September 17, 2015

From breaking records to breaking laws: How long does our fandom stretch?


By Ryan Hiles —

Recently after defeating his last foe Andre Berto in a unanimous decision, Floyd Mayweather Jr. announced his retirement. There are two things most people know about Mayweather. One of those things is his record in the ring, a perfect 49-0. The other is his record out of the ring, which most ignominiously includes two counts of domestic violence stemming from a 2002 incident, and one count, more recently, in 2010, when he allegedly struck his girlfriend in front of their children in the early hours of the morning.

As fans, not necessarily of boxing, but of the spirit of sport in general – how are we supposed to reconcile this dichotomy being created in our collective consciousness?

Only a fool would suggest that Mayweather is a man without skill or talent. Whether anyone likes it or not, he’ll go down in history as one of the greatest to ever compete in a sport as old as the ancient Greeks. But where does that leave him in the canon of the sport? Should he be celebrated for his undeniably historic achievements? Or scorned for his tremendous wrongdoing? Or both?

Mayweather highlights a question that has had sports fans in particular checking to make sure their moral compass is still pointing north. As fans, what are we to do when the athletes we celebrate and lionize turn out to be despicable? Or at least to have done despicable things?

Take the case of Greg Hardy. A little over a year ago, Hardy was one of the best pass rushers in all of football. Every Sunday, Carolina Panther fans screamed for blood as he devastated opposing quarterbacks in the backfield. That is until he was arrested for assaulting and choking a woman in his apartment. The former All-Pro Defensive End was unceremoniously released from the Panthers not too long after. Yet this season, Hardy is back with a new team. Whether you want to believe it or not, when he returns to the field in a few weeks after having served his suspension, he’ll surprisingly even receive a hero’s welcome.

This criticism is absolutely not an indictment of sports fandom, or of people who cheer for athletes like Mayweather, Hardy, or Hope Solo for that matter – who carries a domestic violence charge of her own. This is an ethical question, and one that I certainly don’t have the answer to.

The idea that we can just stop cheering for certain teams or players is simply unrealistic. And while that may sound like just poor ethics to some, it’s important to remember that this issue isn’t at all exclusive to athletics.

Legendary directors like Roman Polanski and Woody Allen have had well-documented histories of sexual impropriety with minors. Or for example, savagely beating his then-girlfriend Rihanna hasn’t done hardly anything to slow down the career of Chris Brown. Sean Penn did pretty much the same thing to Madonna back when the two were together, but it’s amazing how much a couple of Oscars can help people forget.

The point here is no one is wrong for enjoying Annie Hall or the latest Chris Brown single. Just as no one is wrong for rooting for Mayweather to break records or Hardy to get sacks. Sometimes it’s ok to partially compartmentalize aspects of a person, in order to appreciate their greatness. To be honest, great people aren’t always good people. So whether they be in sports, film, music, or politics, if we expect our heroes to come out of a factory, smooth and flawless like a G.I. Joe doll, then we simply won’t have many heroes left.

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