Mayweather’s Image Tarnished by Domestic Violence—But Has It Been Tarnished Enough?

After his recent victory over Manny Pacquiao in boxing’s latest “Fight of the Century,” Floyd Mayweather Jr. improved his record to 48 wins and zero losses, while raking in a cool $200 million for his workmanlike efforts. Mayweather is currently the highest-paid professional athlete in the world, and he has been referred to by industry insiders as the new “face of boxing.”

Mayweather also has an unblemished record in his dealings with the criminal justice system. Despite being arrested or cited by police on seven occasions for incidents of domestic violence involving five women, he has somehow managed to avoid doing serious jail time. So far, Mayweather’s longest stint behind bars was two months, a sentence he served in 2012.

Mayweather’s history of domestic violence has not been a secret. But up to this point, it has not slowed his career down even one iota. No attempts have been made to suspend or remove his license to fight professionally, and immediately after his release from prison in 2012 he signed a multi-fight pay-per-view deal with the cable network Showtime, which was the largest such contract ever given to a professional athlete. The charges he faced before his 2012 sentencing—which included making terroristic threats against two of his children when they tried to get him to stop beating their mom—could have resulted in a 30-year jail term. However, he was allowed to plead guilty to a far lesser charge and accept a far lesser sentence.

Plenty of Company

The “face of boxing” has become the poster child for domestic abuse among athletes, and many wonder how he can be allowed to continue his boxing career despite his brutal outside-the-ring behavior. But Mayweather is hardly alone among professional athletes in his pattern of violence directed at women.

Last fall, the National Football League was forced to face the issue of domestic violence head-on after a video was released that showed Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice punching his girlfriend into a state of unconsciousness inside a hotel elevator. In response to public outrage over this incident, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely, but that suspension was overturned in court when it was determined the justifications given for it were based on deception. Rice’s original two-game suspension was supposedly upgraded to an indefinite banishment because Goodell claimed Rice had lied about the details of the incident. But it was later discovered the NFL knew all along exactly what had happened and apparently increased the length of Rice’s suspension to appease its disgusted fan base.

The lack of sanctions against Mayweather and the light suspension given Rice before the public demanded something more significant both underscore the cavalier attitudes sports leagues and governing bodies have traditionally adopted when charges of domestic violence have been filed against their employees. At least two of Mayweather’s opponents were also arrested or charged with domestic violence before he faced them, and neither of these individuals faced sanctions from boxing officials because of their actions. Meanwhile, between 2000 and 2014, 80 NFL players were arrested for spousal/partner assault, and until Rice and Carolina Panthers’ defensive end Greg Hardy were suspended last year, no players had been disciplined for this crime under the NFL’s Code of Conduct laws.

The idea that professional athletes guilty of domestic abuse should face additional punishment (beyond that dished out by the court system) didn’t seem to occur to managers and administrators in sports leagues until just recently. Public outrage directed at those accused or convicted of such crimes is still a relatively recent phenomenon, and leagues like the NFL, NBA, MLB and the WWE are scrambling to adjust to these changes in sentiment by adopting much stricter policies surrounding domestic violence.

This obviously falls into the category of “better late than never.” But for far too long, sports owners, coaches, fans and the media have shown a discouraging willingness to look the other way when sports stars have been accused of crimes, including those involving violence. Sports fans are addicted to the vicarious thrills they gain from watching their favorite teams or athletes win, and many will abandon their principles and adopt shameless double standards in an instant if one of their heroes is at risk of being held accountable. Management types and the media seldom question this type of hypocrisy, either because they share such sentiments or fear reductions in their profit margins if they depart from or openly disagree with the “win-at-all-costs” mentality that prevails in the sports world.

Even now, in this new era of raised consciousness, concern about the evils of domestic violence seems to have its limits. Mayweather’s career and latest massive payday are testaments to this, as is the Dallas Cowboys’ recent decision to sign Hardy, who was convicted of an especially egregious case of assault against a former girlfriend less than one year ago.

A War That Must Be Won

In fairness, it must be pointed out that sports only mirrors the larger society—and somewhat imperfectly in this instance, as it turns out. Of all the sports leagues, the NFL has had the most players accused of domestic violence over the years, but the rate of conviction among professional football players as a whole for such offenses is actually below the national average for men of the same age range.

What seems like a sports problem is in fact an American problem. Between 2001 and 2013, 11,760 American women were killed by men who were former or current domestic partners. To put this in perspective, 6,488 members of the U.S. military lost their lives overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same approximate time period. This means the undeclared war against women being waged by one segment of the male U.S. population (in good conscience how can we call it anything but “war”?) has claimed almost twice as many casualties as the two “official” wars we’ve been fighting on foreign shores.

Allowing high-profile athletes like Mayweather—or celebrities like Charlie Sheen—to continue their careers unabated following domestic violence charges undermines the fight for justice by giving weight to disgraceful rationalizations and excuse-making. It minimizes the severity of a crime that isn’t the least bit deserving of such treatment.

But while the Mayweathers of the world deserve to be scorned, condemned and ostracized, domestic violence is a nasty infection and a stain on the soul of America—on the soul of the world—that won’t be cured by making an example out of a few famous perpetrators. Our outrage against the violators of decency must be universal, all-encompassing and uncompromising.

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