No Good Guys Here
Between Conor McGregor’s racist barbs and Floyd Mayweather’s homophobic jabs, there’s no one to root for in this fight. So why tune in?
Admit it: We all love Cersei Lannister. The arrogance, the ruthlessness, the way she sipped wine from her goblet as her enemies burned. We want her on the Iron Throne, in the same way we wanted Walter White to escape the DEA and we admired Gordon Gekko’s command of that Wall Street room while proclaiming that greed is good.
That’s because rooting for the bad guys is fun when the villainy is make-believe and the stakes aren’t real. But when we root for guys who are actually bad, our choices get complicated.
I’m not watching Conor McGregor fight Floyd Mayweather because there is no satisfying outcome for me. After all, the guilty pleasure of rooting for the “bad guy” implies there’s a “good guy” in the picture. Whom do I want to see win: the convicted domestic abuser with a thing for homophobic slurs or the Irish guy who uses racist barbs to antagonize his black and Latino opponents? I understand the appeal of seeing two of the greatest athletes in their respective sports go mano a mano. What I can’t accept is their choice to use bigotry and intolerance to help sell this spectacle.
Some fans contend that McGregor’s use of “dancing monkeys” and Mayweather’s retort of “faggot” shouldn’t be taken seriously. They say it’s all a show and the two men are simply hyping up their impending battle.
McGregor’s and Mayweather’s words could very well be designed to promote the fight. That doesn’t mean they are removed from the sort of despicable thinking we claim is in our rearview. When people use one truth to negate the existence of another, it’s often done to justify their beliefs. Take the name of Washington’s NFL team. Some say it is tradition—which is true. Others point out that it is a racial slur—which is also true. Those who deny the legitimacy of the latter viewpoint do so because they don’t want to feel bad about their tradition. Likewise, those who defend Mayweather’s and McGregor’s antics are making excuses for themselves, soothing their consciences about embracing the spectacle in all its ugliness.
Sure, sometimes you just want to get drunk and see a good fight. And there are certainly areas in my life where I overlook the bad to enjoy the good. I still watch Woody Allen movies despite the sexual abuse allegations, but I haven’t played one Chris Brown song since Rihanna. I attribute my inconsistency to an inability to escape what I’ve seen or heard directly. Woody Allen was accused of doing something terrible. I saw Rihanna’s face after the attack. Like it or not, the adage of “seeing is believing” still carries great weight. The NFL took serious action on Ray Rice’s domestic violence case only after the public saw the video of him hitting his then- fiancée in an elevator—seven months after the news first broke. Similarly, the conversation surrounding police brutality changed drastically when the world heard Eric Garner say “I can’t breathe.”
I saw what McGregor and Mayweather did. So did everyone. But if fans acknowledge that ugliness, it’s no longer OK to pretend that McGregor’s chances against Mayweather are the only thing that matters. It’s much easier to counter with “stick to sports” than it is to engage in how the fight is being sold.
The heart of this conversation is not about the athletes. It’s about us. What does it say about our society when racist and homophobic rhetoric is considered entertainment? McGregor and Mayweather are toying with centuries of prejudice that have led to immeasurable hardships and countless deaths. All to make a profit.
What exactly am I supposed to be rooting for?