Navigating the Moral Landscape

By Cheekay Brandon on December 31, 2011
Navigating the Moral Landscape
Why we think Floyd Mayweather is guilty or not guilty can be based on blind acceptance.

We are not children and should not be tempted to think about complex issues as children do…

In April 1992, “Iron” Mike Tyson entered the Indiana Youth Center to serve a six-year sentence for a felony rape conviction (he ended up serving three years). The Tyson case gained national headlines and was object of much debate, often dividing households and groups of friends. The Tyson case involved several issues to untangle: fight fans were disappointed that the upcoming megafight between Tyson and Evander Holyfield, the new heavyweight champion, would have to wait; feminists and activists saw Tyson as a classic bully who abused an innocent woman; others saw his conviction as the product of bad circumstance and skewed public perception.

While the court had its formal say with a guilty conviction, the court of public opinion is a different animal with different rules and, quite often, different outcomes. For example, how one felt about Tyson was colored by whether or not they believed Tyson was actually guilty of rape, independent of the court’s decision.

Twenty years later, another prominent boxing champion, Floyd “Money” Mayweather, finds himself on the brink of a prison sentence. On Dec. 21, 2011, Mayweather was sentenced to 90 days in jail after entering a guilty plea to misdemeanor domestic violence and harassment charges as part of a plea deal to avoid felony charges.

There are several parallels between the Mayweather and Tyson cases: like Tyson in 1992, Mayweather is arguably the most visible boxer in the sport; like Tyson, Mayweather’s sentencing is coming on the brink of a megafight (with Manny Pacquiao); like the Tyson case, the public is divided over the Mayweather case. Like Tyson, the crime that the Mayweather is guilty of committing carries a specific social stigma that leads to uncomfortable conversations and judgments. Domestic violence (Mayweather) and rape (Tyson) are perceived differently than normal assault or drug-related charges; as a society, we are generally (but not always) more forgiving of men who fight other men or use/abuse illegal drugs than men who perpetrate violence against women.

In the face of this, how is the fight fan supposed to feel about Floyd Mayweather? Here I’ll provide an informal guide to thinking about the Mayweather case. In doing so, I don’t impose any single perspective but, rather, outline a process for how the fight fan can responsibly formulate a stance of their own.

INNOCENCE. The fan of boxing must decide to either believe that the allegations are true or not. If we do not believe the allegations and think that Mayweather is innocent, then thinking about the entire situation is rather simple: how we felt about Mayweather before the sentencing was announced is how we should feel now. We might feel this way because we simply deny the accusations outright—regardless of how the case looks and how strong the evidence is, we ignore the details and believe (for no rational reason) that Mayweather is innocent. Alternatively, we can believe that Mayweather is innocent because of reasonable doubt—having considered the evidence we harbor too much doubt to conclude that he’s guilty. The latter is in harmony with the legal-philosophical principles of “reasonable doubt” and “innocent until proven guilty.”

GUILT. Believing that Mayweather is guilty is a more complicated endeavor because guilt is not a binary (is or isn’t) quantity; one can be entirely responsible for some acts or partially responsible for others. This is especially true in cases like Mayweather’s where there are multiple crimes and alleged instances of wrongdoing.

To our internal moral compass, Mayweather could be guilty of every alleged crime (including the felonies), only the crimes he plead guilty to committing or even less (maybe a milder misdemeanor that Mayweather wasn’t charged with).

Why we think he is guilty can be based on blind acceptance: we think he is guilty simply because we think he is, without an appeal to reason, evidence or nuance. We can also feel that he is guilty because we’ve fully deferred to the judgment of the court (where Mayweather plead guilty to a misdemeanor).

Regardless of how guilty we feel he is, a critical step must follow: Do we feel the punishment fits the crime? Even if we feel that Mayweather is guilty of a morally reprehensible act, we might resolve any moral misgivings if he is properly punished; the punishment can make us feel differently about the crime. Or we can feel, for our own reasons (legal or moral), that the punishment does not fit the crime, that the crime deserves harsher consequences.

In summary, we might be able to characterize our sentiment as fitting into one of the following categories (I’ve neglected using legal terms such as “felony” or “misdemeanor” because our moral compasses don’t always operate along legal boundaries):

a) Mayweather is not guilty of any crime, should not be punished.

b) Mayweather is guilty of a minor crime, is being punished correctly.

c) Mayweather is guilty of a minor crime, is being punished too harshly.

d) Mayweather is guilty of a minor crime, is not being punished harshly enough.

e) Mayweather is guilty of a major crime, is being punished correctly.

f) Mayweather is guilty of a major crime, is being punished too harshly.

g) Mayweather is guilty of a major crime, is not being punished harshly enough.

The above represents an obvious oversimplification of matters but can be used as a guide to structure our sentiments. This is beneficial because it provides rhyme and reason to our feelings and might alert us to how biases (which we all have) might influence how we feel about the situation. However we feel, we should ask ourselves why and be able to defend it.

Note that in none of the above is any discussion about Floyd Mayweather the boxer. While attempting to separate how we feel about Mayweather the man from the boxer is challenging, it is a worthy exercise and the key to being a responsible fan: how we feel about Mayweather’s legal troubles should not influence how we think he’d fare in a fight against Manny Pacquiao; whether we think his anti-PED stance is genuine; if we think his knockout of Victor Ortiz was the product of a cheap shot

For example, it is possible to fully believe that Mayweather is guilty of a crime and be a fan of Mayweather the boxer, acknowledging his many boxing accomplishments? Carrying so many different thoughts at once is more challenging than simple black-white or good-evil sentiments, which is why most fans adopt one extreme or the other (“I hate/love Mayweather the boxer and man”). And to be fair, sometimes what happens in the real world is so severe or dark that we are tempted to re-think how we think about the person-athlete in their entirety (O.J. Simpson is a very famous example).

Note that the method outlined above can be applied in more cases than Mayweather’s: the closing months of 2011 saw sexual abuse in the national spotlight, triggered by the unfortunate turn of events surrounding the Penn State football program. Recent years saw two prominent NFL players, Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress, serve significant time in prison for felony crimes. All these situations force fans to choose sides and make uncomfortable judgments. 

As long as athletes are in the limelight and are human beings, these situations will always exist—athletes are no less fallible than anyone else. As individuals we have the right to feel however we want to about these situations. It is time, however, to demand more of ourselves as fans: we are not children and should not be tempted to think about complex issues as children do. My hope is that we come to our conclusions (whatever they are) systematically and logically, such that we can intelligently discuss the issues as responsible moral beings and fans.

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  1. mikecasey 09:12am, 01/06/2012

    I think we complicate these issues far too much. The first comment here by Ted is spot on. A grown man has responsibilities in life. Tyson got away with it for years because the usual Freudian suspects classified him as a ‘man child’. But we know that Mike wasn’t/isn’t stupid. He’s a smart man who knows how to keep his name in the headlines. Mayweather, similarly, is a repugant law unto himself - arrogant in the extreme. Tony Ayala Jnr blew chance after chance, a la Kelly Pavlik. I’ve just about had it with rich little boys who throw it all away, delight in being obnoxious, behave atrociously and then try to elicit our sympathy. Shove ‘em all in the French Foreign Legion and get some new blood in!

  2. the thresher 08:33am, 01/03/2012

    Charity means the most when it is anonymous. You get when you give,.Just saying…

  3. Hilario 08:04am, 01/03/2012

    @ Cheekay Im speaking w/o emotion attached good brother. Floyd may live healthy thats fine I’m not knocking that. Im knocking his lack of intelligence when he opens his mouth, these actions he’s going to jail for add up. No self-eduaction. It’s reality, plus the sell yourself in the bad guy role is “old” there’s more money selling your self in the good guy role. Like Big George has. Floyd has done nothing to promote Boxiana in the good light. He’s avoided 11 men in the past 12 yrs. and has fought mainly c rated opposition. Mike was NOT cultivated early, this is fact everything about him was to groom a champion not HUMAN being ...shame on Cus. Furthermore, Floyd paying for funeral expenses is obviously a good gesture who would dispute that, but when you’re tweeting about it knocks “whose paying” like Oprah braggin about building a school in Africa. Hopkins is a great example of self taught eloquence poise and keeping clean out of the ring. Sergio Martinez Andre Ward, Congressman Pacquiao. Carl Froch.

  4. Gajjers 02:03am, 01/03/2012

    Excellently put, Cheekay.  I have to say though, that if you’ve ever read any of Hilario’s posts regarding Floyd Mayweather Jr. (on any boxing website), you’d know he has less than an objective view of the man or his deeds. I have to admit that while I don’t cling to the other extreme, I tend to give Floyd more slack than I do others, largely because of my admiration for his ring craft. Subjectivity, anyone?

  5. Cheekay Brandon 12:50am, 01/03/2012

    Hilario:

    There’s a big difference between Floyd and Tyson in regards to their fighting pedigree: without question Floyd Mayweather is among the hardest workers you’ll ever find and has the utmost respect for the sport.  He takes wonderful care of his body, champions nutrition and hard work. In addition, Floyd has done a lot of community work through the years, much of it unnoticed: he paid for the funeral services of BOTH Joe Frazier and Genaro Hernandez.  Most people knew about the Frazier thing….most didn’t know about Genaro Hernandez, which was more classy when you consider that almost no one knows Genaro Hernandez.


    This is a far cry from Tyson who, after the death of Cus D’amato, undertrained, fell out of shape at times and is the author of notorious wild parties and drug abuse (he admits it).  He was living selfishly and destructively.

    For all of Floyd’s posturing, he almost never takes his eyes of of the prize and always takes his craft very seriously.  To put this in perspective, Floyd Jr doesn’t even drink alcohol. Not even when he’s not fighting. 

    I think what we have here is another example of not being able to separate the case from the boxer: I don’t personally know Floyd, don’t know his personal situation, and certainly don’t know Roger or Leonard Ellerbe or anyone in that camp.

    What I DO know for a fact:

    - Few fighters in any generation have had to earn their keep the way Floyd has. He was not a highly-touted prospect (he was beneath Zab Judah and Fernando Vargas in the class of 1996), was not given big money fights early, was an underdog in many big fights early (Chico Corrales, for example)

    - Floyd built a financial model that has allowed him to maximize his return. There’s really very little bad to say about it and Floyd is far from ignorant in all facets of life….if anything, the Mayweathers do a helluva job marketing a bad guy image because it sells.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/17/sports/floyd-mayweather-jr-welterweight-with-heavyweight-financial-clout.html


    I think we need to be careful here to not confuse things.  You can say a lot of bad things about Floyd Mayweather Jr.  It is, however, important to keep the boxing accomplishments separate.  We can hate him all we want to for what goes on outside the ring, but that does not change how intelligent and professional he has been in regards to his dealings with boxing—almost second to none.

  6. Gajjers 07:19pm, 01/02/2012

    Fair points hilario, but I think in expecting Floyd to ‘educate himself’’ you might be assuming Floyd shares your world view. A wake-up call arrives as promised on the 6th of Jan., but it remains to be seen whether Floyd would rise to it or push the snooze button. We might have a bit of an ‘old-dog-new-tricks’ situation here. I certainly hope he responds well & is a better man for it after all’s said & done…

  7. hilario 06:42pm, 01/02/2012

    Bernard Hopkins is eloquent and possesses poise when dealing with an opponent or Larry Merchant. Floyd on the other hand needs to educate himself. He along with father and uncle all sound very ignorant when they speak, respectfully. Futhermore they are biased individuals. Mostly everything they speak has to “up” them. It’s sad in the case with Mike Tyson, like with Floyd, young talent need to be cultivated as a person simultaneously. Floyd is flanked by yes men. So was Mike after he became the man. While growing Teddy Atlas was discharged for being a disciplinarian figure. Shame on Cus D’Amato, respectfully. On 24/7 it clearly demonstrates Roger Mayweather is not in charge, b/c Floyd doesn’t take the humble approach Marvin Hagler gave to Goody Petronelli or Joe Louis gave to Chappie. Humility and today’s spoiled athletes is why as an Educator in Boxiana I have a specific criteria for youth. Otherwise walk kiddo. No spoiled athletes here.

  8. the thresher 03:16pm, 01/01/2012

    “It’s pretty intuitive to most people regardless of religion.”

    You think?

    I think, and strongly so,  just the opposite. I think to forgive takes more work—whether spiritually or otherwise (one’s value system-etc). But it’s an interesting issue to debate and I only speak for myself .

  9. Cheekay Brandon 03:03pm, 01/01/2012

    Thresher-

    You need not be Christian to subscribe to “pay the crime, draw the line and start over” perspectives.  It’s pretty intuitive to most people regardless of religion.

  10. Cheekay Brandon 03:02pm, 01/01/2012

    Shane-
    You either didn’t read the article, at all, or you don’t have any knowledge of the legal process, at all. 

    While I’m charmed that you are fully confident that court decisions are the end-all-be-all, plea deals in court are historically dubious: they can either mask worse wrongdoing or criminalize completely innocent people.

    (There is fantastic documentary on plea bargains on PBS’s Frontline:
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/plea/)

    For example, completely innocent men have plead guilty to crimes because the *case* doesn’t appear to work in their favor. 

    Alternatively, men guilty of far more heinous acts have plead guilty to lesser crimes to avoid harsher consequences.

    The problem with the Floyd case is that we don’t which of these situations describe the Floyd case; it could conceivably be either and unless you have intimate details of the case (i.e. were there, know the participants personally) than your opinion comes from the same journalism that I read, which can be skewed in either direction.

    And so in the end, Shane: read the article and attempt to think through the case carefully. You have full rights to feel however you want, but don’t waste my time by responding without reading and thinking through the arguments.

  11. Shane 02:06pm, 01/01/2012

    Stupid article! He admitted guilt when he plead to lesser charges. After his sentence, he plead No Contest to other charges. Anyone who pleads no contest, should just plead Guilty, cause on your criminal record, thats how it is look as. This is the beginning of Floyd’s downward spiral. Next he loses his civil suit for Defamation, and then its onto the crack pipe with the rest of his family

  12. the thresher 12:45pm, 01/01/2012

    I do believe that once a guy does his time, you draw a line and start fresh.

    More importantly, the need to apply Christian principles is very important as well, assuming. of course, that one is a Christian. You can’t have it both ways. You either practice or you don’t. Otherwise you are a hypocrite.

  13. Gajjers 04:56pm, 12/31/2011

    It’s tough to separate how we feel about the celebrity from how we think he/she was treated by the justice system & the media at large. I am a highly flawed man 1st, a highly passionate fan 2nd, & a totally inept judge 3rd. I’ll leave the judging to those competent (and inculpable) enough to do so…

  14. the thresher 02:33pm, 12/31/2011

    Wonderful effort and well thought out. I wonder how Michael Nunn would feel if he read about Floyd’s light sentence for whacking a woman with deadly weapons?

    Mayweather is guilty of a major crime, is not being punished harshly enough.

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