Sports icons’ behavioural baggage: When the ‘bad guy’ gamble pays off

 

From Floyd Mayweather to Jameis Winston, criminal behaviour gets a free pass employers, fawning ‘groupie-dom’

 
 
 
 
Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., shown at a Wednesday pre-fight news conference in Las Vegas, has been charged on at least five occasions on domestic abuse allegations.
 
 

Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., shown at a Wednesday pre-fight news conference in Las Vegas, has been charged on at least five occasions on domestic abuse allegations.

Photograph by: The Associated Press, The Associated Press

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LONDON — The lionization of Floyd Mayweather can make for a strange and tawdry spectacle. He is venerated by his disciples as a man of mystique, even when he plays up to his vulgarian nature by stepping out of his Bugatti festooned in more gold than Mr T, or by throwing $100 bills at the camera while encircled by a phalanx of acolytes that would embarrass the president.

"No one can ever brainwash me to make me believe that Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali were better than me," he boasted last week. Labouring his point, he and his truckload of sycophants wear T-shirts marked 'T.B.E.' — 'The Best Ever' — with his professional win-loss record of 47-0 stitched on the back. On Saturday, as the drumbeat swells for his showdown with Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, he will embody the ostentatiousness of Las Vegas better than Liberace.

What puzzles most about the cult of Mayweather, though, is not the bombast or the entourage, but the followers. Katie Couric, normally one of the saner voices in America's television firmament, was reduced to crawling groupie-dom when she interviewed him recently, simpering about the "pure physicality" of his trade. Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots and as wholesomely apple pie as they come, sent him a gushing good-luck message on FaceTime for the Pacquiao fight. "Can't miss this one, man," he said.

All who genuflect at his feet seem remarkably unbothered by a streak of Mayweather malevolence that extends far beyond the ring.

Mayweather's notoriety as an alleged woman beater — seven instances of alleged physical assault against five different women — is a subject frequently glossed over, not least by Couric, who during their cozy chat referred to "reduced misdemeanour charges" and allowed his preposterous response to them to pass without interruption.

"I'm black, I'm rich, I'm outspoken," he blathered. "Those are three strikes right there. Did I kick, stomp and beat someone? No. Did I restrain a woman that was on drugs? Yes. So if they say that's domestic violence, then you know what? I'm guilty."

This does not quite tally with the testimony of former partner Josie Harris, who claims she suffered physical abuse from Mayweather on six occasions, the worst coming in September 2010. That night, she told police, she was viciously beaten, while one of Mayweather's accomplices prevented their 10-year-old son Koraun from trying to help her. The account was supported by Koraun himself, while hospital tests indicated that Harris had suffered bruises, contusions and a concussion sustained from a blow to the back of the head.

Is this seriously the type of man Brady should embrace like some fellow frat boy? Is he the kind of figure to whom Couric, one of the most admired U.S. broadcasters and a prominent advocate for women's rights, should throw the feeblest of softballs?

There have also been charges of racism. In 2010, Mayweather released a video rant describing Pacquaio as "that little yellow chump", vowing he would force him to "make me a sushi roll and cook me some rice". Beyond the bigotry, Mayweather might care to be reminded one day that his notion of where sushi comes from is out by at least 3,200 kilometres.

Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer, acknowledged his fighter's pent-up animosity towards Mayweather. "Manny is really against domestic violence," Roach told USA Today. "That is a plus for me, that Manny does not like him."

Dwelling on Mayweather, he added, darkly: "It's hard to say these things in public. But I know he is a bad guy."

In the world of pro sports, gambling on a "bad guy" can pay off.

Despite the controversy of last fall — when NFL star Ray Rice was caught on camera assaulting his fiancee and Adrian Peterson was accused of assaulting his four-year-old son — NFL teams showed no fear of behavioural baggage when drafting prospects Thursday night.

Tampa Bay took Florida state quarterback Jameis Winston first overall, even thought the 2013 the Heisman Trophy winner drew as much attention for his off-field problems. He was involved in several highly publicized incidents while at Florida State, including the shoplifting of crab legs and, much more seriously, an accusation of rape, assault, false imprisonment and emotional distress. Winston has said the sex was consensual and he was never arrested or charged, although a civil suit is pending.

"Jameis will not let anything distract from his goal of becoming a championship quarterback," said Winston's agent, Greg Genske.

"If he wasn't a good guy, we wouldn't have used the first pick on him," said Bucs general manager Jason Licht, adding the suit "won't be a distraction."

The Denver Broncos, meanwhile, traded up five spots to 23rd to get Missouri defensive end Shane Ray, who was cited for marijuana possession on Monday, and Kansas City picked Washington cornerback Marcus Peters at No. 18 after extensive investigation into why he was dismissed from the Huskies mid-season (run-ins with coaches).

Several others who got into trouble in college remain on the board.

It is important to stress that Mayweather — much like Pacquiao, and many other athletes — was born into acute poverty and hardship.

None of this offers mitigation, however, for the domestic behaviour that put Mayweather in a Nevada detention centre for two months in 2012 — a laughably lenient punishment imposed by a judge who even allowed him to postpone the sentence so that he could earn $45 million from fighting Miguel Cotto.

Ultimately, one can only conclude that he is given a free pass so often because his apologists are rabbits in the dazzling headlights of a power gleaned purely from money. He isn't the only athlete to benefit from that.

"Money isn't everything — it's the only thing," he's said, since transforming his image from 'Pretty Boy Floyd' to 'Money Mayweather'.

"I'd rather be hated for who I am than be loved for someone I'm not."

Perhaps, as his cheerleaders would argue, this is some brilliant expression of his essential authenticity. Or perhaps it is all an elaborate trick to conceal the thug within.

With files from Barry Wilner and the Associated Press

 
 
 
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Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., shown at a Wednesday pre-fight news conference in Las Vegas, has been charged on at least five occasions on domestic abuse allegations.
 

Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., shown at a Wednesday pre-fight news conference in Las Vegas, has been charged on at least five occasions on domestic abuse allegations.

Photograph by: The Associated Press, The Associated Press

 
Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., shown at a Wednesday pre-fight news conference in Las Vegas, has been charged on at least five occasions on domestic abuse allegations.
Former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, selected as the No.1 overall pick in the NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, smiles during a news conference Friday, May 1, 2015, in Tampa, Fla.  (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
 
 
 
 
 
 
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