The Pacquiao effect: When great athletes fail us outside the ring


Last July 2, 2017, Manny Pacquiao faced Jeff Horn in a boxing match in Brisbane, Australia, and the whole world watched, as usual. It’s no secret that Pacquiao has made a name for himself in the boxing world and has become a source of pride for the Philippines. They say traffic and crime rate in the country drop exponentially during a Pacquiao fight, as everyone goes to find the nearest TV in order to watch the game. But his fast punches aren’t the only things he’s famous for.

There are three main topics about the #PacquiaoHorn fight being discussed over social media: a) the outrage over the Pacquiao’s loss to Horn, b) the back and forth arguments about separating Pacquiao’s boxing career from his political career, and c) the support and love that people were giving towards Pacquiao. While the rest of the world was mainly talking about the first, the discussions over social media were much more intense here in the Philippines — because we all know that Pacquiao isn’t just a boxer, he’s also a politician, and therein lies the problem.

Pacquiao continues to be a figure of controversy because of his actions as a politician. His support for the death penalty, and his homophobic comments (while claiming to be a devoted Christian), have become one of the sources of outrage towards the senator. Because of this, many people, especially those who are against his actions in the government, no longer care to support him as a boxer, claiming that they cannot stand by a man with such bigoted ideals. Others will claim that boxing and politics shouldn’t mix, and that whatever he does as a senator has no bearing on who he is as a boxer. And while they do have a point, I wouldn’t say they’re exactly right.

If you asked people what makes a great boxer, or even a great athlete, some might say it’s in how hard they train, or how much effort they put into it, some might say that part of it is talent itself, and some would say that it’s really all in how you play the game. I would say it’s all of those, and more. If you’re a good boxer, but your ideals are skewed and oppressive, then you’re someone who fights well in the ring but doesn’t fight well where it matters.

Pacquiao is a fantastic boxer. He plays the sport really well. I would say he deserves respect for his talents and story an athlete. I would acknowledge his previous victories as signs of his capabilities. I would say that the outrages over his loss to Horn might be valid; that if he really was cheated of the title, then they would have done him wrong. But to say that it’s separate from his political life would not only be foolish, but also dangerously ignorant. Pacquiao doesn’t switch from “Pacquiao the boxer” to “Pacquiao the politician.” There is one person, who is both, and thus has all the responsibilities and consequences of those titles. His feats as a boxer might inspire a young and upcoming boxer, but his actions as a politician oppress other people. Both of these things exist, and that they exist in one person. Pacquiao goes everywhere with everything that he is — whether it’s into the ring, or into the Senate — just as he should. If only his greatness as a boxer could crossover to his politics. Then we would have a win, regardless of who gets the belt.

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