Reckless comment by the boxing icon on gays might raise questions as to whether he is suited for a career in politics
For a man who too often wriggles himself out of tight corners in a boxing ring, not to mention that he can take just about anything that’s thrown at him, legendary boxer Manny Pacquiao has finally met his match.
The opponent, it turns out, is not even a fellow boxer. His worst enemy, it seems, was his own mouth. The most frustrating thing for folks in his training and business camp is that no one knows how to wriggle out of this punch. Pacquiao found himself in a very hot water when he made a comment, comparing gays to animals.
“It’s common sense. Do you see animals mating with the same sex?” Pacquiao said in an interview. “Animals are better because they can distinguish male from female. If men mate with men and women mate with women, they are worse than animals.”
It didn’t take long for him to realise that he had crossed the line of propriety with the statement. He quickly apologised. This time around, the boxer whose rags-to-riches story has inspired so many – not to mention that he often uses this part of his life story in promoting his bouts and political career – tried to clarify himself.
While he didn’t go down the familiar route of saying he had been misquoted, the born-again Christian and a second-term Congressman in the Philippines said he condemned the “act”, but not the gays or lesbians themselves.
He also tried to play that “I love you call” card. But apparently it didn’t work as Nike, one of his major sponsors, dropped him like Iron Mike used to do to his opponents throughout much of his boxing career.
The decision by Nike, the world’s largest sports apparel brand, came one day after he made the public apology.
“We find Manny Pacquiao’s comments abhorrent,” Nike said in a statement.
“Nike strongly opposes discrimination of any kind and has a long history of supporting and standing up for the rights of the LGBT community.”
Condemnation came quickly from various communities- gay rights activists, fellow politicians, sports figures and celebrities – and rightly so.
The unfortunate comment may not have any impact on his political career in largely Christian Philippines.
But it will definitely damage his legacy as a sportsman and his standing among his supporters in the international arena, like Nike, who did not wait to terminate its relationship with boxing legend.
One can see Nike’s decision as a good business move. And one can argue for Pacquiao’s right to speak his mind and express his personal and religious values. But he must also understand that such a controversial statement comes with a price.
According to religious historians, Jesus Christ himself paid with his life for his conviction. Jesus’s selfless love and forgiveness and Christians’ theology is centred on the crucifixion.
But the words that came out of this much-celebrated boxer were not about love and compassion, although he did try to spin it differently to control the damage. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late. The damage has been done.
Perhaps, the adulating masses are at fault for expecting too much from a sportsperson. We see a poor boy become rich and famous because of his athletic skill and we cheer him on. The world loves an underdog.
But when one becomes a public figure – in this case, the Pacman is bidding to become the country’s senator and some say he may want to be the country’s president some day – it shouldn’t be too much to ask for some degree of sense and sensibility.
Being a popular sportsman and a public figure is not easy. One can only hope that Pacquiao does not mistake the cheers from the ringside as an endorsement of his political career.
And it is never too late for Pacquiao to look into himself and wonder if he is cut out to become a policy-maker, to lead the people and perhaps the entire nation should he wish to take that route.
The recent insensitive statement, which he continues to defend with a different spin, suggests he does not have what it takes to be a credible public figure.
In the ring, it’s him against his opponent. Making a wrong move will cost him and him alone.
But in life, especially as a policy-maker and national leader, his decision will have an impact on the citizens of his country.