Barring a monumental challenger or an even more tremendous paycheck, we likely saw Floyd “Money” Mayweather’s last fight when he defeated Andre Berto by unanimous decision on Sept. 12. Mayweather will almost certainly be remembered as one of the greatest boxers of all time, and perhaps the most talented defensive fighter ever. Boxing fans will look back on wins over Oscar De La Hoya, Juan Manuel Marquez, Miguel Cotto and Manny Pacquiao. The rest of the sporting world will remember Mayweather’s 87-day jail term for domestic abuse.
Money, for all his flaws, grew up in a world of violence. His Grand Rapids, Michigan home was dead center in one of the most crime heavy neighborhoods outside of Detroit and his father became involved in drug deals when he was young. Mayweather, like many abusers, was born into it. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Mayweather looked back on how after an in-law of his father strolled into their Michigan home and shot Mayweather Sr. in the leg, that same in-law came to live with them in New Jersey after the incident. Floyd’s entrance to the world of modern, American gladiators seems a natural progression from a childhood so touched by violence. But, no amount of monetary gain or athletic success could ever make the realities of his youth disappear.
Mayweather’s evolution from Floyd into his brash, arrogant alter ego — Money — can’t change the man behind boxing’s greatest showman, so when the undefeated champion received his jail sentence in 2012, I wasn’t surprised. The irony of a champion caliber boxer, who is cool, collected and calm in the ring and lacking basic impulse control outside of it highlights the difference between Floyd the man and Money the character. Money is always in control, but Floyd is a different story. Despite having every resource in the world available to him and every form of help and counseling just a phone call away, Floyd couldn’t find a way to move beyond the violence of his childhood and learn to treat his partner with respect. That’s what people hate about Floyd Mayweather. A man capable of making so much of himself inside the ring couldn’t find a way to make himself better outside of it. Floyd’s 49–0 is all but etched in stone, but his history of abuse follows it.
The arrogance of Money has given us one of sports’ greatest villains. On the long list of athletes we love to hate, Money stands alongside names like Alex Rodriguez, Michael Vick and Christian Laettner. My theory is that the creation of fighting’s most disliked character is more than just a smart businessman’s plan to boost pay-per-view numbers. Hating Money the fighter distracts us from hating Floyd the man. Floyd’s success has been his answer to every challenge, so facing the fact that he can’t fight his way out of a domestic violence charge must have been a humbling truth to face. Money has allowed Floyd to blame the rancor that follows him on his success as a boxer. Despite his personal failings, Mayweather has the luxury of telling himself that the world hates Money, not Floyd.
I, for one, don’t hate Floyd Mayweather. I have tremendous respect for the success he has achieved in spite of his less-than-favorable upbringing. Floyd is easily the greatest boxer of his era and technically gifted beyond almost any other fighter. That said, I simply don’t respect him. I can sympathize with his tough youth and the challenges he has overcome. I can understand the connection between experiencing violence as a child and becoming an abuser as an adult. What I cannot stomach is the idea that Floyd, for all his blessings as an adult, has been utterly unrepentant in the face of perhaps his greatest personal demon. It’s easier to resent the reality than it is to resent Floyd’s dramatized alter ego. With all that Mayweather has done to better himself as an athlete, its unconscionable that he could do so little to better himself as a person. I can defend a man who makes a mistake, even one so grave as Mayweather’s, and follows that mistake with a sincere attempt to change. But, I cannot defend dissembling and denial in the face of it.
Millions of dollars can’t teach Mayweather that what he did was wrong, nor can it show him that the violence he experienced growing up cannot justify that which he perpetrated as an adult. Floyd is a living illustration of something that even the most gifted athletes and individuals face. He is unbeatable as a fighter, but limited as a man. If sports are a societal foil, Floyd the man teaches us, especially as Yale students, an important lesson. Skill, talent and success may earn us money, power and opportunity, but they have nothing to do with our betterment as people. Success as a man, or woman starts with confronting flaws, rather buying a way out of them.