When Floyd Mayweather showed up at five in the morning to beat Josie Harris, the mother of his children and a woman with which he was no longer in a relationship, he did not come alone. On his second visit to the house that night, Mayweather brought with him someone who is alternately described as a friend and a bodyguard; the police report written out by Mayweather's son Koraun, then 10 years old, names the man as James. It was James, whoever he is, that restrained Mayweather's two young sons as Mayweather brutally beat and threatened their mother, threatened the kids, stole Harris's phone, and left.
The horror of this is not dulled by how many times the story has been told at this point. It loops ceaselessly under the din of coverage leading up to Saturday night's fight, and is audible as a wash of white noise under the looping Who Ya Got's and embraced debate on ESPN and elsewhere. It's more than a subtext. It underlines and undoes the hype. There is always something a little desperate about the laughing-gas giddiness that surrounds sporting events as bloated and over-big as Mayweather's fight against Manny Pacquiao, a sense of various poreless and perfectly coiffed people attempting ever more elaborate dance moves on the Titanic's gilded dance floor, even as the floor tilts and tilts and tilts impossibly.
But there is something different about this. There is all the usual hugeness, the headrush of extreme sports commerce at work. More than usual, though, there is no light or life in this. This is not the wrung-out, infomercial rictus of Super Bowl week. This is people doing something that they know is wrong, because there is an imperative to do it. There are various very good reasons for this, starting with the fact that Mayweather is a violent misogynist who has repeatedly harmed vulnerable people and evinces every intention of doing it again if and when he's moved to do so. He is also boring, grating, and multiply unloveable in the way he ham-handedly performs himself. Yes, he's a graceful and brilliant fighter, but given the choice most everyone would love to stop talking about Floyd Mayweather forever. Somehow, we've come to misunderstand that this is not a choice that's ours to make.
It is a decision, though. Not just our decision to pay to watch Mayweather fight someone every May and September, but the decision by various other interested parties to allow him to do so. Nevada's boxing commission lets him fight after a domestic violence conviction—and a court accommodatingly delays his incarceration for Mayweather's convenience—even as the commission bans fighters for picayune pot-related piss-test violations. Las Vegas law enforcement destroys or conceals the photos whose absence Mayweather points to, stubbornly and unconvincingly, as evidence that he somehow did not commit the brutal crimes to which he pled guilty in court. ESPN sends Stephen A. Smith to ogle Mayweather's car collection and laugh at his jokes; Showtime writes him nine-figure checks for his pay-per-view fights and runs Mayweather-produced infomercials as advertisements. Before every fight, Mayweather gives the same reporters the same quotes, alternately grandiose and maudlin in a way that could only sound as convincing to Floyd Mayweather, and those reporters write something like the same stories.
It was news on Saturday when Mayweather's camp revoked the credentials for Rachel Nichols and Michelle Beadle, both of whom have refused in the past to stick to this deadening script. There's something strange about anyone deciding that his camp's hilariously wimpy and completely characteristic decision to ban the woman who ragdolled Mayweather in an interview on CNN is the last straw. But there is also the sense that everyone has been looking, if not quite as hard as they should have, for just such an excuse. No one really, truly wants to do this anymore.
And yet it keeps happening, for the simplest and emptiest of reasons—because Mayweather is bankable. We fill the hotel rooms and pay for the seats; we pay $99.95 or a cover charge or a drink minimum, for reasons that feel increasingly insufficient. Because he fights beautifully; because this time someone might finally knock this noxious nightmare of a man the fuck out; whatever. For us, this is only as necessary as we make it. But for as long as people pay to watch Floyd Mayweather fight, institutions will find an excuse to take that money, and the people those institutions employ will find an excuse to do what those institutions want them to do. It will continue to happen, because the Nevada Boxing Commission has decided it needs the money this much, and Las Vegas has decided it needs the money this much, and ESPN and Showtime have decided they need the money this much.
I keep thinking about James, who is either friend or bodyguard, but on whom the responsibility ultimately fell to restrain Mayweather's screaming children so they did not interrupt him as he rained rabbit punches on the back of his wife's head. Whoever James is, whatever James once wanted to be, this was assuredly not it. Somehow, he'd come to believe that being an accessory to a crime was part of his job, whether as bodyguard or friend to Floyd Mayweather, and so he let himself do it.
Mayweather gave himself his own nickname, which is forever and always the self-indicting ultimate in Not A Good Look. But there is, for all its charmless crudity, something undeniable about "Money" as the nickname for this particular fighter at this particular time. Money is undeniable, but its value is also value-neutral—it's a thing, and finally only that. It matters, it has value, but we decide how much. We decide what compromises we're willing to make to serve it. We live not so much with as within the consequences of that decision, and the world we make with our answers is the one in which we live.