By Teron Briggs: For the last few days following the surreal spectacle that occurred at the MGM Grand on the night of Saturday, Sep 17th I’ve had the opportunity to witness countless heated debates amongst the sports media regarding the actions of Floyd Mayweather Jr. (42 –0, 26 KOs).
Boxing experts and fans universally agree that when Mayweather struck his defenseless opponent, the now former World Boxing Council (WBC) welterweight champion Victor Ortiz (29-2-2, 22 KOs), he did nothing that violated the written laws of the sport. However, there is a split in the debate when the topic turns to whether Mayweather behaved in a manner that the American public supposedly demands of it’s sports figures.
It’s been rehashed ad nauseam by now, but the heart of the accusation against Mayweather centers on whether or not he acted in a sportsmanlike manner. In this particular situation, the questionable act was when Mayweather, after a break by the referee, immediately hit an unprepared Oritz. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “sportsmanship” as conduct (as fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport”. Ortiz said he believed that Mayweather had “put his hands up” in an attempt to touch gloves, as a sign good sportsmanship and forgiveness. In the seconds preceding this, Ortiz viciously head butted Mayweather in apparent frustration over his inability to land clean punches against his evasive foe. But, Mayweather now further annoyed by his opponent’s excessive pleas, raised his gloves and exacted revenge. Mayweather took advantage of an adversary who failed to defend himself. Critics of Mayweather are implying that an athlete, especially one with exceptional skills, shouldn’t prey on an unprepared competitor or resort to deception to win. It seems that the rules for conducting oneself as a good sportsman only apply to professional fighters, particularly Floyd Mayweather, while athletes from other sports aren’t held to nearly as high of a standard.
Two examples leap to mind:
1)The most glaring being a 1994 Monday Night football game between bitter rivals the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins. The Jets led the game 24 – 21 with less than 30 seconds left, and the Dolphins in possession of the ball, threatening to tie or take the lead. The legendary quarterback Dan Marino, who had seemingly beaten the Jets in every way imaginable, screamed out “Clock, Clock, Clock,” to fool the defense into believing he was going to spike the ball to stop the clock, thus allowing Marino to throw the game-winning touchdown pass. The future first ballet Hall of Fame quarterback had resorted to a trick play that instantly went into the annals of football lore and further cemented his legacy as an icon of the game. Not only could he use his extraordinary athletic skills to defeat opponents, but he proved he was a cunning competitor who used his wits to outsmart the opposition.
Yet, if the logic used by the people who criticized Mayweather was applied, the Dolphins should’ve allowed the Jets defense to gather themselves & be prepared to defend the play. Isn’t it unsportsmanlike to take advantage of someone when they’re not paying attention?
2) Michael Jordan, possibly the greatest athlete of the 20th Century and one of the fiercest competitors in the history of sports, was still not above using whatever edge he could to win. Yet no one would dare imply that Jordan would cheat. It would be akin to someone saying that Celine Dion had lip synched her way to fame. However, if you look closely at one of Jordan’s most memorable moments, the series clinching shot in 1998 over the Utah Jazz that led to the NBA championship , he clearly pushed off the defender to create the space he needed to shoot. Byron Russell, a mediocre player with slightly above average defensive skills, was paired man to man against the five time MVP and living legend. Jordan, dribbling the ball in his right hand at the top of the key, began his patented move of driving to his right, with Russell attempting to stay in front of him, Jordan then stopped dead in his tracks, used his left hand to gently nudge the defender out of the way and pulled up to hit one of the most lauded shots in NBA history. Russell tried to prevent himself from falling to the ground and regain his footing, but he had no chance to contest the shot. Russell claimed Jordan “pushed off” on that final play, a complaint that had been made by other players who defended Jordan during his career, but no one seemed to care. Michael Jordan, affectionately nicknamed “His Airness” and “Air Jordan” for his amazing ability to leap higher than any human being could fathom, was universally given the benefit of the doubt. It was assumed that even if he did get a little help, it didn’t matter, because he would’ve hit the shot, simply because he was Michael Jordan..But, in the name of sportsmanlike behavior, shouldn’t Jordan have waited for Russell to regain his composure before attempting the shot?
I could write a graduate school thesis comparing Mayweather’s incident to various other scenarios that routinely occur in sports, without so much as a second glance. Let me pose these questions to you. Would Wayne Gretzky pass up a shot on goal, because the goaltender had fallen down or was adjusting his mask? Would the ultra competitive Pedro Martinez not throw a pitch to a batter who had temporarily lost his concentration at the plate? Would a college football team not run their no-huddle offense, because the opposing teams defense wouldn’t be able to adequately substitute players in time? The answers to these questions are obviously no. What Floyd Mayweather did was no different then what any other athlete, or team, would do if given a similar opportunity.
So the question is, why are we crucifying this great athlete for what happens all too often in sports?