A Note On Antonio Margarito And “Sanctimony”

Try though I might to move on from the whole Antonio Margarito handwraps issue, there’s a poisonous element of the debate over whether he deserved a boxing license that is so pernicious I must expand on my previous answer to it. The element is this: Many backers of Margarito receiving a license are labeling anyone who has vocally opposed Margarito receiving a license “sanctimonious,” “pious,” “self-righteous” and other variants of a description of someone excessively and most likely insincerely condemning the idea of Margarito (pictured below right, next to November junior middleweight opponent Manny Pacquiao) fighting again.

It’s hard to even know where to start, and it may be an entire waste of breath. Some of the people expressing disgust at opponents’ “outrage” and “whininess” are doing so in endless, repetitive way, to the point that nearly every item on their Twitter feed is about it, yet can’t see that to the extent anyone is “whining” or expressing “outrage,” they’re doing it, too.

In their universe, anyone who is more vocally opposed to Margarito loading his gloves than other boxing infractions is a “hypocrite.” In actuality, there are plenty of good reasons to be more vocally opposed to Margarito loading his gloves than other boxing infractions.

Most bothersome of all, they behave as though there’s something inherently offensive about someone declaring their opposition to something they consider morally repulsive — as though that’s not a fairly fundamental aspect of public debate, one that doesn’t require projections of secret ulterior motives that aren’t in evidence virtually anywhere.

Outrage, Whining, Etc.

It’s enough to make you wonder if the people using these words even know what they mean, or if they have any mirrors in their houses. There is indeed a fair amount of outrage in the boxing world about Margarito receiving a license to fight in Texas. But if you constantly rail against such outrage, what do you call that? If opponents’ outrage isn’t something “that strongly offends, insults, or affronts the feelings” of Margarito supporters, then why spend so much time acting so all-fire insulted about it?

I’ve always found it interesting that some people label anyone who disagrees with them as “complaining” or “whining,” but no matter how much they complain about everyone else’s complaining, they don’t think of themselves as “whiners.”

As for self-righteousness: I’d again encourage anyone who’s all up in arms about opponents of Margarito receiving a license to consider whether they themselves might be “confident of one’s own righteousness, esp. when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others.” After all, if someone wasn’t feeling “intolerant of the opinion and behavior of others,” he or she wouldn’t spend all day making sarcastic and taunting remarks, would they?

And as for “sanctimony”: Man, I don’t even know how anyone can pretend to have knowledge about whether someone else is “feigning” piety. It’s not like anybody here is Jimmy Swaggart, preaching against sins of the flesh but repeatedly getting caught paying for time with prostitutes. I’m not even sure what’s in it for anyone theoretically “feigning” piety in this situation. I’ve seen it suggested in more than one place that people criticizing the Margarito situation are hoping to make money off doing it. Actually, the opposite position would be more likely to make you money. I’ve found that when you say something positive about Margarito’s opponent, Pacquiao, you’re more likely to get web traffic than if you say something negative. Right now, some of the people criticizing Margarito are also criticizing Pacquiao for taking the fight, and I concur with them that Pacquiao could have turned it down and sent a good message. Because of that, anyone saying Margarito shouldn’t get licensed is likely taking a money-losing proposition; in reality, you’d get richer (such as it is for Internet traffic, which isn’t much) saying Margarito deserved a license.

Now, you could say I’m being outraged about people’s outrage at others’ outrage, or that I’m being self-righteous about other people being self-righteous about others’ self-righteousness. I’ll concede the former. It does kind of piss me off. But on the latter, I happen to think — or maybe it’s just a hope — that both sides are for the most part sincerely confident that they are “morally right or justifiable,”and that there’s a difference between doing so in a smug or intolerant way versus a calm, respectful way. For my part, I can’t say I’m “contentedly confident of my ability, superiority, or correctness,” because I’m open-minded to the arguments of others on this. (In fact, last year, I originally only called for Margarito to be suspended for a period of time. Only after commenters on this site suggested harsher measures, and after additional information came to light, was I won over in favor of a permanent ban.) I consider many of these people friends, so I can’t say I’m being intolerant about it — nor can I say that all of them are being intolerant about it, because they’re still friends with me. I can’t say some people on my side of the argument aren’t exhibiting some of those characteristics. But some of the people being most smug, some of the people being most intolerant, are also definitely on the pro-Margarito side, with the ironic part being that they’re the ones initiating the “smug” complaint.

Differences In Margarito’s Behavior

One of the arguments I’ve encountered a lot — and I’ll somewhat reprint my answers to them — is that anyone expressing outrage at Margarito and calling for a lifetime ban ought to likewise be calling for a lifetime ban toward all cheaters and reprobates, or else they’re being hypocritical.

This is rooted in a profound misunderstanding of how crime and punishment works, and how professional licensing works.

Boxing has its share of unsavory characters. There are former rapists, even former killers, who box. But that’s a personal behavior question that has nothing to do with boxing. If anyone wants to root against a rapist, I wouldn’t argue with them too much. Given the high number of unsavory characters among performers of all sorts, it’s difficult in art as well as sport to be a fan of anyone’s work if you let their personal behavior get in the way of appreciating their work — I happen to really enjoy the film Rosemary’s Baby, directed by a statutory rapist — but I totally understand why someone would have, for instance, loved to see former wife-beater Edwin Valero get knocked out in the ring.

This must be looked at as a professional question. Boxers get licenses. In all professions, when you violate the rules of your profession, you risk losing your license or being suspended. And this has happened to a large number of cheaters, of many different varieties. So, for instance, with steroid use, boxers have been suspended, as well they should be. Boxers who bite other boxers’ ears off have also been suspended, as well they should be. Boxers who head butt or low blow excessively can be disqualified, and being disqualified –at least in some states, if not all of them — results in an automatic suspension.

The severity of the punishment should match the severity of the violation. There’s nobody in any universe — certainly not me — who thinks every single violation, no matter how minor or major, should be punished exactly the same way. It’s my opinion, as I explained here, that because in boxing history gloves loaded with plaster is a form of cheating that have led to severe, permanent harm for boxers, that Margarito should be banned for life. At such point performance enhancing drugs prove capable of similar harm, I will support banning those boxers for life as well. But there are no such incidents I’m aware of. If you know of any, please call them to my attention. I am not pro-PEDs by a long shot. I support boxers being suspended when they are caught using them. I just don’t think they’re as bad as loaded gloves.

(The closest thing to anything representing a double-standard I’ve seen vis-a-vis Margarito is the incident mentioned here, with promoter Lou DiBella’s flip-flop on Margarito.)

Affecting Things How You Can

All right, the most offensive part.

As far as I’m concerned, anybody can say Margarito sucks and anybody can say in return that those people suck for saying Margarito sucks. This isn’t about First Amendment rights or anything that dramatic.

But there is a tradition in America of people protesting and speaking out against the things they oppose. I can’t even imagine why anyone would take umbrage to that basic principle. Yet some Margarito backers are acting like having any views related to what’s right or wrong is some kind of disgrace, that being “moralistic” about Margarito is somehow deserving of contempt.

They’ll tell you boxing is a lawless land filled with offenses, so why even bother? Let’s just see some good fights, right?

I couldn’t disagree more. There are rules in boxing, as there should be, and those rules are based partly on the spirit of fair competition and, yes, morals. Many of those rules were initiated in response to moral outrage. Yes, boxing is fairly untamed — for instance, the NFL has morals clauses that would prevent a rapist from entering the ring — because there is no central body that governs things as rigorously as other sports. But there are still rules. It’s not a place where anything goes.

And speaking out is but one way people can affect whether something right or wrong happens. So, it’s possible that, by speaking out (as many did) prior to Margarito’s California hearing, opponents of Margarito receiving a license influenced the commission. There’s no proof, but if there’s the chance it did, why shouldn’t opponents of Margarito receiving a license have tried to have an influence?

Now that Margarito has a license, some have answered that his opponents should vote with their wallets by not buying Pacquiao-Margarito, and shut up otherwise. The first part of that sentence is a good suggestion. The second part runs contrary to the range of potential influential behaviors one could undertake if one so chose. Anyone still speaking out post-license is one voice affecting the public perception of Pacquiao-Margarito in a way that could have a detrimental affect on sales of Pacquiao-Margarito. Another way people can affect whether something right or wrong happens is to call for a boycott, as some have, which is just a more formal version of the step I just mentioned. There’s nothing diabolical about that — it’s just another form of people fighting for what they care about, or, more precisely, fighting against something they oppose.

Some have suggested that any writer who opposed Margarito receiving a license and still covers Pacquiao-Margarito is being a hypocrite. But I’m not sure how those two things connect. Sure, it would be a powerful statement for a prominent writer to refuse to mention Pacquiao-Margarito. But ultimately they’re boxing writers by trade, and Pacquiao-Margarito is a prominent event in boxing; the writer would have to weigh his obligation to his boss and his readers versus what kind of impact he thinks he could make by refusing to cover Pacquiao-Margarito, never mind the possibility that he maybe could have more of an impact by continuing to write about Pacquiao-Margarito in a harsh light. (Here, I’m talking about columnists, bloggers, etc. more than straight-news reporters, but that’s academic, because there isn’t a single exclusively straight-news writer in boxing today short of the Associated Press.) I haven’t figured out how I’ll handle this myself. But I don’t think that anyone opposed to Margarito is under any obligation to set himself on fire in opposition. He or she can oppose it as he or she sees fit.

I strongly doubt that even those who say “I just want to see a good fight” would agree to that in every circumstance. There’s a chance that there are two boxers out there who retired out of health concerns that would put on a terrific fight if they stepped into the ring against one another. It would be completely competitive. Would any boxing fan want that? There’s a chance that two boxers on PCP would put on a hell of a fight against one another. They would be very evenly matched. Would any boxing fan want that? I’m assuming not, in both cases. And just to be extra careful, I’m not saying that what Margarito did is morally equivalent to the two incidents I just mentioned. I’m only showing that there are examples of “good fights” that these people would oppose on moral grounds, because they would be unsafe and reprehensible. For those of you who think Margarito opponents are off base, you should at least recognize that our opposition comes from a moral place, a place you probably have inside you, even if this particular incident doesn’t trouble you for some reason.

For almost every boxing fan, there must be a moral component to their boxing fandom, or I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t be boxing fans. They should be fans of, say, jailhouse brawls, of other forms of unregulated-yet-competitive violence. Maybe some of them are fans of unregulated violence, too. I suppose those people are at least philosophically consistent.


One last note: I opted against linking to specific writers or people on Twitter because to do so would take all night, since the sentiments I’ve critiqued here, while probably the minority, are more prevalent than I would have imagined. I’ve used phrases specifically employed by some of those writers or people on Twitter, but I’m criticizing them as part of a broader sentiment, not as specific people. Believe it or not, despite my criticisms, I am not sitting around thinking how great I am and how much everyone else who’s expressed any of these sentiments are evil. I disagree with them and their line of thinking, and I’m trying to point out the errors in it as I see them because I think it overly personalizes what might otherwise be a much more constructive, even enjoyable, debate. And I don’t know many of them that well. I can’t sit in judgment of whether they’re good people or bad. I just know I disagree with the way they think about this specific incident.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.