It’s the elephant in the room. What is it? Well, it is race. For the majority of middle class white people, the issue of race is addressed with privileged annoyance. When race just isn’t an issue in a person’s life, it can be hard for that person to understand that race is still an issue. This week before the Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios fight, we got a glimpse of the under belly of boxing as Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, went on a rant using racial slurs in the Rios training room. It was jarring that when angered Roach’s first inclination was to attack a thing we cannot change about ourselves, the color of our skin. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that such a high profile celebrity would reveal his racial perceptions so candidly.
As the skirmish in the training ensued, Roach was kicked in the chest by Alex Ariza. Afterwards the blame was shifted to Ariza. What should we expect? This is the fight game, Ariza has a history of being passionate and Ariza and Roach hate each other, which did not help. The underlying issue was that Roach seemed to never have forgiven Robert Garcia and Brandon Rios for mocking his Parkinson’s disease three years ago, which wasn’t right and hasn’t been forgotten.
Roach, who has long been viewed as the “good guy,” now comes off as a conflicted personality. At best he has a very bad temper, at worst he is a racist. The bigger question in all of this is, what can we learn? The embarrassment of the training room confrontation may provide the possibility for reflection. Boxing is a sport dominated by persons of color coming often coming from low socio economic backgrounds. I don’t hold the expectation that we will have a forum on race in boxing, but I do expect that all fighters should be treated fairly and not be degraded in or out of the ring based on their race or ethnicity. Race matters and differences matter. Racial erasure is just as dangerous as racism.
Recent events can help us focus our attention on trying to find ways to raise the collective consciousness of boxing and to encourage all involved to speak out when bad things happen.