LAS VEGAS – Here are two star athletes embroiled in the same issue: domestic violence.
One plays football. Or played football, anyway. A video released this week shows him striking his then-fiancée, now-wife, in an elevator, knocking her unconscious. It’s impossible to watch the footage and not feel sick to your stomach.
The other is a boxer. He has been accused of domestic violence on multiple occasions, including recently. He has gone to jail for assaulting one mother of his children, the charge reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. As recently as Tuesday, speaking specifically about the other athlete’s video, he told reporters, “I think there’s a lot of worse things that go on in other people’s households, also. It’s just not caught on video, if that’s safe to say.”
It’s not. Not safe. Not smart. Not humane. It’s impossible to hear that and not feel sick to your stomach. The implication is enormous: Other men beat their wives worse, so what’s a woman in an elevator knocked out cold …
The athlete who weighed in on the video is Floyd Mayweather Jr., the undefeated, five-division champion. The athlete in it is Ray Rice, formerly a Baltimore Ravens running back, now a pariah, cut by the Ravens and indefinitely suspended by the NFL after the video was released.
Rice derailed his career, sullied his reputation and induced international outrage with his actions that night in a casino. Mayweather will fight in another casino this weekend, and millions will plunk down $77.99 to watch him defend his undefeated record in high definition. The MGM Grand will host the proceedings; it’s Mayweather plastered on the side of the hotel, his likeness stretching for dozens of stories, above a sign that reads “Home of the Champion.” Showtime Pay-Per-View will televise the bout. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be pocketed.
It would be shocking if the same network and casino executives who opened their arms to Mayweather – and the money his fights produce – have not condemned Rice this week. Everybody has.
But there’s an obvious double-standard involved here, and one highlighted by Mayweather himself, in the one part of his comments that rang true. In Rice’s case, there is a video. In most cases of domestic violence, there is not. The tangible evidence, the way anyone with a television or Internet connection can see Rice load up, swing his left fist and crumple the woman he wanted to -- and did -- marry to the floor, somehow made it more real to the public. But it’s not more real. It’s just more visible, more visceral.
Mayweather apologized for his Rice comments on Wednesday after his pre-fight news conference with Marcos Maidana. He said he had not seen the video, and he said he was sorry to those he might have offended.
Mayweather turned the month before he went to jail into a documentary. He fought soon after his release. No suspension. No year off. And only one incident of public outrage, at the news conference before his bout against Robert Guerrero, in which Guerrero’s father, Ruben, repeatedly screamed “woman beater!” and similar things at Mayweather, at which point Mayweather’s own father went after Guerrero’s dad, and they spent the next hour comparing who had been shot at or stabbed more often. People will say “only-in-boxing” about that moment, surreal as it was. I wrote that at the time. I shouldn’t have, and that’s the problem, the trivialization of something that should never be trivialized. We see that far too often with domestic violence.
It's not just Mayweather we're talking about here. It's athletes in all sports who end up arrested for charged or convicted of domestic violence. It's commonplace. Too much so.
In a Washington Post story published this week, Mayweather said, “Things happen. Malcolm X been to jail; Martin Luther King been to jail. The list goes on and on. You live and you learn. But I think the main thing, I think people should just learn from the mistakes that are made. And I’m not saying that when I went to jail it was a mistake. But things happen and you live and you learn.”
I don’t know where to even start with that. I mean, really?
Here are the “things” that Shantel Jackson, once Mayweather’s fiancée, a woman who defended him before he went jail, who called the allegations he faced lies, said happened over the course of their relationship in a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles this month.
That Mayweather battered and blackmailed and stole and tormented and imprisoned her.
That he posted a picture of an ultrasound to his millions of followers on social media and said she aborted -- “killed” was his description -- their twin babies.
That he choked her.
That he twisted her arm.
That he threatened to post naked pictures of her online.
That he called her a bum and bitch and told her, “You ain’t s--- without me.”
That he threatened her at gunpoint and asked her, “What toe do you want me to shoot?”
These are all allegations, and allegations that Mayweather cannot address with litigation pending. But they’re not the first allegations. They’re part of a long pattern of behavior that Mayweather has never, to my knowledge, addressed directly. But his indirect comments say enough. They speak to his mindset. He says, repeatedly, that the public never saw any bumps, bruises, or cuts, on the women who have accused him of abuse, the way they’ve seen pictures of Nicole Brown Simpson or Rihanna. That seems to be his defense, but he leaves it vague, as if the absence of evidence is the evidence of absence. Whether or not Mayweather ever abused a woman -- and one court jailed him for exactly that -- that’s not a solid defense, the well, you-never-saw-anything approach.
I asked Jackson’s lawyer, Gloria Allred, her opinion on the difference between the outrage sparked by Rice and the lack of it over Mayweather. In an email, she wrote that she agreed the video was the reason. She noted the lack of a national boxing commission to come down on Mayweather the way the NFL eventually (after an epic public relations disaster) came down on Rice. “State boxing commissions seem to tolerate much more violence against women by boxers,” she wrote. “That is my conclusion, because they do not impose any consequence as a result of it. Their inaction makes me wonder if they think it is OK for boxers to use their wives or intimate partners as punching bags. Is promoting boxing and making money more important than women’s lives?”
Indeed, in 2012 a Las Vegas judge agreed to let Mayweather postpone his 90-day sentence for battery of Josie Harris so that his scheduled bout against Miguel Cotto could take place.
There have been countless other offenders, none of whom has received the same reaction as Rice.
The fastest way to sports expulsion or condemnation in 2014 is through tape, video or otherwise. Think Riley Cooper’s racial slur, or the recording of Donald Sterling. No tape. No picture. No email. No outrage. That’s how it seems, anyway. Ray McDonald was recently accused of a felony assault on his pregnant fiancée. He played last Sunday for San Francisco against the Dallas Cowboys. Rice got two games before the video demanded that the NFL and the Ravens act otherwise.
That’s part of why domestic violence is such a problem throughout society, not just in sports. Because it’s tolerated, even by those who say they don’t tolerate it, won’t tolerate it. The woman whose accusations landed Mayweather in jail, Josie Harris, attacked Jackson on social media this week. Rice’s wife blamed the media instead of the man whose fist left her unconscious.
On the cycle went.
Meanwhile, thousands descended here, self included, to watch Mayweather’s second bout against Maidana, scheduled for Saturday.
While at the same time, everyone condemned Rice.