When words get in the way

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Through the years, pro boxing has had its share of controversial utterances from champion boxers. Easily the most controversial was the statement Muhammad Ali issued back in the 1960s, when he opposed the Vietnam War and refused to be drafted into the United States military. “I ain’t got no quarrel with the VietCong. No VietCong called me a nigger,” said Ali. The then heavyweight champ was arrested and found guilty of draft evasion. He was stripped of the crown and did not fight again until the Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1971.

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In the 1980s, Larry Holmes was closing in on Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 record when he drew howls from the media for a remark he made on Marciano. “If you want to get technical about it, Rocky couldn’t carry my jockstrap,” said Holmes. Marciano, for those not in the know, happened to be white.

In the 1990s, former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson drew criticisms from the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) community for the way he mocked then adversary Donovan “Razor” Ruddock. “Everyone knows you’re a transvestite and you’re in love with me,” Tyson told Ruddock. “You’re sweet. I’m gonna make sure you kiss me good with those lips. I’m gonna make you my girlfriend.”

Fast-forwarded to the present day: Former eight-division world titlist Manny Pacquiao is the latest to join the bandwagon of boxing champions who misfired with their choice of words. Pacquiao has not scored a knockout since 2009, but any question about his punching ability was put to rest when he recently rocked the entire LGBT community with a scathing remark on the issue on same-sex marriage.

As captured in a television interview, Pacquiao referred to the physical intimacy between gay people as something worse than animals. In a snap of a finger, Pacquiao’s utterance drew rebuttals from the rest of the world. He lost over two million followers on Twitter and Nike, a popular sports apparel company, dropped him as an endorser. Pacquiao has apologized for the verbal snafu, but the LGBT community has not been receptive.

In recent years, Pacquiao has been moonlighting as a boxer, preacher and politician. He was speaking as a Senatorial candidate when he appeared in the television interview but apparently forgot to hold in abeyance his religious beliefs. It’s a case of putting on the wrong hat for the occasion.

Though he has been a Congressman for some time now, Pacquiao has not acquired the political suave that would have enabled him to appropriately reply on the issue on same-sex marriage. Blame it on his frequent absences in Congress or to his abject refusal to learn protocol, but Pacquiao could have easily avoided dipping his hand into a very controversial jar had he secured from the outset a good speechwriter or adviser. He would not have fallen prey to the trick question. The interviewer knew of his religious beliefs and tossed the question precisely to catch him off-guard.

Speaking before a religious congregation is one thing; making a statement on a national issue is another. Pacquiao failed to draw the line and ended up sounding like one of those preachers who are quick to condemn a sinner. That he is against same-sex marriage is understandable considering his religious leanings, but by labeling those involve in such relationships as worse than animals, Pacquiao went from criticizing to condemning. This is what riled up the LGBT community.

To his credit, Pacquiao has admitted the lapse in judgment and apologized. It will take some time to heal the wounds, but heal in time it will. The immediate impact, however, carries financial and personal repercussions. Not a few from the LGBT community have been bashing Pacquiao, even citing his not-so illustrious past. If this goes any further, then everybody will descend to the level of animals.

Pacquiao made a mistake and he was man enough to own up to it. Everyone is susceptible to making one, but nobody should be denied the chance to learn from it.

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For comment, the writer can be reached at atty_eduardo@yahoo.com.

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