WORD POWER

When Floyd Mayweather Shouts ‘Faggot,’ This Is What LGBT People Hear

Boxer Floyd Mayweather just called upcoming opponent Conor McGregor ‘faggot.’ This, alongside racism, has taken the men’s pre-bout baiting to a dark place far beyond trash talk.

“Faggot.”

Floyd Mayweather shouted it at Conor McGregor today, Friday, in London.

To give his ugly litany proper context: “Punk. You faggot. You ho.”

There it is. Loud. Like a bullet. A knife. Threatening.

I’m ready for the “It’s only pre-match hype.” “It’s all pantomime.” “This happens in every big boxing match.” “None of them mean it.” “This is just boxers trash talking.”

Don’t bother. We can all hear how Mayweather says, and means, “faggot.” He means “faggot” when faggot means “gay,” when “gay” means “less of a man than me” who should be scared of me when I shout “faggot” at him, and know his lower, disgusting place. The ultimate, de-masculinizing insult.

That kind of “faggot.”

I suppose it counts as irony that this insult was flung as part of the whacked-out circus of two apparently straight men touring the world in ridiculous outfits, screaming at each other demented insults to promote a boxing match on Aug. 26 in Las Vegas to make them lots of money.

As Robert Silverman wrote in The Daily Beast: “Why did all the parties involved agree to go ahead with what’s sure to be a grim, flabby spectacle? The answer is simple and, well, not that simple: money.”

Mayweather said “faggot” just the way gay men, and men assumed to be gay, have heard “faggot” shouted, said, whispered, spat at them for centuries.

Maybe it’s good to hear it again, just so everyone can hear its ugliness, remember its ugliness, and remember what that ugliness stands for.

Mayweather’s ease at saying it on a world stage, in front of hundreds of cameras and now viewed by thousands, however, brings its own sanction, especially in this era when LGBTQ people are coming under greater attack.

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Attacks in law, and attacks viewed by millions as part of a boxing promotion, do two things. They bring out lots of people who say how bad it is to say this kind of stuff which is all very nice, but they also make the saying and doing of bad things, like shouting “faggot” at people, and thinking that is OK, that much more standard.

You might call it the genie-out-of-the-bottle principle.

If this all sounds a little dramatic, and you’ve never been called a “faggot,” here’s a primer.

You never know when it’s coming. You might be at school. You might be in a restroom. You might be going to lunch. You might be leaving a bar or club. You may be with friends. You may be on a bus or train. At night. During the day. But every time it scythes the air. And you think: Really? Now? You may not be out as gay, you may be coming out. You may not even be gay.

But the threat is suddenly there. This isn’t “faggot” as gays reclaimed it, this is “faggot” as the bigots with their fists, guns, weapons, and whatever else they have to injure and degrade gay people intend it to be heard. As an attack on you as a man, their idea of what a man is, which isn’t gay.

And, ironically as Mayweather said this as a prelude to beating another man up, it often comes with the threat of a fist or worse. “Faggot” can be the last thing you hear before you are injured or worse.

Anti-gay bullying at school, anti-gay violence on the street, homophobic murders, homophobic laws, the idea of gay men as lesser men: They all have “faggot” like a maggot at their center.

Hell, the word can even be carved into both your arms—“Die Fag” to be precise—by your attackers. Perhaps Mayweather thinks that sounds pretty cool.

Mayweather’s “faggot” also emerged as part of a bizarrely, overly executed parade of anger and aggression between the two men.

All week Mayweather and McGregor have been involved in a spectacularly debasing scramble to the bottom of the barrel when it comes to pre-bout baiting, with homophobia and racism being flung as carelessly as mud on a rainy day.

For minorities who fear that both those ugly phenomena are now returning to the public and political arena in ever more alarming ways, here were two grown men willing to prove it in the name of publicity, and to line their wallets.

One hopes the hatred they spout, and encourage among the public, is worth it.

In the American arm of this pair’s publicity tour, McGregor had described the black boxers in Apollo Creed’s gym in Rocky III as “dancing monkeys.”

Mayweather responded: “I don’t like the fact that he called blacks ‘monkeys.’ I think that’s totally disrespectful. Saying a lot of racist things today to black women, I have two black daughters and a black mother… He’s crossing the line, I can’t focus on that right now. I’m here to do a job and my job is to go out there and entertain but he’s out there losing a lot of fans.”

McGregor then defended himself, “Let’s address the race,” he said. “A lot of media seem to be saying I’m against black people. That’s absolutely fucking ridiculous. Do they not know I’m half-black? Yeah. I’m half-black from the belly button down.”

Way to go. Counter a racism charge with something even more racist.

Can’t they just punch the living hell out of each other, pick up their insanely large paychecks, and be done with it?

McGregor then tried to save face at a subsequent interview. “That doesn’t really sit well with me,” he said of the charge of racism. “I’m very multi-cultured, and I don’t have any ill-feelings towards anybody. I don’t even see color. I just wanted to say something and have a little bit of fun with it. I just wanted to play with it and address it in my own little way. It’s stupid and ridiculous. Basically that’s what I was getting at.”

Will Mayweather offer any kind of apology or mea culpa for “faggot”? Doubtful. His father, Floyd Mayweather Sr. loves the word “faggot.” He once called Manny Pacquiao “one of the biggest faggots on the planet.”

Amir Khan, he told an interviewer, was a “fag ass and sissy,” who didn’t deserve to benefit from a payday following a fight with his son because “he’s a fag.”

Pacquiao himself, not to be outdone by Mayweather Sr., called gay people “worse than animals.” He is now a senator in the Philippines.

Mayweather Jr.’s words today sound ugly because in 2017, “faggot”—said with the despicable venom Mayweather said it with—we thought was as verboten on our TV screens as the N-word rightly is. Apparently not.

Mainstream boxing has a long and inglorious relationship with not just the F-word but homosexuality in general.

The world welter- and middleweight champion Emile Griffith accidentally killed an opponent, Benny Paret, in 1962 during a bout—this after Paret had incensed him at the weigh-in by calling him a “maricón,” Spanish slang for “faggot.”

Lennox Lewis denied he was gay, despite rumors to the contrary, claiming he was a “woman’s man” in a TV confrontation with Hasim Rahman in 2001.

In 2015, heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury’s homophobia came accompanied by Bible verses, and instructions to “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

One of the most astonishing tirades—for its mixing of violence, race, sex, power, homophobia, and lyrical poetry—was Mike Tyson’s against a reporter, who in 2002 said Tyson should be in a straitjacket.

“I’ll put your mother in a straitjacket, you punk-ass white boy. Come here and tell me that, and I’ll fuck you in your ass, you punk white boy, you faggot... I’ll eat your asshole alive, you bitch... You scared, coward, you’re not man enough to fuck with me, you can’t last two minutes in my world, bitch. Look at you, scared now, you ho. Scared like a little white pussy, scared of the real man. I’ll fuck you till you love me, faggot.”

There is, you might say, quite a lot going on there—and all of the toxic masculinity that boxing freely encourages is wrapped up in it.

Tyson, like Mayweather Jr., has a history of domestic violence. In boxing, it seems, masculinity—of the most hyper-aggressive kind—must be averred at all times out of the ring as well as in it.

And yet boxing has its own strange camp to it. It is not enough for Mayweather and McGregor to snarl at each other in tight briefs at a weigh-in, their groin bulges nearly touching, flexing, and posing.

The only thing to do in such an overtly homoerotic situation to assert your rampant heterosexuality is to scream that the other guy’s a faggot. Or hit him. Or turn away and flex.

Or what? You might just do the most natural thing in the surreal circumstance and kiss him, or grab a handful. Or enquire how he got his amazing delts.

Instead, Mayweather and McGregor, these big, butch men, must be mean to each other for months in confected theatrical situations before actually hitting one another. Even the most dedicated Mean Girl would not have the energy for this.

Within this demented arena of aggression and dollars, Mayweather and McGregor have shown themselves this week to be the worst kind of men, the most pathetic, the least manly, the least admirable, and the worst possible examples to young people.

For all their muscles and menace, their insults based on skin color and sexuality show us how weak they are.

Well, if it pays their bills and makes them feel badass—fine. But they should know that they are weaker than any gay man or black person they have invoked and insulted.

We have had real fists and real insults thrown and jabbed in our faces, and we know that while racists and homophobes are vile and sometimes terrifying they are also less than nothing. We know their weakness as soon as we hear them say “faggot.”

There is also the example of Orlando Cruz, the first professional boxer to come out as gay in 2012, who told Der Spiegel of what he would he would say to an opponent who called him the F-word: “What? You call me a faggot? Okay, if you like. But you’d better watch out, because I’m the faggot who’s going to kick your ass.”

You might argue that answering violence with violence is never the answer—though you might also argue that the moronic homophobes in boxing, so long left to spew their prejudice with impunity, really have it coming.