LAS VEGAS – Kelly Swanson, Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s estimable, longtime publicist, was seated, quite literally, on the edge of her seat as Mayweather spoke with a small group of media Tuesday at the MGM Grand.
For half an hour, the session slogged on uneventfully. Mayweather, who defends his WBC welterweight and super welterweight title belts on Saturday in a Showtime pay-per-view rematch against Marcos Maidana at the MGM Grand Garden, said little of consequence.
He seemed distracted, almost bored. There weren't the outbursts of emotion he'd so famously made in similar sessions in the same room in years past.
Asked if he still planned to retire when he completes the three fights remaining on his Showtime contract, Mayweather said probably.
That became news, though when he added that he feels differently about the topic every day, it was largely ignored.
When Swanson shouted,"Last question!" to the reporters, one took the chance to ask Mayweather his opinion of what happened to ex-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. On Monday, celebrity gossip site TMZ released video of the three-time Pro Bowl running back slugging his then-fiancée, Janay, with a left hook to the jaw in an elevator in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino. The NFL initially suspended Rice for two games, but the Baltimore Ravens cut him and the NFL suspended him indefinitely Monday after the tape of the punch in the elevator surfaced.
People everywhere, including many of Rice's peers in the NFL, were outraged by what they saw. Terrance Knighton, a defensive tackle for the Denver Broncos, tweeted, "That man should be thrown out the the nfl and thrown into jail. Shame on those deciding his punishment."
President Obama even released a statement via press secretary Josh Earnest, saying in part: "… And like any American, [Obama] believes that domestic violence is contemptible and unacceptable in a civilized society. Hitting a woman is not something a real man does …"
Swanson's heart had to jump when Mayweather was asked about Rice. Mayweather has been arrested several times on domestic violence charges and spent much of the summer of 2012 in a Las Vegas jail after pleading guilty to reduced charges regarding allegations he beat Josie Harris, the mother of three of his four children.
Last week, he was sued in civil court by Shantel Jackson, his former fiancée, who, among other allegations, accused Mayweather of assault and battery.
The smart move for Mayweather would have been to give a no comment to the question about Rice. It's not as if he hasn't used that tactic before. Frequently when he's asked about fighting Manny Pacquiao, Mayweather essentially says no comment.
Even Tuesday, when Pacquiao's name surfaced and he was asked about a potential fight between them, Mayweather replied with his stock answer that he's just focusing on Maidana.
He'd have been much better off giving a similar answer when asked about Rice.
At the very best, Mayweather came off incredibly tone deaf in answering. Never once did he express outrage over seeing a man knock out a woman half his size with a punch to the jaw.
"I wish something positive [will come] out of the situation," Mayweather said. "You know, I'm not here to say anything negative about him. Things happen. You live and you learn. No one is perfect."
Mayweather has long been hesitant to judge other celebrities when they've gotten into trouble. He's said he's been falsely accused before and has said he didn't want to get into anyone's business without all of the facts.
That's not how he responded Tuesday when asked about Rice. He went on to question the NFL for increasing the suspension. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s initial suspension sparked outrage across the country because people felt Rice was let off easily.
When the inside-the-elevator video was released, Goodell increased the punishment, but that hasn't stopped people calling for Goodell's job because of how he handled the situation.
Yet Mayweather, somewhat stunningly, said he felt it was unfair for the NFL to increase the penalty.
"They had said they suspended him for two games," Mayweather said. "Whether they'd seen the tape or not, I actually believe a person should stick to their word. If you tell me you're going to do something, do what you're going to say you're going to do. But once again, I'm not in the NFL, so I can't speak about the situation, but I wish everyone nothing but the best."
That answer lacked the awareness of the visceral anger gripping the country about the Rice situation and domestic violence. It also lacked a clear sense of what is right and wrong.
But when a reporter pushed him and said the Rice elevator footage was disturbing, Mayweather's answer was outrageously shortsighted and insensitive.
"I think there are a lot of worse things that go on in other people's households, also," Mayweather said. "It's just not caught on video."
That may well be true, but that's not the point. The point is that a woman was knocked unconscious by an NFL player twice her size. That should evoke outrage from anyone who sees it. No man should ever hit a woman, period, end of story. Yet Mayweather chose not to go that route.
Leonard Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions and the boxer's longtime friend, told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday that Mayweather hadn't thought much about the Rice case and that Mayweather failed to express his true feelings regarding domestic violence.
"Despite what people may say or believe, Floyd believes it's never appropriate for a man to put his hands on a woman," Ellerbe said.
But Mayweather's answer to the question was troubling because he didn't say that, even when prompted and given a chance to amend his first answer. To say, "I wish everyone nothing but the best," after admitting he saw an NFL player knock out a woman is incredibly cavalier.
I've covered Mayweather's fights since 1995, when he was an amateur. I've seen him do some incredibly selfless, charitable things. I was there in 2009 when he drove around the poor areas of Las Vegas and stood in the back of a truck in 100-degree heat and personally handed out food to the homeless.
But I've also been there to see him flash his temper and react angrily to situations that didn't seem to call for it.
He's a complex man who, like all of us, has done some good and some bad in his life.
He has denied all past allegations of domestic violence against him and has suggested he's become a target because of his wealth and notoriety.
He couldn't resist trying to defend himself in the Harris case, which earned him his 2012 jail sentence.
He noted that in other famous cases of domestic violence against athletes and celebrities, there are pictures. He said there aren't pictures circulating of a bruised and beaten Harris, implying it's because there aren't any and that the abuse never happened.
The fact that he didn't get angry when he talked about Rice punching his then-fiancée doesn't mean, of course, that Mayweather condones the act. But it was difficult to listen as Mayweather so badly missed the point about an issue that has so angered the nation.
He hasn't been on the right side of women's issues often. In June, he wrote the following on Instagram:
"How a female dresses is her advertisement. If a female shows half of her body, she's asking to be disrespected. If she dresses classy, expect to be treated like a lady. How you're addressed lies on your attire. Sexy is a spirit, not an attitude."
That's a Neanderthal attitude if ever there were one. How a woman dresses is up to her and no matter how she chooses to dress, it's no reason to disrespect her.
Mayweather is a shrewd and intelligent man, despite his lack of a formal education. It's time he began to act the part.
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