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Commentary: 'We Should Demand More Of Our Athletes'


The upcoming boxing match between world champion Floyd Mayweather and mixed martial arts champ Conor McGregor has been getting a whole lot of attention because of the huge payday for both athletes and because their press events have been laced with controversy. That got commentator Sarah Spain wondering why athletes in combat sports aren't held to the same codes of conduct as the rest of the pro sports world.

SARAH SPAIN: Over the course of four promotional press conferences in four different cities earlier this month, boxer Floyd Mayweather and MMA fighter Conor McGregor went from your standard pre-fight trash talk - the expected, uber-aggressive, hyper-masculine boasts and insults - to incorporating racial, homophobic and misogynist slurs. The two are promoting their August 26 boxing match, which figures to be quite the one-sided affair. Mayweather, 49-0 in his career, is considered one of the greatest boxers of all time. McGregor is a mixed martial arts fighter who has never competed in a boxing bout in his life. Despite the mismatch, fight fans seem to be anticipating the showdown with increasingly glee, even as the fighters' interactions grow increasingly degenerative.

If you saw two football or baseball players engage in a pre-game battle of slurs, you'd expect fines and suspensions, plus think pieces on how they disgraced their team or sport. But when it comes to fighting sports, it feels like the wild, Wild West. Without any ruling commissioner to hand down punishments and no set personal conduct policy, fighters are free to be as barbaric outside the ring as their sport is inside it. Mayweather has been accused of assaulting five different women in at least seven different incidents, including serving jail time in 2011 after pleading guilty to battery domestic violence. If he was a football player, he wouldn't be in the league anymore. And if he was, there would be protests and boycotts. But as a boxer, he's not only still fighting; he's revered, presenting awards at the ESPY's and Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, giving reporters tours of his lavish homes.

Why are sports fans OK with Mayweather's violent past, OK with the offensive exchanges passed off as promotion for his upcoming fight with McGregor? We shouldn't need a player to be fined or suspended in order to understand that a wrong has been committed. Perhaps expectations are just incredibly low when it comes to the actions of men who fight for a living. How disappointing. These aren't the gladiator days. And Mayweather and McGregor aren't slaves to a ruling class. After they trade their slurs and punches, they'll take their millions of dollars home to mansions and fleets of cars. Some of you might not care who provides your entertainment so long as you're entertained. I think we should demand more of our athletes and of ourselves.

MARTIN: Commentator Sarah Spain is a Chicago-based host and reporter for ESPN. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah Spain
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