In Good Conscience

Pacquiao knocked out by corporate heavyweight

Manny Pacquiao must be an irredeemably bad man. You have to be to lose the patronage of Nike.

The sponsor regards itself as a flawless arbiter of what sells shirts and shoes around the world, regardless of moral indignation.

Nike did, eventually, drop Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorius from its million-dollar endorsement list. But the company stood by Tiger Woods when so many condemned the golfer's womanising.

 

And Nike re-engaged Justin Gatlin, the sprinter who returned after two bans for drug abuse, and who at 34 is getting faster and faster. Corporate USA backs him to knock Usain Bolt off the Olympic rostrum in Rio this year.

Served his time, turned evidence to help the authorities nail others, every man deserves a second (in his case third) chance in life. Etc. etc.

Commercially, one imagines, a Gatlin win over Bolt is top dollar.

The Filipino is a phenomenal draw amongst Hispanics, not least for the way he fought his way up from the gutter, or the swamp, and more than fights his corner on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised.

Pacquiao, on the other hand, is one last fight away from being a spent pugilist.

The Filipino is a phenomenal draw amongst Hispanics, not least for the way he fought his way up from the gutter, or the swamp, and more than fights his corner on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised.

He has films and philanthropy. He sings, and he represents the rags-to-riches aspirations of countless people, whether or not they find professional boxing a wholesome pursuit in life.

Indeed, many believe that Manny Pacquiao is destined to be the leader of the Philippines one day.

He is 37, and already on that ladder. It will be interesting, to say the least, to see whether the comments Pacquiao made on a TV broadcast this week lose or gain him votes in the Senate.

What offends in the United States, and elsewhere, might not rule against him in his homeland.

Nike has one view. "We find Manny Pacquiao's comments abhorrent," the company stated. "Nike strongly opposes discrimination of any kind and has a long history of supporting and standing up for the rights of the LGBT community. We no longer have a relationship with Manny Pacquiao."

Magic Johnson, the basketball legend, tweeted: "I applaud Nike for terminating Manny Pacquiao's contract after his derogatory statements that gay people are worse than animals. I won't be watching any more of his fights."

So, from as neutral a corner as is possible in this debate, what exactly did Pacquiao say?

He did use the words "mas masahol pa sa hayop" - "worse than animal". He was smiling, speaking off the cuff. "It's just common sense." he added."Have you seen any animal having male-to-male or female-to-female relationships?"

He reined himself in, slightly, during the TV5 video. "I'm not condemning them," he said. But he insisted homosexuality is a sin against God, man was made for woman and woman for man, and same-sex marriage should be prohibited.

Any views I have on Pacquiao's religious beliefs are irrelevant.

My opinion of him as a boxer is compromised by the fact that I am squeamish about men attempting to punch the lights out of one another - as they do in the ring.

Pacquiao comes from a very different background to most of us. At age 14, he was out on the streets, fending for himself because his mum, a single mother abandoned with six children, could not afford to feed them all.

Pacquiao stood barely 1.5m at that time (he's 1.66m in his former Nike trainers today), and was apparently a scrawny kid. But obviously a gutsy one. The world has never seen a better pound-for-pound fighter who has won world titles across an unrivalled eight weight divisions - from 108 pounds to 154 pounds, 49 to 70 kilos.

He became a heavyweight in his personal bank balance, gives away eye-blinking amounts to causes he believes in, and to people who touch his heart along the way.

There have been, and there will be again, Hollywood blockbusters based around Manny Pacquiao.

He is a social phenomenon across a lot of boundaries.

He holds an honorary doctorate in humanities, and the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the Reserve Force in his country.

He enjoys the freedom of states like Nevada in the United States, and has a huge following in Mexico. His religion has apparently switched from Roman Catholicism to evangelical Protestant.

And on the political ladder, he entered the Philippines House of Representatives in 2010 and is now running for a seat in the Senate.

There isn't a bigger 1.66m man in the world right now.

Boxing has given him that, but at 37 years of age, it cannot go on forever. He pledges that April 9 will be his last pro fight. But he is in one now, and he knows it.

On Thursday he apologised, somewhat, for his TV broadcast.

He said he regretted "hurting people by comparing homosexuals to animals." But the apology was qualified. He repeated that, going by the Bible, he was opposed to same-sex marriage.

He sounds like a man caught between his upbringing and the riches thrown at him because of his courage and ability to inflict harm on lesser men in licensed boxing.

Less than a year ago, many Americans wanted Pacquiao to whup Floyd Mayweather in Las Vegas. It was the most outlandish event imaginable, sold as the Fight of the Century.

It turned out to be a damp squib. Mayweather - billed as the baddie after being convicted of beating his girlfriend in front of their children - was the winner on points.

This week, when Pacquiao was down, Mayweather commented: "Just let people live their lives the way they want to live their lives. I don't have anything against anyone. To each his own."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2016, with the headline 'Pacquiao knocked out by corporate heavyweight'. Print Edition | Subscribe