendering pay-per-view buys. Bart Barry summed up the sales pitch as follows: “Television tells me the best today is the best of all time, and my athlete is much richer than yesterday’s best athlete, who, regardless of what readily available video may suggest, could never beat my favorite athlete because he didn’t have swagger.”
“Television’s energy,” Barry continued, “like a teenage girl’s, derives its potency from a fear something better is happening in her absence. Television attracts its audience with a promise that its absence assures regret. Then, its audience drawn, television busies itself with imparting the essential nature of the spectacle, this very moment, the most or greatest of its kind, however absurd the statistics it needs cite, until the apogee of its program’s arc passes. And then it returns to promising that the next spectacle cannot be missed by anyone who does not want the crunching anxiety of its absence.”
There was some blowback to the glorification of Mayweather. Rasheda Ali (one of Muhammad Ali’s daughters) took exception to comparisons between Floyd and her father.
"My dad stood for things,” Rasheda told TMZ. “Mayweather; I don't think there's a comparison."
Freddie Roach (Pacquiao’s trainer) spoke with Brin-Jonathan Butler of SB Nation and observed, “A lot of people like to hit girls. He’s not the only one I ever heard of that likes to do that. I don’t know why they get off doing that. Who can’t beat up a girl?”
Following that, on The Jim Rome Show, Roach said of Mayweather, “He’s not a good guy. He’s not a good person. He’s a bad role model for kids. That’s why I get a little pissed off at him for what he does. It’s just crazy, and you got these young kids looking up to him.”
Then, on April 24, ESPN televised an episode of Outside the Lines that focussed on Mayweather’s physical abuse of women in a way that could not be glossed over or ignored.
Producer Simon Baumgart, reporter John Barr, and host Bob Ley put together a devastating indictment of Mayweather’s conduct. At the end of the show, ESPN columnist Jemele Hill declared, “For me, the difference between Floyd Mayweather and Ray Rice is that Ray Rice, since his incident on a number of different platforms, has tried to own responsibility for what he has done. He has apologized for it in many different forums. We don’t get that from Floyd Mayweather. That’s why he has created more of a maelstrom of hate as opposed to other athletes who have been in that situation. For me, as a woman beyond being a journalist, that’s the part that sickens me about watching him. What he has done to his victims post serving time is just as shameful as what he has done to them physically.”
Excerpts from the Outside the Lines episode aired on SportsCenter, and it was rerun in its entirety on April 26. Meanwhile, Keith Olbermann (who hosts a show on ESPN2) was calling on potential viewers to boycott the pay-per-view telecast.
“The week ahead is going to be bad,” Olbermann told his audience. “You and I are going to have to be adults and make some serious choices. The choices are about where we as human beings draw the line on domestic violence in this country.”
Olbermann dealt first with Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and the NFL draft. Then he turned to Mayweather-Pacquiao: “The juries have already ruled on Floyd Mayweather, five times. In a report this afternoon on Outside the Lines, John Barr told of Floyd Mayweather’s record of criminal violence against women, which cascades down upon you like an avalanche. You will support this excuse for a man? You will help him continue to behave as if his conduct is acceptable in the 21st century? I won’t. I will not give Floyd Mayweather a dime.”
The boycott had no traction. Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, a media circus was unfolding.
There had been seven hundred credentialed media at the March 11 kick-off press conference in Los Angeles for Mayweather-Pacquiao with hundreds more denied entry. During fight week, thousands of media personnel descended on Las Vegas.
By contract, Mayweather Promotions controlled the credentials process. Top Rank (Pacquiao’s promoter) was a largely powerless bystander.
It’s difficult to coordinate a response to requests for media credentials for a mega-event. The MGM Grand has a good infrastructure in terms of physical layout and personnel. But thousands of men and women from around the world were converging on site. They all wanted food, lodging, a place to work, power lines, and access.
The credentials team for Mayweather-Pacquiao had to balance applications from longtime boxing writers who work for small media outlets and have helped keep the sport afloat for years against applications from major publications that hadn’t staffed a fight since Lewis-Tyson and were sending writers who’d never been to a fight before and might never go again.
Within that framework, there were two issues of concern.
First, many members of the media – particularly those who don’t work for major media outlets - felt disrespected.
Mayweather advisor Al Haymon has made it clear over the years that he has limited use for boxing writers. Much of the boxing media has been frozen out of his Premier Boxing Champions press conferences (such as the press event announcing PBC’s groundbreaking time buy with NBC).
At Mayweather-Pacquiao, many longtime boxing writers who’ve covered the sport for years and helped built Mayweather and Pacquiao were pushed aside.
For most big fights at the MGM Grand, the ringside press section consists of twenty rows of tables with 22 chairs in each row and three rows of chairs in back. That’s roughly five hundred seats. There’s also usually an auxiliary press section in the upper reaches of the arena.
For Mayweather-Pacquiao, althought the demand for credentials was at an alltime high, the ringside press section was considerably smaller and there was no in-arena auxiliary area.
Initially, most media personnel who were credentialed for the fight were told they’d be advised by April 23 whether they’d actually be in the arena on fight night. April 23 became April 27, which then became “sometime during fight week.” In the end, many journalists were advised on the morning of the fight that they would not be allowed in the arena and would have to watch the proceedings on a video screen in the media tent or broadcast center.
Later that day, many media members had to stand in line in ninety-degree heat for an hour-and-a-half to pick up their credential.
Joe Santoliquito (president of the Boxing Writers Association of America) said afterward, “I understand the need to have as many high-level people as possible at ringside. But don’t forget who helped Mayweather and Pacquiao get to where they are. The little guys - the ones who write for Internet websites and boxing magazines - helped make these guys. When Mayweather was coming up, we were the ones who wrote about him. We were the ones who wrote about Manny Pacquiao when no one else in America knew who he was. And then you have another group of people who wrote about boxing for major newspapers and left their jobs but still write about boxing from time to time. Too many writers who deserved to be at ringside were pushed out the door because the people in charge felt they didn’t need them anymore.”
And there was a second, more troubling issue. The Mayweather camp (which controlled the credentials process) seemed to have an us-against-them mentality toward anyone in the media who didn’t toe the party line.
Journalists like Steve Kim (one of the founders of MaxBoxing and Undisputed Champions Network), Martin Rogers (USA Today), Hamilton Nolan (Gawker), and Daniel Roberts (Deadspin) were denied credentials of any kind, not just an arena credential. Each of them had written important articles in the past that were critical of Mayweather’s mistreatment of women.
That sent a message and had a “chilling effect” on some writers who were in Las Vegas but wouldn’t know until fight day whether they’d be credentialed for arena access.
Here, the treatment of CNN correspondent Rachel Nichols is instructive.
During a satellite interview conducted on September 11, 2014 (two days before Mayweather’s second fight against Marcos Maidana), Nichols confronted Mayweather regarding his history of physical violence against women. Mayweather tried to deflect the issue, saying, “Everything has been allegations. Nothing has been proven.” But Nichols persevered, noting, “In the incident you went to jail for, the mother of your three children did show some bruising [and] a concussion when she went to the hospital. It was your own kids who called the police, gave them a detailed description of the abuse. There has been documentation.”
“Umm,” Floyd responded. “Once again . . . Ahh . . . No pictures; just hearsay and allegations, and I signed a plea bargain. So once again, not true.”
Nichols pressed forward.
“But the website Deadspin recently detailed seven separate physical assaults on five different women that resulted in arrest or citation. Are we really supposed to believe all these women are lying, including the incidents when there were witnesses like your own kids?”
“Everybody actually . . . Ummm . . . Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. You know, when it’s all said and done, only God can judge me.”
See it for yourself at www.youtube.com/watch?v=a21U_fXjGTA
Rachel Nichols was in the broadcast center at the MGM Grand for Mayweather-Pacquiao during fight week. On the night before the fight, she left Las Vegas, having been given the very clear impression that she’d been denied an arena credential because of her work regarding Mayweather’s history of violence against women. HBO’s Michele Beadle (who has also been critical of Mayweather) left Las Vegas under the same impression.
Mayweather’s publicity team later said that this was the result of a “misunderstanding” and that Nichols and Beadle would have received in-arena fight night credentials. I don’t have first-hand knowledge of their situation. I do have first-hand knowledge of what happened to me.
On March 18, I submitted a credential request for Mayweather-Pacquiao in conjuction with a series of articles that I planned to write about the fight. Like many writers, I received periodic updates telling me that my credential had been approved but that I could not be guaranteed a seat in the arena on fight night.
Meanwhile, HBO submitted my name on its own credentials list in conjunction with work that I was doing on its behalf. On April 23, it was confirmed in writing to me that HBO had been advised I’d have arena access on fight night. More specifically, I was told that I’d receive “a green colored credential with the letters M, P, T printed on it . . . Green gives you access to the arena and grants you access to a permanent position on the main floor.”
The following day (April 24), the Outside the Lines episode dealing with Mayweather’s violence against women aired on ESPN. I appeared on the show and was critical of Mayweather’s conduct [see www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QbEZP2Dyas&app=desktop ]
On the afternoon of Thursday, April 30, when I was in Las Vegas, I was told that the Mayweather camp was unhappy with things I’d said regarding Mayweather’s physical abuse of women, and that I should be careful regarding what I said in the future if I didn’t want to further alienate them.
On Friday afternoon, one day before the fight, Rachel Nichols asked if I would sit with her in the broadcast center for an interview on CNN regarding Mayweather’s physical abuse of women. I agreed.
On Saturday morning, I was advised that, without prior notice to me or to HBO, my arena credential had been revoked.
HBO gave me a ticket, so I was in the arena for the fight.
The issue here isn't Thomas Hauser. It's the overall interaction between Floyd Mayweather, Mayweather Promotions, and the media.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at [email protected] . His most recent book (Thomas Hauser on Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.