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Michael W. Waters

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Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and the Death of the Gentleman, Sportsmanship, and Class in American Society

Posted: 09/22/11 02:00 PM ET

I did not watch the fight.

After a week in attendance at a conference, I was seeking to relax quietly at home. Then social media went abuzz. An on-line debate concerning sportsmanship began to blaze across my screen; an intense, polarizing debate.

Curious as to the impetus for such impassioned dialogue so late at night, I searched for highlights of the bout. I soon located a clip of the knockout sequence. I witnessed Victor Ortiz's head butt to Floyd Mayweather, Jr., a classless act. I was, however, grateful to see what appeared to be quick and genuine remorse from Ortiz as evidenced by a kiss to Mayweather's cheek, the bumping of gloves and a hug.

What followed that hug was one of the most repulsive acts of sportsmanship I have ever witnessed. While Ortiz was moving backwards from his embrace of Mayweather, and thus, had his hands down, not yet resuming a defensive posture, Mayweather leveled him, first with a left hook to the right jaw, then with a finishing right to the same jaw. The act was so repulsive it engendered a guttural response of "Oh, no!" from the television announcer.

Boxing is a brutal sport. Although I'm a fan, at times the sport's history has been marred with cheating and poor sportsmanship, be it the illegal wrapping of hands or intentional low blows. But for one fighter to level another when that fighter was not set to resume the bout is a tremendous low for sportsmanship in a sport ripe full of unsportsman-like conduct.

Some people have expressed the legality of Mayweather's punches. Fairness, not legality, is the order of the day here. When questioned about the fairness, not the legality, of his punches in a post-fight interview with Larry Merchant, who noted that Ortiz was still engaged in a "ceremony of apology," Mayweather promptly avoided the question by thanking all who purchased pay-per-view and those who travelled to Vegas. When pressed further, Mayweather responded, "It's protect yourself at all times... We not here to cry and complain about what he did dirty or what I did dirty. I was victorious."

When athletes become content with victory at all costs, even dirty play, it's a sign that the end of the sport's prominence is looming large. Legality doesn't necessarily equate with fair or good. In sports, while it is legal to run up the score, it is not considered good sportsmanship. In his first letter to the Corinthian Church, the Apostle Paul wrote, "You say, 'I am allowed to do anything' -- but not everything is good for you. You say, 'I am allowed to do anything' -- but not everything is beneficial." Legally winning dirty is clearly not beneficial to the sport of boxing or to boxing fans.

But this is much bigger than boxing. What happened in the ring Saturday night is a microcosm of what is taking place within this country. The state of manhood in America is increasingly troubled. A generation ago, the offended boxer would have committed himself to squarely, but fairly, beating in his opponent's head. Today, victory is claimed through less than noble devices.

Across demographics, men are displaying a lack of responsibility and accountability, gentlemanliness and class. In record number, men are abandoning the responsibility of raising their own children. Cowardly men are repeatedly assaulting women. Men are failing to pursue the opportunity to better themselves through the pursuit of higher education. Not only are men absent from the home and higher education -- they are absent from the church as well.

What is the impetus for the downturn of manhood in America? The problem is readily apparent. We have an emerging generation of men victimized by paternal absenteeism and the failure of an entire generation of men to nurture and raise their young boys. Concerning the death of the gentleman, sportsmanship and class in American society, this is the true culprit: the failure of the previous generation of men to properly raise and nurture their sons. This is unfortunately vividly illustrated in Floyd Mayweather, Jr.'s public and painful relationship with his father, Floyd Mayweather, Sr. While the senior Mayweather taught his son to fight, and to fight well, he failed to teach him how to be a gentleman.

In a recent Ebony Magazine article, "The Decline of the Elite Black Athlete," an open letter to Black male athletes, writer Kevin Powell articulates the impact of these failures upon present athletes and his generation. Powell writes, "Like many of you, I grew up with a single mother and an absent father in an impoverished ghetto environment with sports as one of the few outlets for my hopes and dreams, and my anger and frustrations, too." Powell further expresses the negative impact of this absence upon these athletes as expressed to him by Coach Tony Dungy. "Mr. Dungy has talked about the fact that so many of you have not had consistent father figures in your own lives. That is why... some of you truly struggle to be the men and role models we desperately need. Because you just do not know what to do, what to be, despite your fame and money."

The tattoo emblazoned upon the late Tupac Shakur's stomach, T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E., was an acronym that stood for "The Hate you give little infants f*** everyone." An entire generation of men has grown to exemplify this neglect. In the ring, Mayweather, Jr.'s evident neglect was displayed for the world to see. While Ortiz was floored, gentlemanliness, sportsmanship and class were assassinated.

Rest in peace.

 

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