Jean Pascal latest to accuse fellow boxer Sergey Kovalev of racism

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

One of the sad realities of the 21st century is that despite all the progress we've made as people, racism still very much exists. People of color are still far too frequently discriminated against, though racism in sports seems to be less pervasive than it is in society as a whole.

Sergey Kovalev lands a body shot on Jean Pascal during their unified light heavyweight championship bout in March 2015. (AFP)
Sergey Kovalev lands a body shot on Jean Pascal during their unified light heavyweight championship bout in March 2015. (AFP)

But listening to former light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal speak at a news conference in Montreal Wednesday to promote his HBO-televised rematch on Saturday with IBF-WBA-WBO champion Sergey Kovalev, it's obvious it still hasn't disappeared from boxing.

Pascal, who is black, went to great lengths, even bringing props, to depict Kovalev, who is white, as a racist.

Unfortunately, this isn't a new allegation against the Russian-born champion. In 2014, Kovalev made the references "Negro" and "dark-skinned people", which sparked a controversy that prompted his manager to declare, "Sergey Kovalev is not a racist."

Those allegations picked up steam in April 2015 when Kovalev posted a photo of himself with a child on Twitter. The child was wearing a t-shirt that had a gorilla's head on a man's body who was wearing boxing gloves. Kovalev was pointing to the t-shirt in the photo. He wrote, "Adonis looks great!!!" He was referring to WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson, who is black, and whom he has been trying to get into the ring for a fight.

Yahoo Sports quizzed Kovalev, manager Egis Klimas and promoter Kathy Duva about that tweet, which was quickly deleted, shortly thereafter at a news conference in Los Angeles to promote an upcoming bout with Nadjib Mohammedi. All three vehemently insisted Kovalev wasn't racist and meant no ill will.

But Pascal brought the subject up again during his training camp, when he repeatedly accused Kovalev of racism. Pascal noted the picture of the gorilla, the fact that Kovalev has called several black fighters "a piece of [expletive]," and that another of Kovalev's former opponents accused him of racists comments, as his evidence.

It was obvious he had a plan as soon as he was introduced.

"I don't want to insult anybody," Pascal said, holding a wireless microphone and pacing back and forth on the dais. "I don't want to talk trash to anyone, but my training camp was great. I did 12 weeks of training camp, four weeks in Montreal and eight weeks in [Los Angeles], with my white coach, Freddie Roach."

Jean Pascal hits Yunieski Gonzalez during their light heavyweight boxing bout in July 2015. (AP)
Jean Pascal hits Yunieski Gonzalez during their light heavyweight boxing bout in July 2015. (AP)

Pascal fired Marc Ramsay and hired Roach to train him after his last fight, a tougher than expected win over Yunieski Gonzalez on the Kovalev-Mohammedi undercard.

Roach's race should have no bearing, but Pascal seemed to be trying to build up to make a point. He then played his cards when he said he'd awakened late and hadn't eaten breakfast.

Pascal walked over to his seat and reached inside of a plastic bag, and pulled out some bananas.

He held one up and said to Kovalev, "Kovy, do you want a banana? You're white. I know you're white, and it's only for black people, bananas, you know. Do you want to take it for your black coach? He might want to eat it because he's black. You want to keep it for your black coach?"

Kovalev is trained by John David Jackson, a former world champion who is one of the sport's most respected men. Pascal then dropped a banana at Jackson's place.

Then, perhaps most significantly, Pascal referred to comments Kovalev allegedly made to Ismayl Sillakh before their 2013 fight in Montreal that Kovalev won by second-round knockout.

"He said in 2013 that Ismayl Sillakh, a black Russian with a dark skin, is a monkey," Pascal said. "He said he was going to whip his black ass. He could have said 'I'm going to whip your ass.' But why did he have to put the color in the sentence? 'Whip your black ass.' That's a racist comment."

He then noted that it could be a mistake if it happened once. But he pointed out that Kovalev had made similar comments more than once.

"When you tell several times the same thing to people, it's not a mistake any more; it's a habit," he said. "It's a pattern. He's done it the first time. He's done it a second time, and he called me a piece of [expletive] because I'm black. He didn't say that to any white fighters, a piece of [expletive]. Only to me and Stevenson, and we're black."

Pascal, who lost to Kovalev in March 2015, then finished by saying that on Saturday, "He'll see that I'm not a monkey; I'm a gorilla."

The sad part of all of this is that racism is nothing to joke about or use to hype a fight or to attempt to get an opponent in a sporting contest off his game.

Sergey Kovalev lands a blow against Bernard Hopkins in 2014. (AP)
Sergey Kovalev lands a blow against Bernard Hopkins in 2014. (AP)

Pascal seemed very committed and very angry, and it appeared that he spoke from the heart when he decried what he said were Kovalev's racist ways.

But this is boxing, and one can't know for certain whether Pascal truly believes that Kovalev is a racist and was expressing natural outrage about it, or whether he was simply trying to anger the champion to gain an advantage in the fight.

If he did that, that would make him one of the lowest of the low, because such a serious and sensitive topic is nothing to make light of and use in that manner.

Jackson got up and defended Kovalev.

"Sergey may say things that, at the time that he says them, they may come out the wrong way," Jackson said. "But if he were racist, I wouldn't be in his corner. Trust me, I wouldn't be here."

Soon, though, Pascal started shouting over him and Jackson couldn't finish his remarks. Security came out and got between them to prevent a full-scale brawl from breaking out. Kovalev stood up and pulled Jackson back as Pascal yelled at Jackson, "Stand up for black people!"

Kovalev didn't address Pascal's comments, saying, "I have nothing to say. He is not a fighter. I hope that he will bring something in the ring."

Race has played a role in boxing for years, though it clearly should have no place in the game.

It's hard, frankly, to buy Kovalev's explanation, given how often the topic comes up. He'd be wise to not compare any man, regardless of his color, to a monkey from here on.

One thing, though, is abundantly clear: Boxing, just like society, has a long way to go when it comes to racial equality.

More than 50 years after the passage of a landmark civil rights bill in this country, the spread of racism is as disgusting in 2016 as it was back in 1964.

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