WHEN a boxer says or does something stupid, the connotations of their words and actions are often severe because educated violence is their living.
Over the last few weeks, as lockdown has gripped the world, several boxers armed with mobile phones have gone beyond what can be written off as harmless lapses in concentration.
Scott Fitzgerald had to answer to the police after a series of incoherent social media rants culminated with a photo of his ex-partner nursing a bloodied nose, which was posted by her family. In the last week, Devin Haney, also in isolation and with his phone under his nose, went all Bernard Hopkins and insisted he would never lose to a “white boy”.
The most notorious offender, not for the first time, is Billy Joe Saunders. With the coronavirus isolation rules in their infancy, Saunders – alongside a punchbag – was seen in a video offering advice on how to hit a woman “on the chin” if she was “giving you mouth” during the lockdown.
Saunders’ defence that it was a joke is of course completely unacceptable. Those that know Saunders well claim he has a good heart and is a good guy. My perception of Saunders, from interviews and meetings conducted with him over the years, is the same. He is mischievous and doesn’t take himself too seriously, without question. It’s also worth considering his upbringing as a Traveller and the company he keeps is different to what the vast majority can relate to. He wouldn’t have made such a grotesque ‘joke’ if he didn’t truly believe that people, at least some people, would have been amused. That perception of what is funny to Saunders, and what he believes is funny to others, will only have developed from making his friends and family laugh throughout his life.
But his actions cannot be excused in any way. Saunders, having courted fame since he was one of the best talents on the Team GB squad at the 2008 Olympics, should by now have developed some concept of what is acceptable and what isn’t. The British Boxing Board of Control’s decision to immediately suspend his licence is the right one. They’re now left with a difficult choice about what to do next but, frankly, if a professional boxer without the talent and standing of Saunders had repeatedly acted like an idiot – this is not Billy Joe’s first offence – they’d have been thrown out long ago. That Saunders seems set on fighting in the USA in the near future is a moot point; the Board must be seen to the do the right thing and set the kind of example that Saunders is incapable of. Any promoters working with Billy Joe should also consider their own reputations before putting their hands in their pockets to pay him in the future.
Think about it. If anyone else in the public eye – an actor, a musician, a politician, a broadcaster or whoever – had advocated punching a woman on the chin, irrespective of whether it was intended as a sick joke or not, they would have lost their job on the spot.
Days later, the troubled Fitzgerald found himself in serious trouble. After telling Boxing News last year, and more recently the Daily Star, that he had kicked his substance addictions he took to social media – again via the handy camera phone, again while isolated – to document evidence to the contrary. It wasn’t long before a photograph of Fitzgerald’s ex-girlfriend nursing facial injuries, with blame for it attached to the boxer, went viral.
Only those involved will know what truly went on; Scott claims he was set up. Whatever happened, it should speak of the dangers that isolation presents, of deteriorating mental health and its dire consequences.
Haney declaring he would never lose to a white fighter is a different level, but can certainly be deemed racist. He insists he’s not. In his defence, his words hark back to comments made by many fighters of various races throughout history. It’s time to stop them now.
The trusty mobile phone. The press conference in your pocket. Whip it out, say whatever you like, and the whole world hears it.