Let me tell you a few of my favorite things. My favorite movie is “Manhattan.” My favorite childhood sitcom is “The Cosby Show.” And my favorite pastime, something I obsess over more than I’d like to admit, is following sports.
Enjoying these things, however, can be problematic.
Just last month, the world of boxing put on its mega-display, crème-de-la-crème, long-awaited, much-ballyhooed, came-five-years-too-late building-suspense-through-adjectives ultra-match between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd “Money” Mayweather. Deadline reported that the fight drew over “$400 million from PPV revenues.”
CBS News even said in its article “Craziest facts behind the ‘Fight of the Century’” that “a direct percentage of every dollar you spend to watch Saturday’s fight goes into Mayweather and Pacquiao’s pockets.”
But besides it ending up a somewhat boring clash from a strictly boxing perspective, what is the big problem with all that?
The problem lies with the fact that Mayweather, along with being a technical genius in the ring, undefeated and the undisputed champion of boxing, is also a serial woman-batterer. According to Business Insider, who detailed his troubled history, he has been charged and convicted several times with misdemeanor battery, while being accused of similar crimes numerous other times. Do I really feel okay giving away my money to a man with a violent history like this just to watch him perform violent acts in a boxing ring for entertainment?
This issue doesn’t only lie with boxing (already a moral grey area for our society) or with Mayweather, it lies in a vast number of places – but none quite so visible and prevalent than in sports. Baseball has to deal with such checkered criminal histories as Lenny Dykstra’s, not to mention the PED liars and cheaters hanging like a dark cloud over the sport. It seems like a new domestic violence issue rears its ugly head once a month in the NFL, not least of which is of course that horrible Ray Rice debacle. I actually can’t think off the top of my head anything people in the world of soccer ever did.
Man, those FIFA guys run a squeaky-clean ship.
But my point is this: is it morally acceptable to watch people like these in sports? In fact, we don’t just watch them, we idolize them. Morality for different people runs on a spectrum, of course, so different people will have different breaking points where their conscious is too weighed down by moral abhorrence to enjoy the entertainment. That breaking point will be affected by a huge number of personal factors, as well as just what level of fan you are, and you have to find that point yourself.
For me, the magic of the movie “Manhattan” is spoiled by the hideous accusations of Woody Allen’s wrongdoing. Watching “The Cosby Show,” I can’t shake the disgust and disappointment I feel in this man who plays such a wonderful father figure on TV. The swiftness and power of Mayweather’s punches terrify me because I know they’ve been thrown too often at people outside the ring.
Can an accused pedophile contribute beautiful art to a society? Can an accused rapist ever make you laugh? Can an objectively bad human being ever entertain you?
I don’t think I can quit sports like football or boxing, they bring too much good to my life, but the athlete’s personal failings will always be there. They’ve certainly helped me move on from any misplaced idolization of our society’s gladiators (except for you Eric Hosmer, I’m growing out my mullet to be just like yours).
Perhaps we put too much expectation and projection onto professional athletes, our sports stars, our entertainers. It’s interesting that a species like ours that prides itself not on strength or speed, but on intelligence and wisdom would idealize physical prowess instead. But if we could magically hit redo and choose this aspect to our society, who we idolize, do you think we would pick movie stars and quarterbacks? Or would we choose scientists and teachers?
It’s an important question, because we do have that choice.
Jonathan Greig is a senior in anthropology.