Floyd Mayweather is no stranger to controversy and hours before his mega-fight against Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, his fight camp found themselves embroiled in a media credential controversy.
CNN’s Rachel Nichols and ESPN and HBO Sports’ Michelle Beadle—both fervent critics of Mayweather with a focus on his domestic violence abuse—sent word out through their Twitter accounts that they had their credentials revoked by members of Mayweather’s fight team. Beadle said via a tweet that "I, along with @Rachel__Nichols, have been banned from the MGM Grand Arena for the fight tonight by the Mayweather camp. #TheFightGame". A few minutes later, Nichols sent out the following tweet that echoed Beadle's:
That accusation was countered by Kelly Swanson, the longtime publicist for Mayweather and one of the most powerful figures in boxing. Swanson tweeted out the following: “No one including ME banned Rachel Nichols from covering the fight. And @MichelleDBeadle isn't even on the press list. She's credentialed through @HBOboxing. Yes credentialed. #Fact#2.”
Asked directly on Twitter by Bonnie Bernstein of Campus Insiders to clarify her comments—“Kelly, you're saying Rachel Nichols/Michelle Beadle falsely claimed credentials were revoked?—Swanson tweeted, “Yes, that is what I am saying. They have credentials and still have them.”
When reached on Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles, Beadle said that wasn’t the case.
"There are emails," Beadle said. "They lie. It's their job. But I was banned."
Here’s what I can tell you from my reporting: Beadle was on the HBO Sports credential submission list and that list was submitted a few weeks before the fight. (Beadle did not apply for credentials through ESPN.) As of late last week, a boxing source told SI.com that Beadle’s certification to be approved was still "uncertain." Whether that was because she was critical of Mayweather or some logistical matter is unclear. Uncertain that she would be approved for the fight, Beadle left Las Vegas for Los Angeles on Friday. Said a media source who knows Beadle: “It was mysteriously approved...Why would she lie about this? Ridiculous.”
Shortly before 3 p.m. Eastern, Beadle tweeted out the following: “After hearing my credential was pulled, I went home. Told this morning that HBO was able to get it re-approved late last night. That's it. All she wrote. I will now concentrate on Game 7. #GoSpursGo. My bad. I forgot to hashtag that one...#ActualFacts.”
As for Nichols, a source said she submitted her application for the actual fight under CNN. That was denied. Instead she was given a pass for the week of the fight but not for the fight itself. Earlier this week, sources said, a CNN producer went to the Mayweather camp to again request a credential for the fight itself. That request was denied. I'm told Nichols herself also asked for a credential for the fight itself. Again, denied. HBO Sports then tried to step up by credentialing Nichols under their aegis but it's unclear as of now whether Nichols will go under HBO. (The likelihood is she will pass, I'm told.) Is it strange the country’s most prominent female sports reporter was denied credentials for the biggest boxing match in decades? Yes.=
SI’s Chris Mannix obtained a copy Saturday afternoon of the MGM’s most recent seating chart circulated by promoters. Two CNN talents were listed as credentialed. Nichols was not one of them. Nichols had not responded to SI.com’s interview requests as of this writing, but on Saturday night, she tweeted the following:
"Have had a bunch of folks asking questions about the Mayweather issue. Here's what happened: After asking tough questions of Floyd Mayweather on my program, I was not offered press credentials to cover tonight's fight. In an email dated April 23, I was told I would only be credentialed for the run-up events through the week, but in bold, italic letters the email stated "you do not have any access Saturday to any services or events." A CNN producer revisited the issue with the Mayweather camp on April 29, confirming to Mayweather's publicist that I would be in Las Vegas, and the publicist replied that I would still be denied a fight night credential. I was told the same thing when I arrived at the credential office in person on May 1, by two separate officials, in front of several other people. It doesn't surprise me that now, after facing significant backlash, the Mayweather camp has reversed its position. But despite this, and other outside parties generously offering me their seats, I will not attend the fight. I will also not let fear of retaliation prevent me from asking the tough questions the public deserves answers to in the future."
Swanson later on Saturday told SI.com that Mannix was working off an old manifest regarding the seating chart. She said she was comfortable letting stand her tweets and statement to USA Today regarding other parts of the story.
Mannix also reported that Martin Rogers, a writer for USA Today and a critic of Mayweather’s, was declined credentials for the fight. Deadspin’s Daniel Roberts reported that credentials to Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan and boxing writer Steve Kim, who has published a number of articles critical of Mayweather’s history of domestic violence, were also denied.
“I'm personally in charge of all media credentials for US media at Olympic Games,” tweeted U.S. Olympic Committee communication chief Patrick Sandusky. “Never have we pulled one because of negative coverage #insane.”
On the issues of who is in charge of credentials: An HBO Sports spokesperson told SI.com that they were not in charge of media credentials for Mayweather-Pacquiao. They submitted credentials to MGM in association with the event promoter, Mayweather Productions.
A Showtime Sports spokesperson also said Showtime was not part of the media credential process for Mayweather-Pacquiao. They submitted credentials to MGM in association with the event promoter as well.
In an interview with USA Today on Saturday afternoon, Swanson denied Nichols had ever been excluded from the fight: “I’ll take it as a misunderstanding. But Rachel Nichols was never banned from the event. She’s been credentialed the whole time. She was in here yesterday [media center]. There was a misunderstanding by the credential office as to… they said that she wasn’t credentialed for tonight, however, this shows [a database printout with Nichols’ picture] that she was credentialed all along. So whoever was saying… I don’t know who that was, I had nothing to do with it. And when I saw it, I was like, ‘What is this woman talking about?’ Because she’s always been credentialed, she’s always been welcomed. We didn’t even know until late afternoon who was going to be in the arena. CNN received one seat in the arena, and it was up to them to pick who could go in the arena. We could not make that selection. We let those producers decide who they wanted in that seat. She’s always had a credential. She got all of this information. She’s even getting a gift from the promotion. She’s getting a gift bag. She received a letter when credentials were accepted from the promotion, again, that she received a credential. She has been credentialed for this fight.”
Denying credential requests has long been a tool of organizations in sports and politics as a way of punishing media who have been critical of an organization. Nichols’s reputation as a journalist is of the highest order and Beadle has been as outspoken as anyone at ESPN on Mayweather’s domestic abuse record. You can be the judge what happened here but it appears that this was an effort on Mayweather’s camp to restrict two prominent critics from covering the fight.