Why Floyd Mayweather can still box after beating women
No photos, no central authority and black victims
He might be a coarse, past-his-prime boxer, but plenty of people are still willing to pony up the paper to see 40-year-old Floyd “Money” Mayweather fight again and risk his unblemished record of 49-0. And even if boxing spectators are aware of the physical and emotional damage he’s inflicted on the black women in his life for nearly two decades, there’s little in American society that’s more beside the point.
Why does Mayweather remain such a compelling figure despite his repeated and documented instances of domestic abuse? Let us count the ways: There are no publicly available photos showing the evidence of his crimes; there’s no central organization to hold Mayweather and other abusive boxers to account; and there’s an understanding, however contentious, that some boxers are inherently violent, their rage uncontrollable. Furthermore, there’s a long-standing pattern of victims, especially black women, holding their tongues to protect the black men who hit them.
All of those factors leave some fans torn, some indifferent and some completely disgusted. Despite the moral split decision, many boxing fans remain reliable spectators who continue to reward Mayweather with cultural cachet, fame and money, money, money.
Mayweather has consistently deflected and dismissed the abuse he’s inflicted. His explanations are twofold: “Only God can judge me,” he’s repeatedly said. He’s also maintained that there is no photographic evidence of his misdeeds. (That’s because it’s been locked away or legally destroyed by Las Vegas officials, according to reporting by Deadspin.)
Mayweather, for all the talk of his over-the-top public persona (his other nickname is “Pretty Boy”) is a savvy media operator. He understands the damning nature of video and photography, which is why he’s repeatedly insisted on pointing out that there are no photographs of his crimes. In 2015, after journalists Michelle Beadle of ESPN and Rachel Nichols, then of CNN, publicly challenged Mayweather on his history of domestic abuse, the boxer responded by trying to ban them from covering his fight with Manny Pacquiao.
Mayweather’s representatives did not offer any comment when contacted this week by The Undefeated.
“Everything has been allegations,” Mayweather told The Guardian in 2015, despite court cases that said otherwise. “Nothing has been proven. So that’s life.”
When the news organization pressed him about the contradiction, Mayweather responded, “Once again, no pictures, just hearsay and allegations.”
Mayweather’s record of domestic abuse:
2001: Mayweather punches Melissa Brim, the mother of his daughter, Iyanna, in the neck during an argument over child support at a Las Vegas mall. In March 2002, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he pleaded guilty to two counts of battery against Brim and received a suspended sentence.
2003: Mayweather is accused of punching two female friends of Josie Harris, mother to three Mayweather children, at a Las Vegas nightclub and chasing them out of the club. Mayweather receives a suspended sentence after being convicted of two counts of battery, according to the Las Vegas Sun. He’s ordered to undergo “impulse control” counseling. The verdict is later vacated and the charges “dismissed per negotiations.”
2005: Mayweather stands trial for felony battery after allegedly punching and kicking Harris and dragging her out of his Bentley after she confronts him about cheating. Harris changes her story on the witness stand and says she lied to police about the fight and Mayweather’s history of abuse. Mayweather is acquitted.
2010: Mayweather and Harris have split, but she still lives in a house Mayweather owns. Mayweather confronts Harris at the house for dating NBA guard C.J. Watson. After police head off the initial fight, Mayweather returns shortly before dawn and beats Harris in the back of the head and threatens to beat his children if they call the police, according to the arrest report. In an account given to Las Vegas police, Harris’ son Koraun, then 10 years old, says, “I saw my dad was on my mom and my mom said go to the office my dad was hitting her… my dad kick my mom and he told me to go in my room.” Mayweather, who contends that he was trying to restrain Harris, is charged with multiple felonies. He pleads guilty to misdemeanor domestic assault and harassment and is sentenced to 90 days in jail, the Associated Press reported. He’s released a month early for good behavior.
Photographs may be the new burden of proof in the era of 24/7 cable news and social media, but Mayweather’s abuse isn’t “alleged.” He’s served jail time for it. So why hasn’t he suffered more professional repercussions, like former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice? In 2014, the NFL suspended Rice for two games for hitting his then-girlfriend, now-wife Janay Palmer, knocking her out, and dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator at an Atlantic City, New Jersey, casino. It wasn’t until TMZ published video of the incident that the NFL treated it more seriously. Commissioner Roger Goodell eventually suspended Rice from the league indefinitely. That decision was eventually overturned in federal court, but no team has signed Rice since.
According to boxing experts, it’s not just the video that’s missing, it’s also the ability of the sport to sanction fighters or even maintain the most basic rules and standards of behavior.
Football has something boxing does not. That’s “a governing body,” said Rock Newman, a former boxing promoter whose most famous fighter, Riddick Bowe, was a two-time heavyweight champion. “Baseball, football, basketball, most professional sports, soccer, you know, hockey, you pretty much have a clearly defined set of rules in which you’re expected to operate by on the field and, by extension, off the field,” said Newman, who now hosts a public affairs show on Howard University Television.
There’s no central authority in professional boxing. Four sanctioning bodies govern the sport, and they each award their own belts: the World Boxing Council (WBC), the World Boxing Association (WBA), the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and the World Boxing Organization (WBO). Even if one decides to suspend a boxer, there are three others that may decide otherwise, which means there’s going to be a fight somewhere, sanctioned by someone, especially if there’s a lot of money on the line.
Newman, a longtime advocate for oversight to curtail the exploitation of fighters, says a single governing body could also insist on putting moral turpitude clauses in fighters’ contracts that would affect their ability to earn a living.
Gary “Digital” Williams, creator of the Boxing Along the Beltway blog, agrees. “There’s no one entity that can say to a boxer, ‘You cannot fight because you have had issues with domestic violence.’ ” And there’s a long history of boxers who’ve had those issues.
Some are famous names: Jack Johnson beat women (some of them white) as he rose to fame in the early 20th century. Decades later, Joe Louis beat Lena Horne. Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Riddick Bowe all had issues with domestic abuse. In 2014, Robin Givens wrote a first-person account for Time explaining why she stayed after Tyson hit her. Leonard told sportswriter Buzz Bissinger he hit his wife, Juanita Wilkinson, while she was holding their infant child and threatened to kill himself if she left him. Bowe was not only arrested for second-degree assault, but served prison time for kidnapping his first wife and their five children. Edwin Valero, a WBA and WBC featherweight and lightweight champion, committed suicide in a Venezuelan jail cell after his arrest for stabbing his wife to death.
Boxing’s appeal is atavistic. It’s the same reason everyone runs toward the school yard melee when somebody yells “Fight!” And the qualities that make someone an excellent boxer do not necessarily translate well outside of the ring.
“If somebody hits them too hard in the ring, they can retaliate any way they like, as long as the referee doesn’t call them on it,” said Gail Wyatt, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA. “At home, if somebody pisses them off, it’s hard to say, ‘Well, now, I’m not supposed to exhibit the same kind of behavior here as I am there.’ So many times, they act like they are in a ring.
“They’re actually at war. Many times they don’t have any kind of anger management, because anger management, it’s only appropriate for those people who require it. You can’t have anger management in boxing — you wouldn’t box. … There are some sports that just work against a person understanding the kind of respect and boundaries that people have to have in a relationship to keep a partner safe.”
Sugar Ray Robinson used to say that “boxing is the hurt business.” Newman says that’s true both inside the ring and out. We cheer the fighter who walks into the ring knowing he’s going to get “his face smashed in, but continuing to come back” when most people would run. “They stand there and endure that, and we cheer. We rise to our feet and cheer that kind of gladiator mentality, and we’re surprised or act like we’re shocked when they’re caught doing 110 mph in a 30 mph zone, or when they beat the hell out of their wife.”
Mayweather comes from a troubled home. His mother was a drug addict. His father was a drug dealer who was part of a family of renowned boxing brothers. Mayweather’s father was imprisoned for drug trafficking when the boxer was a teenager. Newman has known Mayweather since he was an 8-year-old watching his father and uncles fight and mimicking their every move.
In Newman’s experience, fighters often come from tough or abusive homes. “That gladiator appeal is a result of, most times, of fighters who come from homes that have been taught very little in the way of conflict resolution skills,” he said.
“It’s ‘God damn it, you took my crab cakes, I’m going to beat the s— out of you.’ ”
We are conditioned to expect domestic violence among poor people because economic insecurity is often tied to increases in domestic violence, according to the American Psychological Association. But leaning too heavily on that correlation can be dangerous. Since we expect higher rates of domestic violence from poor people, we’re more likely to excuse it.
Being brought up in poverty alone does not cause domestic violence. Rich men enjoying the spoils of generational wealth beat up their partners too, and they use the same excuses to explain or minimize it. It’s just that their wealth and social status can sometimes allow them to outrun the stain in ways that their less economically fortunate counterparts cannot.
When Mayweather uses the Las Vegas judicial system to reclaim or disappear photographic evidence of his crimes, he’s doing what rich and powerful men do: Use their wealth to quash the less savory aspects of themselves they’d prefer not be revealed.
Despite his notoriety, Mayweather is still seen as a compelling, charismatic figure in the court of public opinion. Last week, for instance, he was a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and the interview wasn’t even briefly uncomfortable for Mayweather.
Kimmel’s interview was another late night exhibition of fawning grotesquerie: 12 minutes of chatting about money, boxing and strippers in which it would have been bad form to bring up that time you beat your girlfriend’s ass. The only time women even entered the conversation was when Kimmel asked about — and, as a result, plugged — Mayweather’s Las Vegas strip club.
“I got into the strip club business because I knew breasts, the vagina, alcohol and music would never go out of style,” Mayweather said confidently. Kimmel laughed, then cut to commercial.
We have a hard time reconciling our understanding of such men with intimate partner violence. That’s in part because of how we consume and distill our understanding of such violence through pop culture. On screen or stage, domestic abusers are often pitched as obsessive, psychotic, mouth-breathing villains, from the titular character in Othello to Billy Campbell in the 2001 film Enough to Patrick Bergin’s in Sleeping With the Enemy (1991).
On-screen fictive portraits of domestic abusers are often flat in the same way portraits of racists are. In film and television, racists are typically depicted without nuance, as unambiguously evil, isolated individuals. They provide an emotional shorthand for audiences: This guy is bad. And so we see such characters as evil, mean, with no particularly redeeming qualities, rather than as humans who are messy and complicated and morally ambiguous. It’s more difficult to process accusations of assault when they’re aimed at people we find likable.
In the case of intimate partner violence, this also makes it easier to blame women for the abuse they endure. If he’s so awful, society asks, then why does she stay?
Mayweather’s five documented accusers are all black women. In response to their allegations, he has cast himself as the true victim, a beleaguered black man bearing the cross of race-based resentment in a white society that doesn’t want to see him succeed. In a January interview with ESPN’s Cari Champion, Mayweather’s language was a reminder of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s testimony after Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment during his 1991 Senate confirmation hearings. Thomas referred to the process as a “high-tech lynching” and cast Hill as an agent of white supremacy angling to bring a black man down. Mayweather, too, was defiant.
“That was in my past, and of course, with any situation, when someone talks about domestic violence with a fighter like myself, when they say, ‘Floyd was involved with domestic violence’ — restraining someone, yes I did that,” Mayweather told Champion. “I’m guilty of restraining. But as far as stomp, kicking, beating a woman, I think that the world would see photos.
“You must realize this. For so many years, for so many years, they tried to defeat me in so many different ways — negative things. But I couldn’t be defeated inside the ring, so they tried to defeat me on the outside, far as trying to discourage me. Do I think they want … for me to break Rocky Marciano’s record? Absolutely not. Do I think — do people want to see me fail? Absolutely. But I beat all odds.”
Finding themselves in this compromising position has deep roots for black women, and there are plenty of examples of black men who are celebrated despite accusations of abuse, among them O.J. Simpson, Miles Davis, R. Kelly, and Chris Brown.
“If we only frame race in terms of what is best for black men and that what is best for black men is in aggregate best for black people, then we’re always going to find assault and other forms of gender-based violence as second-tier, secondary issues,” said Treva Lindsey, an associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Ohio State University. “What allows this violence to continue is that we don’t believe black women, we don’t trust black women and girls.”
Even when photographic evidence exists and gets released to the public, it’s not necessarily enough.
“So when we get these videos … this objective lens of a camera is presenting us these things and we’re still trying to find ways to justify our interest in a player, celebrity, whoever who are committing these atrocities against black women,” Lindsey said. “It’s still saying even with that kind of truth, we’re willing to forgo the accountability. Even in the face of truth.”
When Cat Taylor isn’t working with her crew cleaning D.C. roadways, she’s attending fights as the Number One Boxing Fan, a title bestowed by the Boxing Along the Beltway blog. It’s a title she takes seriously. She works out to fit in flamboyant outfits, sits ringside and yells. “I travel all over the country in support of all the fighters,” she said.
Taylor originally planned to attend the Mayweather-McGregor fight, but she’s had a change of heart. “I support all fighters, but Mayweather is no longer fighting,” she said. “This is a one-time shot for Mayweather to come out of retirement” and make a lot of money.
Ask her about Mayweather and domestic violence and it’s complicated: “Well, a lot of times, you know, as the Number One Boxing Fan, I try not to get caught into their social lives. However, it is times like this when I’m faced with my opinion on it. In his case, my opinion of that is that Mayweather needs help. Domestic violence is an underlying issue that stems from childhood. That’s not something that was done overnight,” Taylor said. “And it’s sad because his wife or his significant other, she’s a victim, but he’s also a victim too.”
Taylor doesn’t believe court-ordered anger management counseling is sufficient to turn things around. “That’s not enough to get you through that pain and get you through that heartache. The same type of training that he is doing for boxing is basically the same type of training he has to endure to overcome that anger that was admitted into him with that domestic violence.”
Tyrieshia Douglas, a 28-year-old super flyweight from Baltimore and UBF world female flyweight champion, has strong opinions about domestic abuse. “I don’t support men putting their hands on women; I’m totally against that,” she said. “I believe he put his hands on you once, he gonna do it again. And again and again and again and after.”
And that’s why women should learn how to defend themselves, she says, although Douglas hesitates at what, if anything, the sanction should be for Mayweather. “It’s a good question,” she said, but she rejects the notion that, as a boxer, Mayweather might have a harder time turning off the aggression. “I don’t understand how it’s hard to turn it off. At the end of the day, you are a man, you are much stronger.”
Fight fans are fickle, Taylor contends. When the boxer is up they chant for him, but when he’s down, “they’re calling him dumb and saying he’s a nobody.” To her, a fan’s responsibility is to encourage fighters to make them better. Taylor respects the way other fighters admire Mayweather. They tout his craft and his philanthropy: supporting people around him and donating to charitable causes.
“As a fan, and hearing that about him, that means in my eyes, the good outweighs the bad,” she said. “OK, he has this negative thing that’s in the media, but that doesn’t outweigh what he do as a man. … Yes, he has his flaws, but he still is a great man overall, and that’s what I would tend to gravitate more to push him and uplift him.”
It’s that posture — that up-from-poverty, can’t-keep-a-black-man-down, bespoke suit-flaunting, look-at-my-damn-private-jet insistence on claiming his props — that Mayweather so expertly converts into benefit of the doubt and pay-per-view dividends. More than anything, that’s what “Money” is taking to the bank.
Senior researcher Martenzie Johnson contributed to this story.