[Note: The following article contains strong language some may find offensive.]
The sports world is abuzz with hype surrounding the upcoming fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. And the fact that the two fighters are in the middle of a “world tour” to promote their impending showdown certainly adds fuel to the fire.
On the first two nights of this media circus, Mayweather and McGregor let loose their fair share of expletive-laced insults, with McGregor exclaiming, “F–k the Mayweathers” and calling his opponent “an old weak bitch,” while Mayweather has waxed equally eloquent in telling McGregor, “Sit quiet you little bitch… God don’t make mistakes and God only made one thing perfect and that’s my boxing record.” And that seems to be just the mild stuff, the material that looks almost family-friendly compared to the other things being spewed forth from the mouths of these fine gentlemen.
The whole thing has been ridiculous and crude. And yet people seem to be lapping it up. Some 13,000 fans waited hours last night just to see these two get on stage and yell at each other. The sports media folks are salivating over what will be said next. We’re reveling in the entertainment of this entire spectacle.
But last night in New York, a line was crossed.
Conor McGregor—a white guy from Ireland—decided to address media reports of his prejudice against black people. And in so doing, he only fanned the flames rather than putting them out. McGregor joked, “Do they not know I’m half black? I’m half black from the belly button down”—after which he proceeded to do a suggestive dance for his “black, beautiful female fans.” Add this to McGregor’s repeated use of the term “boy” in reference to Mayweather, his racially insensitive remarks directed toward Mayweather’s teenage daughter, and his comparison of black people to monkeys, and you can see why some eyebrows were raised.
Among those eyebrows were the ones belonging to Floyd Mayweather himself. After the on-stage debacle, Mayweather expressed his disapproval. “Disrespecting my daughter, disrespecting the mother of my daughter, disrespecting black women, calling black people monkeys—it’s totally disrespectful.” He went on to say, “I don’t care if it’s white women, black women, white men, black men, Asian, Latina or Latino—you don’t disrespect people. To get respect you must give respect.”
Now let me be clear: I think Conor McGregor’s comments were entirely inappropriate. If what he said doesn’t qualify as racist, I don’t know what does. Floyd Mayweather was right to call him out.
But what I can’t understand is how we—the general public—can pretend to share in Mayweather’s moral outrage, all the while cheering on this giant parade of hatred and insults.
Here’s the thing. We will collectively spend millions upon millions of dollars in a few weeks to watch these two guys ruthlessly punch each other in the face. We will keep our eyes on the headlines to stay up-to-date with their latest antics and shows of bravado. We will continue to clamor over ourselves for a front row seat to hear them degrade and curse at each other, cheering them on the whole way. And now we pretend to take the moral high ground and act offended when one of them crosses a line? On what basis do we think we can do that?
The reality is that we want to see these two guys screaming at each other. They wouldn’t be doing it if they didn’t know it would feed the media frenzy (and the profit margins) that will make this fight one of the biggest sporting events of all time. We are the ones who have decided that we want to be entertained with lewd, outrageous, shocking verbal assaults, and McGregor and Mayweather—being the savvy businessmen that they are—have simply matched supply to demand. Do we really think we have room to talk? We’re getting exactly what we’ve asked for.
From my vantage point, all of this provides a window into a form of hypocrisy that dominates our culture and goes largely unchecked by those who fall victim to it. While we seem to be appalled and outraged by certain offenses and indiscretions, we’re often aloof to all the ways that we allow such things to happen in the first place.
As just one example of this hypocritical mindset, look at the way we view the ever-increasing tragedy of sexual assault on college campuses. We have no tolerance for it, and rightly so. When a university is caught trying to cover it up, we justifiably become outraged. These are the proper responses to something that is unquestionably wrong.
But at the same time, our societal conscience appears to be largely untroubled by the ways in which we’ve encouraged an environment for such transgressions to flourish. Why do we merely wink at a hyper-sexualized, overly-intoxicated culture that we accept as being just part of the whole college experience? Why do we sit back while our kids are fed the narrative that their bodies are only good for the pleasure they can provide? It’s like we’re nudging young men and women right up to the line, only to gasp in horror when they happen to step across it.
This is the kind of hypocrisy that we can’t seem to notice. And I suspect we’re all guilty of it far more often than we realize.
So what do we do? As I see it, the solution is not to take a vow of silence and refrain from ever speaking out against evil. Rather, we need to call out wrongs humbly, all the while asking ourselves how we might share in the responsibility for them.
If a person goes to McDonald’s and orders 2,500 calories of grease-soaked victuals, only to complain later that it made him sick, you’d probably tell him to rethink his dining habits. But when a professional combatant resorts to racism in order to belittle his opponent, why do we never think to question our culture? A culture that is entertained by insults, put-downs, and offensiveness? A culture whose chief currency is shock value? A culture that we have created?
We’d be negligent to let Conor McGregor off the hook. But let’s not let ourselves off the hook, either. Let’s not lament his racism without also lamenting our own hunger for entertainment—a hunger that is all too often satisfied by a voyeuristic pleasure in the violence, vitriol, and vulgarity of others. If as a society we demanded (and practiced) respectful, measured interactions with one another, I suspect Mr. McGregor would quickly change his tune (or else be much farther from the spotlight than he currently is). But so long as we expect him to keep us amused with his angry rants, let’s not be shocked when he delivers.
In the final analysis, Conor McGregor shouldn’t have said something so hateful and insensitive.
But then again, maybe we shouldn’t have put the microphone in his face.