MANILA, Philippines – The thing with super heroes is, they don’t exist. The heroes we look up to are fallible human beings who stand on a pedestal which is hard to live up to. And when they fall short, they’re often torn down and replaced.
Manny Pacquiao made a mistake. He made comments that are “reprehensible,” as his own promoter put them, and he’s paying for them. He’s lost his relationship with Nike and will have a hard time recovering his marketability with international brands. He drew a line in the sand where he once enjoyed nearly unanimous adoration.
Pacquiao, when asked about his stance on gay marriage by TV5, rationalized that it shouldn’t be legalized in the Philippines as homosexual behavior is not found in the animal kingdom (a claim thoroughly debunked in this Forbes piece).
Following this logic, he reasoned “Animals are better, they know how to distinguish male from female,” a sentence he followed with one which could hardly have been more ill-advised: “If we approve male-on-male, female-on-female, then man is worse than animals.”
He apologized shortly after for comparing gays and animals, asked to be forgiven, but stood by his opposition to same-sex marriage. As it’s shown, it’s a hard statement to apologize for.
Pacquiao will have to take his medicine. We live in a free society where no person living a law-abiding life should have to feel marginalized for their race or sexuality. But it’s short-sighted to color his whole existence with this incident and to overlook the years of goodwill.
A lot of the criticism he has received has been warranted: there is no justification to comparing humans and animals.
Still, in the anger stoked, some of it has been ad hominem that advances no cause, like when columnist Shakira Sison wrote in her opinion piece “The ‘sub-humanity’ of Manny Pacquiao” that she has “not expected anything intelligent to come out of his mouth in a long time” because he’s a fighter.
The statement portrays an entire segment of young men – many of whom likewise come from impoverished backgrounds and take up the sport to provide for their families – as unintelligent because of their profession, which is both denigrating and inaccurate.
In her column, she says she forgives Pacquiao, who is depicted as a caveman, for having only an “elementary level” education. Pacquiao, like many other poor young people in the Philippines, dropped out of school at age 14 to join the workforce.
He lived under a cardboard box in a Manila park for a short while as he tried to make his way in the world. He is a product of the economic disparity that still plagues this country.
Offering mock forgiveness for his lack of education in turn mocks the many others who have been deprived of the same education which should be a basic human right. It’s elitist, which is how Sison said she didn’t want to be perceived when she wrote her personal condemnation of Pacquiao in Tagalog.
Pacquiao is now age 37, well past his prime and eyeing retirement, and having to move on after the disappointing outcome of his fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr last year.
Pacquiao was, at his best, a uniting force for Filipinos around the world. He gave a global face to the Philippines, and was a symbol for the Filipino underdog, a man whose success was neither bought nor inherited.
Growing up in New Jersey, what people most frequently told me of what they knew of the Philippines was Imelda Marcos and her loaded shoe closet. That was until Pacquiao came along.
When you remember the words which have caused Pacquiao to be reviled in many circles, consider a few of the other things he’s done also. Remember not only how his dominance of iconic boxers like Oscar de la Hoya, Marco Antonio Barrera, and Erik Morales brought cheer to boxing fans of all nations.
Remember too, in 2013, when Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) devastated the province of Leyte, and Pacquiao’s fight with Brandon Rios was beamed to evacuation centers, providing fans with a brief escape. To cheer instead of grieve, if only momentarily.
Or when Pacquiao visited the Astrodome in Tacloban City and met with over 1,000 evacuees, one of whom had lost her son and told Inquirer, “His mere presence is more than enough for us to somehow forget that we are victims of Yolanda’s mad fury.”
And remember the comfort he gave to Mary Jane Veloso, whose death sentence in Indonesia embodies the struggle that many OFWs face, or how he’s championed the fight against human trafficking.
Pacquiao made his bed. Just as it took time for people to believe he had truly changed his womanizing and gambling ways, Pacquiao will have to demonstrate through his actions that he respects all people, even if he doesn’t agree with them.
But for what he has meant to the Philippines, and how he has demonstrated what can be accomplished through sheer hard work and dedication, Pacquiao deserves that opportunity.
He’s been a hero to many people for a long time, and even in cynical times, that means something.
For now Pacquiao is tasked with maintaining his focus on training, even as a storm of controversy rages over social media. Twenty-one years into his career, he has one final chance to display the boxing ability which made people fall in love with him in the first place.
As the old saying in boxing goes, you’re only as good as your last fight to some. – Rappler.com
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanSongalia.
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