Cover Photo from Wrestling Observer Newsletter
This past September Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather faced off in a boxing match that was highly anticipated between one of the most successful boxers in recent history, and McGregor the new UFC sensation. It quickly turned during the major press tour, as they travelled from city to city, these press meetings became crazier and crazier. Race and masculinity needs to be addressed. These two major topics in society today were swept under the rug; these two men were able to preach in front of large audiences, TV and online broadcasts of the press conferences while attacking each other, dropping bombs of racism and sexism or misogynistic comments that should have not been allowed. Does the vulgarity of the press tour exemplify how racism and masculinity are still a major issue in sports? This piece will break down the press tour of the McGregor – Mayweather fight analyzing the racism and masculinity issues that arose during this process. In short, this piece seeks to analyze the role of racism and masculinity is boxing today, while addressing some ways to improve and change the culture around race and masculinity in sports and improving the language used.
The Fights Significance
In an article by The Globe and Mail, which came out as more of a goodbye love letter to a sport that both Canadian’s and American’s shared a passion for the last hundred or so years. Explaining the history and importance of icons like Frazier, Ali, Marciano when the events were once part of a media frenzy. Brunt describes boxing as a sport that “represents more than merely the sunset of a sport that was once extraordinarily popular and is no longer” (Brunt, 2017). This fight stirred up quite the buzz as soon as negotiations were announced, at that point the craze it drew promoters had to push it through. Some say the attention boxing will receive from this fight will help resurrect the sport that once hosted the some of the greatest events of the twentieth century. However, those in the boxing industry seemed to pose quite a negative view of it, Oscar De La Hoya called the fight a “circus” (Telegraph Sport, 2017). Considering Conor McGregor was a UFC champion, a tough sport but a completely different animal all together. Economically speaking this fight had to happen “Revenue from ticket sales and TV subscriptions for the fight are expected to net the fighters tens of millions of dollars” (Telegraph Sport, 2017). The public clearly has the appetite for a fight for this the interest was electric. The boxing community seems to have taken its stance against the so-called “circus” or cash grab as some in the industry may call it. This fight was inevitable; the media coverage was there every step of the way, picking up every racial and sexist comment.
Implications of Racism
Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather took part in one of the most televised and media covered press tours for a boxing fight possibly ever. It was the allure of an undefeated champion like Mayweather possibly losing to a first time pro boxing fighter but UFC champion, Conor McGregor. The following section will discuss some of the implications of the racialization of the press tour, quoting both articles and direct quotes the fighters used. First, I would like to address the topic of whiteness in sports. White privilege is very much finally being acknowledged in the world today, shedding some light on the inequalities minorities face around the world. Sports are not free of these inequalities, “white athletic bodies are more frequently described as hardworking and intelligent than their black counterparts” (Hylton & Lawrence, 2015, p. 767). The banter in the press tour quickly became more hostile, with Conor making comments like “You’re carrying a schoolbag on stage. What do you need a schoolbag for? You can’t even read!” (Graham, 2017). Immediately attacking his intelligence, Floyd a black male, however not once in the four-city press tour was McGregor’s intelligence questioned. To make matters worse, when confronted about blatant racism in outburst on stage Conor responded with “Do they not know I’m half black? Yeah, I’m half back from the belly button down” (Fox Sports, 2017). This kind of blatant disrespect basically went unnoticed besides a few articles and minimal media coverage; this was another example of racism being swept under the rug in sports.
When attempting to unpack racism in boxing, it “must be understood as embedded in social–cultural contexts and a longer history of colonial and racialised power relations” (Baker-Lewton, 2017, p. 1100). These implications of race we see portrayed through the interactions of athletes, owners, GM’s and fans are not a new phenomenon. Many things that affect the athletes today go back hundreds of years in social constructs built to privilege predominantly white males over the rest. Through further research in the field of boxing and racism, findings led to an example of Ali-Frazier, which although they were two talented black men coming from relatively poor backgrounds, the fight purse they received was not near the amount the white promoters and economic system around boxing allows. The “Ali–Frazier fight shed light on a wide range of economic issues facing the black community, including the exploitation of talented black entertainers, the hopes – and dashed realities” (Kaliss, 2017, p. 1004), some could even argue a UFC fighter, a white male, making less money in the UFC, Conor McGregor used a talented black athlete such as Floyd to jump into a higher athlete status. McGregor a well-spoken Irishman does not come from a particularly wealthy background but through the press tour, one will notice most of the borderline racial comments outlined in this paper came from Conor, directed at Floyd. Floyd had little to no comments that could be understood as racist, however in this next segment, both fighters spew comments of hyper masculinity towards each other.
Example of racism: MMA Weekly provide this clip showing Conor telling Floyd to “dance for me boy!”
Implications of Masculinity
Separate from the issues of racism on this tour, portrayals of hyper masculinity were also broadcasted. On both sides, profanities pertaining to masculinity were shouted. In the transcriptions published by Fox Sports examples of hyper masculine verbiage were clear in the text. McGregor says, “take them heels off” to Floyd. Heels obviously being used negatively in this context, associated with being feminine, which is merely a social construct that people now associate heels with women. Floyd goes on to call Conor “a p*ssy. I ain’t never quit and never will” referring to the tap out losses Conor suffered in his UFC career. Also repeating, “Real fighters don’t quit”, this is to say a real fighter doesn’t quit, a real man does not quit. Floyd goes onto call Conor; “You stripper you b*** and you know it”. Masculinity often creates roles for men and separate roles for women, Floyd’s comments are an example of how “women occupy marginal, sexually infused, positions as strippers, desperate amorous girlfriends and prospective one-night stands” (Jackson, 2014, p. 908) in Molson Canadian ads that used humour to neutralize any insult. It is the use of this kind of language that reinforces social structures that oppress women in sport, media and the basic things they fight for today. This Molson campaign also used “demonstrations of male strength and courage” (2014, 908) which also links to earlier statements by Floyd where he says a real fighter never quits. He is saying that by Conor tapping out in previous fights, this makes him less strong, courageous and overall less masculine.
Masculinity much like racism is a social construct, this is important when addressing this issue of male identity in boxing. Things are changing for the better of course as female athletes are becoming dominant house hold names. However, Scott defines it as; “‘Masculinity’ is a set of constructs whose function is to differentiate the role of the male in society from that of the female, in which masculinity is seen to be less in synchronisation with human biological tendencies” (Scott, 2017, p. 470). As mentioned earlier about masculinity “it has a high charge of negativity” (2017, p. 470) when McGregor and Mayweather throw these comments back and forth at each other, being less masculine or in a sense more feminine, have negative implications and meanings behind the words. The example raised before of Conor tapping out in a UFC fight, while Floyd also using offensive profanity, it gives way to the idea of “The suppression of pride—or conversely, the creation of shame—began with a trainer perceiving cockiness or arrogance in his fighter, resulting from a violation of a rule or the failure to meet a trainer’s expectations” (Sacha, 2017, p. 88). Sacha brings up the example of athletes being expected to play hurt or suck it up, a hyper masculine behaviour that is trained, or socially constructed into the mindset of fighters. This is why Floyd can use it as a negative comment towards Conor; he can use it as a weapon towards another mans masculine identity for quitting, or being fearful creating a feeling of shame.
The transcripts in the case of Mayweather vs. McGregor gave textual evidence of sexism and racism in boxing. This section will focus on proposals of steps to take to ensure better press tours and representations of race and masculinity in future prime time boxing matches. I think if they were to pair up every male main event with a female main event that would first of all give the female fight more exposure from the press coverage of the men’s fight but also hopefully bring elements that feminine empowerment. As mentioned earlier when insults using feminine traits were used it was always in a negative sense or tone. Cheryl Macdonald, although focusing on hockey the issues are evidence in both sports so her tactics can apply to boxing as well when fighting issues of sexism. She suggests the importance of diving deeper into masculinity in sport, but not only penalizing sexist and homophobic behavior but also “rewarding positive forms of masculinity in sport” (Macdonald, 2014, p. 106). She also makes reference to the 3 part series that TSN produced of NHL players discussing athlete homosexuality that will bring awareness to the issues and a “path towards acceptance and inclusion of male ice hockey players” (2014, p. 106). It is the positive discussion of race and sexuality that will benefit the future if these issues in sport.
Issues of race and masculinity in sports have always been an issue, they are getting better but we can do more like stopping the behaviour of two talented high profile athletes setting back the work of activists. During the summer press tour of Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather, they both got away with slinging racial and sexist insults back and forth. This kind of toleration of that behaviour is what slows down the movements for race, gender and sexuality issues. This article outlined the highlights of negative vocabulary while using empirical articles to back up the relevance of the quotes. Moving onto the solutions section where I suggested ways in bettering the existent culture that boxing has. As a boxing fan and a human being it is disappointing to see this kind of behaviour go on and be accepted at the highest level today. With the works of scholars and activists like Cheryl Macdonald hopefully paving the way and bringing awareness to these issues in sports.
Baker-Lewton, A., Sonn, C., Vincent, D., & Curnow, F. (2017). ‘I haven’t lost hope of reaching out … ’: Exposing racism in sport by elevating counternarratives. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 21(11), 1097-1112.
Brown, L. (2017, July 14). Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor press conference: Read the transcript from the controversial New York event. Retrieved March 07, 2018, from http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/general/boxing/mayweather-mcgregor/floyd-mayweather-vs-conor-mcgregor-press-conference-transcript-live-racist-video-waist-belly-button-a7840611.html
Brunt, S. (2017, March 26). Requiem for boxing: The decline of the Sweet Science. Retrieved March 26, 2018, from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/requiem-for-boxing-the-decline-of-the-sweet-science/article4403566/
Cheryl A. Macdonald. (2014). MASCULINITY AND SPORT REVISTED: A REVIEW OF LITERATURE ON HEGEMONIC MASCULINITY AND MEN’S ICE HOCKEY IN CANADA. Canadian Graduate Journal of Sociology and Criminology,3(1), 95-112.
Graham, C. (2017, July 13). ‘You can’t even read’: Conor McGregor roasts Floyd Mayweather in Toronto as boxing champion booed. Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/boxing/2017/07/13/cant-even-read-conor-mcgregor-roasts-floyd-mayweather-toronto/
Hylton, K. & Lawrence, S. (2015). Reading Ronaldo: contingent whiteness in the football media, Soccer & Society, 16:5-6, 765-782, DOI: 10.1080/14660970.2014.963310
Jackson, S. (2014). Globalization, Corporate Nationalism and Masculinity in Canada: sport, Molson Beer Advertising and Consumer Citizenship. Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics, 17(7), 901- 916.
Kaliss, G. (2017). Ali–Frazier 1: Black Gladiators, White Promoters, and the Economics of Big-Time Boxing. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 34(11), 1003-1019.
Sacha, J. (2017). Fighting Feelings. Sociological Perspectives, 60(1), 77-94.
Scott, D. (2017). Boxing: From male vocation to neurotic masculinity. Sport in History, 37(4), 469-482.
Sport, T. (2017, August 26). Conor McGregor fights Floyd Mayweather this evening: Why is it happening? Retrieved March 26, 2018, from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/boxing/2017/08/26/conor-mcgregor-fights-floyd-mayweather-evening-happening/
Staff Writers Source: FOX SPORTS. (2017, July 13). Full transcript Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather New York press conference. Retrieved March 07, 2018, from https://www.foxsports.com.au/boxing/full-transcript-conor-mcgregor-vs-floyd-mayweather-jr-new-york-press-conference/news-story/bac5240b13aefa94fdcbe89356384ce1