By Rudy Mondragon (Twitter: @boxingintellect)
In the last day, I have received messages from close friends asking me about my thoughts on Oscar De La Hoya’s farewell letter to Floyd Mayweather. As I read the letter, I found it reeking of bitterness and resentment caused by Oscar’s relationship (or lack there of) with Floyd Mayweather. Given what we are seeing at the University of Missouri, where student leaders and the entire football team mobilized to pressure the university’s leadership for their lack of addressing racial bias and sexual violence, I feel that Oscar’s letter to Floyd needs to be addressed and discussed in new ways. In a way that goes beyond boxing.
In this letter, Oscar hits on a variety of themes. He comments on how boring Floyd Mayweather is as a boxer, the lack of risk taken in his career, and insulting Floyd for his participation in Dancing with the Stars. Many have read this and agree with Oscar. To an extent, I would also agree with Oscar. Some of Floyd’s fights have been boring. Floyd should have fought with Pacquiao five years ago. Floyd has taken calculated risks within a sporting industry that expects their employees to expose their bodies to punishment and discipline. When boxers are taking home run shots to their heads, wouldn’t you take calculated risks too? The reality is, some fighters have no choice but to take risks as boxing is a vehicle for making ends meet.
Reading this letter a second time however, I couldn’t help but be critical of the content. A second read of the letter stimulated the following questions. Why do folks continue to hate and critique Floyd Mayweather? What is informing their critiques? It seems to me that fans and media will never give Floyd credit. He could move up in weight and challenge and beat a heavyweight and people would still show him no love. I would have given Oscar more credit had he used his platform to call out Floyd’s history with gender-based violence. After all, both fighters have their shortcomings in the arena of reinforcing patriarchy and choosing to stay silent on the issues. However, Oscar used his platform as a wealthy boxing promoter and iconic retired boxer to critique Floyd from a toxic position. That position was one of anti-blackness and it informed the way in which Oscar wrote the open letter published in Playboy Magazine.
To better understand how it is possible for Oscar De La Hoya to ascribe to anti-blackness, it is important to explain Oscar’s relationship to whiteness. According to Gregory Rodriguez, De La Hoya was portrayed as an All-American antithesis to the stereotypical threatening Mexican masculinity that is over represented by the media. In other words, Oscar was considered an exceptional Mexican who was not undocumented, did not gang bang, or engage in criminal activity. He was understood as a different kind of Mexican American. In my opinion, Oscar was Mexican American boxer who was accepted by white America because he was politically safe. Gregory Rodriguez further states that Oscar was considered a racially marked man who transcended his racial status. In other words, the mainstream media and fan base of boxing didn’t always read Oscar as a person of color. He was read and presented as an American Mexican boxer who could pass for white.
As a white friendly boxer who took no political risks, Oscar De La Hoya was afforded the power he needed to succeed in the boxing game. Boxing author Thomas Hauser described Oscar as having cultivated his career as a clean-cut corporate friendly fighter. We see this manifest during the Oscar De La Hoya and Fernando Vargas press conference in 2001. Top Rank President, Bob Arum, introduced Oscar De La Hoya as a member of the school of boxing that is represented by Sugar Ray Leonard and Evander Holyfield. Arum married Oscar, Leonard, and Holyfield as examples of the gentlemen of boxing. He then said Fernando Vargas, Zab Judah, and Mike Tyson were in the opposite school of boxing. What Arum was saying is that they were from the savage and uncivilized school of boxing. As a result, Vargas was labeled as the villain while Oscar had the privilege of being presented as the hero within this moral contest. This was further confirmed as Oscar stepped up to the podium and agreed with the words of Bob Arum, stating:
“One thing that I have to say is that I try to represent boxing in a good way to make the sport grow. On the other hand we have this guy (Vargas) who is along with Tysons and the Judahs of the world.”
These words confirmed De La Hoya’s acceptance and support of labeling boxers of color as deviant threats to the white power structure.
I say all this to show a small piece of Oscar’s past experience, an experience that hardly gets mentioned since most boxing fans and media are more concerned with what happens in the ring. Oscar’s letter to Floyd had three major issues that I would like to briefly discuss. These three issues, as I argue, are informed by Oscar’s anti-blackness sentiment that informed the writing of this letter. The first is Oscar’s assumption that Floyd will unwisely blow off all his money and will have to find an alternative way to make ends meet. Oscar reduces Floyd’s legacy in boxing to simply making large sums of money. Oscar states that Floyd made,
“More money than you could spend in a lifetime. (Wait, I’ve seen those episodes of 24/7. You probably will spend it all.)”
Resentful and bitter of Floyd’s financial success, Oscar insults Floyd on a very sensitive subject. Black fighters in boxing have had sharks and leeches pray on their financial success. We know about the stories of Evander Holyfield losing his home and boxing earnings. He’s so financially unstable that he recently agreed to get knocked out by Republican Mitt Romney for a charity event!
Most recently, we found out that Felix Trinidad lost $63 million dollars investing Puerto Rican Government Bonds. An investment his financial adviser made even after he was told to invest conservatively. To say that a black man will most likely lose all his earnings speaks to Oscar’s irresponsible ignorance to the belief that black people are in poverty as a result of their cultural behavior. He ignores the dark reality of many black boxers who have risen out of poverty, earned large sums of money, and then were taken advantage of by managers and promoters who claimed to have their best interest at heart. To say Floyd can “open up a used-car dealership or run a circus” speaks to Oscar’s heartless position in taking lightly his assumption that Floyd is not smart with his money and will eventually go broke. What kind of mentality does Oscar ascribe to that inform these kinds of words?
The second issues I took with the letter is Oscar’s overall bitterness and resentment towards Floyd. He critiques Floyd for not taking risks in his career. This speaks to Oscar’s own insecurities and traumas directly related to his own career. Let’s recall the night of September 18, 1999. Oscar was undefeated and facing Felix Trinidad. Oscar fought an ultra-conservative fight. He only used his jab and never took any serious risks. He ended up losing that fight as a result of refusing to trade punches and engage in the final rounds. To me, his critique of Floyd is really a reflection of his own disapproval of how his career turned out. Yes, Oscar faced top competition. Yes, the case can be made that they were all in their prime. The reality is however, Oscar lost to all of them (Trinidad, Mosley, Hopkins, Mayweather, Pacquiao). To what extent does this inform Oscar’s letter, which can be read as a letter to vent his own frustrations with his career?
The third issues I take with this letter is Oscar’s sense of entitlement. After all, who does Oscar think he is, the Prime Minister of Boxing? The following is the most problematic statement I found in this letter. Oscar writes,
“Boxing will also be a better place without the Mouth. Your mouth, to be precise, the one that created “Money” Mayweather. I know you needed that Money Mayweather persona.”
Again, a great deal of resentment, bitterness, and jealousy. More importantly though is Oscars entitlement to feel he can say that Floyd’s career consisted of being too loud for white America. This speaks to Oscar’s (white) anxieties in not being able to control a person like Floyd Mayweather. Oscar lost to Floyd in the ring and Floyd has beaten Golden Boy Promotion fighters on multiple occasions. Writing this letter is Oscar’s attempt to re-establish dominance and control the mouth of a black man he feels is taking up too much space in the white world Oscar is so comfortable living in.
Lastly, I don’t want people reading this and thinking I am arguing that Oscar De La Hoya is trying to be white. Also, this opinion piece is not about hating on Oscar or not respecting the contributions he has made in the sport. Nor am I saying that coming up financially, as Oscar has, is a bad thing. What I am trying to show is that Oscar ascribes to a problematic ideology of whiteness, has benefited from whiteness, and writes a letter that is informed by anti-blackness. Oscar’s light skin allowed him to pass as white. Being a politically correct figure also made corporate (and corrupt) white America feel safe around Oscar. And guess what, it paid off for him. There are serious implications to this. The most important, in my opinion, is Oscar’s transformation as a result of his adaptability to whiteness.
As a person committed to social justice, I take two things very seriously. One is that I try my best to not pass judgment on anyone. Oscar is on a unique journey and it is filled with ups and downs. I don’t judge him because, the reality is, we all have struggles. I am however, critical of how he uses his earned privileges in dehumanizing ways.
The second thing I take serious is why I do social justice work. I do this work out of love. As a distant brother, I got love for Oscar. I understand that he has had to navigate a world which looks down on poor brown folks from the barrios of East Los Angeles. I understand how difficult it must have been for Oscar to deny certain parts of his identities in order to navigate the boxing industry and achieve success. I understand how hard that must have been and the price he’s had to pay in not being honest with the world about who Oscar De La Hoya really is.
My hope is that Oscar can liberate himself from the resentment and bitterness he expresses in this letter. It is part of his healing process. I hope his letter was written from a space of venting, a space that he can eventually move on from. I hope he can forgive himself for the shortcomings he thinks he had in his career and be happy with what he did in boxing. I hope he can stop comparing himself to Floyd Mayweather. It is a pointless endeavor that will keep one trapped regardless of who one compares himself/herself to. I hope Oscar can take an alternative approach and instead of trying to take Floyd down, he can find a way to reconcile with him and work together to envision a collective plan that cares about the wellbeing of boxers.
Thoughts? Opinions? Questions?