Boxers are often known for fully talking the talk in addition to walking the walk. Their verbal conduct never strays beyond what is politically correct. Yes they exchange banter, and push the boundaries, but it’s for image, for psychology. For the fight.
When Manny Pacquiao sat down at his press conference and calmly suggested that gay people were worse than animals, it left the world reeling. Boxing fans, LGBT supporters and animal rights activists alike were all united in their bewilderment at the opinions of a man who, until now, had held up a reputation as one of the most likeable boxers of his generation.
Surely his comments were misinterpreted? You’d certainly hope so. His popularity has been building on proportions from the steady to the meteoric since he turned professional. Even when the 37 year old destroyed British boxer Ricky Hatton within minutes of stepping into the second round back in 2009, there was not much dislike for the boxer who had walked into the Hitmans home town and made mincemeat of him. In contrast, his humble mannerisms before and after the fight, as well as his brilliance in the ring afforded him the respect of the British public. Such was his stature in the boxing world, one could not help but like him.
Now though, the world has encountered a whole new side to Pacquiao. One they never saw coming, and one they have responded to with natural disdain and disgust.
When he sat down at a press conference just two days after his ‘animals’ jibe, his followers anticipated that an apology would be incoming. What they got was, “What I did wrong was comparing the people to animals, but you know what, I am telling the truth.” He was a man blissfully unaware that his worldwide support was crumbling around him.
Nike were naturally quick to drop him as a sponsored athlete, distancing themselves from an ambassador who could harbour such views. A Nike statement read “Nike strongly opposes discrimination of any kind and has a long history of supporting and standing up for the rights of the LGBT community”.
These words come from a man who grew up in a stare of extreme poverty, dropped out of high school and left home at aged 12. This was followed by a spell living on the streets of Manila. Then came the boxing. Hardly the livelihood of a man used to the privileges of the class systems, who has spent his formative years looking down his nose at those less fortunate than he. Why then has Pacquiao seen fit to unearth emphatically scornful words upon a population with whom he ought to have no quarrel, who have caused him no immediate harm, and who have no say in their natural feelings towards their peers?
A statement such as this arrive as he prepares to launch his assault on the political world. Having aligned himself with the right wing group the United Nationalist Alliance, he has set about reimagining his standing in society as a conservative figure, living by the Bible with God at his side. The man once fondly referred to as ‘The People’s Fighter’ has sided with the people favouring a deeply decadent approach to modern society in an effort to win votes, and by so doing, dramatically decreased his popularity amongst boxing fans far and wide. Boxing compatriot Floyd Mayweather, and former NBA star Magic Johnson, took to Twitter outlining their disgust at Pacquiao’s words. Johnson tweets “I applaud Nike for terminating Manny Pacquiao’s contract after his derogatory statements about gay people are worse than animals”.
So he should. In a world where the lack of gay sportsmen is a constant source of debate and bemoaning, Pacquiao’s comments serve a perfect example as to why there have been so few within sport who are open about their orientation. A huge figure in the world of of boxing, his words will shock all. Pacquiao, for the sake of extra votes in his native the Philippines, will now enter the ring with the crowd vociferously and united in their intense dislike for a man who at one stage could do no wrong in pleasing them.