I've been a sports fan ever since I was a kid. I especially loved baseball, but followed nearly every major pro sport-- in fact, there was a time when I thought about becoming a sportswriter, even though back in the 1950s, girls were discouraged from that occupation. I remember my first time seeing the Red Sox play at Fenway Park when I was about ten years old: the seats weren't great, but just being there was exciting. And I remember watching the Boston Celtics practice-- the building where I attended Sunday School was called the Hecht House, and it was like a community center, with a gym that athletes could use. I am probably going to hell for admitting this, but I used to sneak out of religion class (I said I had to use the rest room) so I could spend a couple of minutes watching Tommy Heinsohn, Bob Cousy, and the other Celtics greats shooting hoops.
It was a simpler era. Ballplayers were not multi-billionaires, tickets were affordable, and players stuck around with the same team for years, so fans developed a loyalty to them. I understand that even then, some players drank too much or gambled or cheated on their wife, but rightly or wrongly, the sports reporters didn't discuss any of that. They focused on who was winning and who was losing, who was setting records, who was having a disappointing year, and who was probably going to get traded.
These days, we live in a world of too much information, where every scandal (or every rumor, verified or not) is tweeted or posted on a gossip website. Today, we know who is cheating, who is a domestic abuser, who got arrested for DUI, who probably uses steroids. Players come and go, and few remain loyal to one team: owners and players are all about business, and the "bottom line" comes ahead of fan loyalty. Maybe it was all about business even when I was growing up, but somehow it didn't seem that way-- some athletes genuinely seemed to enjoy playing for a certain team and did what they could to stay in that city. As I said, it was a simpler era.
On Saturday night, as most of the world knows, there was a major boxing match, between Floyd Mayweather, who has a documented history of domestic abuse against women; and Manny Pacquiao, an inspirational figure in the Philippines but also someone who has made homophobic remarks, and as a legislator, has championed laws to prevent people in his country from getting access to birth control. (For more about both of these men and their attitude towards women, here's a good article:
I know that I have a minority view about the fight, but I couldn't get enthusiastic about it. In fact, I found myself not knowing which fighter to root for-- and I finally tweeted that I couldn't really root for either one. Yet, that didn't stop millions of fans from watching, paying outrageous amounts to get Pay Per View, and paying equally outrageous amounts to attend in person. The fight was a who's who of celebrities, none of whom seemed bothered by the fact that both men are very flawed as human beings.
Okay fine, it's sports; it's entertainment. It's not Sunday School, and it's not a class in ethics. People root for their favorites because of what these athletes do on the field or in the ring. And yet, as talented as they may be as fighters, it still seems wrong to make heroes out of either of them. I mean, which one do you prefer: a man who is unapologetic about assaulting women, or a man who believes that even the poorest of the poor must never be allowed to use family planning? It's hard to choose between them, but fans seemed to have no problem with any of it. According to Politifact, "Ticket sales topped $74 million (more than the Super Bowl), organizers
said, and another 3 million people were expected to fork over $100 to
watch the fight at home. Add in other sources of revenue and Saturday’s
event was projected to generate an estimated $400 million."
I keep thinking about how many better ways our society could spend $400 million. There are people going hungry, people who are homeless through no fault of their own, kids who attend school in old or crumbling buildings... and in too many countries, children have to drop out of school (or not attend at all) because they can't afford the school fees. And I keep thinking that the winner, Floyd Mayweather, is now the highest paid professional athlete in the world, according to Forbes Magazine. I grew up in an era when kids looked up to athletes and even idolized them. They were seen as role models of hard work and fair play. But how do today's parents explain someone like Mayweather to their kids? Or is the fact that he is so rich seen as something admirable? I'm not sure how to process what happened last night, or why so many people seemed so excited about it. Perhaps I'm missing the point, and perhaps someone can explain it to me. But for now, all I can do is repeat that the entire event (and the fact that it generated so much money) seems utterly bizarre.