28th November 2015 is a date that will go down in boxing history, but the considerable Tyson Fury achievement that was made on the night, has rather unfairly not been as celebrated in some quarters as it should have been.
Tyson Fury Achievement Not Credited Fully By Some
It was the night Tyson Fury didn’t just beat Wladimir Klitschko to win the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight titles, it was the night he defeated, in terms of title defences at least, the most dominant heavyweight since Joe Louis.
That he won a clear and deserved victory, away from home, in front of 50 000 spectators, against a man who hadn’t lost a fight in eleven years and had dominated the heavyweight division for almost a decade, makes his achievement even more impressive.
Fury’s victory is arguably the best win any British fighter has ever achieved in a boxing ring, so one would expect that the press back home would be thrilled for the 27 year-old, and eager to congratulate him on his success. Not so, it would seem.
Shortly after Tyson Fury was declared the winner of the heavyweight title bout via a unanimous decision, Matt Dickinson, chief sports writer at The Times, tweeted:
This was followed by a colleague of his from The Daily Mail, Oliver Holt. Following Fury’s win Holt tweeted:
The bigotry and homophobia that both writers refer to appeared in an interview Fury gave to Holt and The Mail on Sunday which was published on November 7th 2015. During the interview, Fury said the following:
“There are only three things that need to be accomplished before the devil comes home: one of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other one’s paedophilia. Who would have thought in the 50s and 60s that the first two would be legalised?”
In the days following Fury’s win, some sports writers from a number of national newspapers published articles in which they detailed their opposition to Fury more thoroughly.
The week began with an article from Matt Dickinson of The Times who wrote a piece for his newspaper entitled:
“Sorry, but we should not salute this bigot Tyson Fury.”
Paul Hayward of The Telegraph followed that, by publishing his thoughts in an article on the Tuesday morning after Fury’s win titled:
“Fury’s hatred is far more dangerous than his boxing.”
Though he may not have said it directly, it can be inferred from the above quote and from an additional interview Fury gave to IFL TV in the days leading up to his fight with Klitschko, that Fury feels homosexuality and abortion should be ruled unlawful.
At this point I wish to make clear that I do not support the views that Tyson Fury expressed in these interviews and completely disagree with him on matters of homosexuality and abortion. However, that is not the purpose of this article. Instead I feel that members of the mainstream media have been hypocritical in their condemnation of Fury.
Not Held To The Same Standard As Others
Fury is a Christian and a deeply religious man. Whilst his views are controversial by the standards of modern-day society, he would argue that he takes his moral guidance from the teachings of the Bible and his religious faith.
There are interpretations of the Bible that claim that both homosexuality and abortion are sinful practices, and there would be large numbers of people across the world who would share these sentiments and reasoning, as per their religious beliefs.
This is not to defend those views themselves, rather than to recognise that those beliefs stem from a deep religious conviction.
Despite the fact I strongly disagree with Fury, I do staunchly defend his right to share his views and exercise his right to free speech, despite the emotiveness of the subject matter.
Similarly, I defend the right of those journalists mentioned earlier to disagree with Fury and publish and express those opinions in their articles and columns within their respective newspapers.
However I challenge these journalists, not because we hold differing opinions, but because of a lack of consistency with their outrage.
The Twitter posts above attracted much comment from both boxing and non-boxing fans alike.
A recurring theme seemed to be to list boxers, both past and present, who have in the past been convicted of a variety of crimes, yet are still widely celebrated for their sporting achievements by the mainstream media – as well as the general public.
Mike Tyson, the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world who has also been convicted of rape, Floyd Mayweather, a man who has multiple convictions for domestic violence, and Anthony Joshua, the rising British heavyweight prospect and Olympic gold medalist who was also a convicted drug dealer, were three names in particular that were regularly cited.
These three boxers have all received – and continue to receive – plenty of praise from the media for their sporting feats. Yet their boxing achievements are not tarnished by out-of-the ring activities in the same manner as Fury’s win was. This, I would argue, is due to the nature of his views.
Intriguingly this claim was addressed by Paul Hayward in his piece for The Telegraph in which he writes:
“When Fury’s ‘views’ came to light, moral relativists cited Floyd Mayweather’s history of domestic violence and Mike Tyson’s rape conviction. This is quite a feature of our times. No specific offence can be challenged if others in the same field have committed entirely unrelated misdemeanours.”
In keeping with that argument, I will then limit my discussion to boxers who have been guilty of making comments that either are or could be deemed to be homophobic.
Boxing is littered with examples of fighters using homophobic slurs and other derogatory language, fewer more so than Muhammad Ali, for example.
Writing for The Telegraph on January 7th 2012 in the run-up to Ali’s 70th birthday, Hayward described Ali as “Boxing’s champ of champs, icon of icons”, whilst his colleague, Oliver Holt, has on numerous occasions listed Ali amongst his list of greatest sportsmen ever.
Yet a quick google search yields numerous examples of Ali using homophobic and racist language. In one particular incident in August 1969, during an interview with David Frost, Ali made a comment that all white people were to blame for homosexuality, saying at the time:
“Everything black people doing wrong comes from you [white people]. Drinking, smoking, prostitution, homosexuality, lying, stealing, gambling, they call come from you.”
Another example is an interview from January 20th 1974, conducted by NBC. Whilst unclear what the initial question was, Ali took it upon himself to detail how he thinks a “real man” should behave. His answer lasts 75 seconds and contains a number of homophobic slurs, as well as language that is sexist and misogynistic.
Ali was undoubtedly an incredible boxer, and had a large personality. Over many years he came to symbolise much of the civil rights movement across America, and remains to this day, a man who transcends generations as a symbol of hope in the face of adversity. Yet at the same time he was also guilty of espousing racist, homophobic, sexist and misogynistic views.
This is not to attack Ali personally, far from it. It is merely to recognise that members of the mainstream media are able to separate Ali’s sporting achievements from his more controversial opinions.
This is particularly relevant to the Tyson Fury situation recently, as there have been calls from both the media and the general public to have Tyson Fury removed from the shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award. A petition demanding such has already received more than 40, 000 signatures. Whilst people are entitled to their own views, it is noteworthy that Muhammad Ali won the Overseas Personality of the Year Award three times during his career (1973, 1974, and 78), and in 1999 was crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Century, just to point out.
In a similar vein Mike Tyson has been guilty of using homophobic language on a number of occasions, including one particularly notorious incident. Prior to his bout with Lennox Lewis in 2002, a mass brawl erupted during a press conference in which it was claimed Tyson attempted to bite the ear of Lewis. When the two fighters had been separated, journalist Mark Malinowski was heard to shout:
“Get him a straitjacket.”
This enraged Tyson who unleashed a 30 second, expletive filled rant that finished with the now infamous line:
“I’ll f**k you till you love me, f****t.”
This incident, and many others like it, has done little to dampen the enthusiasm for ‘Iron Mike’ amongst some members of the mainstream media. Oliver Holt has previously in 2012 described Tyson as one of his “all-time sporting heroes”, whilst Matt Dickinson posted a link to a “superb”interview between Tyson and a colleague of his, Victoria Peckham, without any suggestion that Tyson may have shared some of the bigoted views Fury was accused of holding.
Evander Holyfied, the former five-time heavyweight world champion, found himself in proverbial hot water whilst taking part in Celebrity Big Brother in 2012. During a conversation with a fellow housemate, Holyfield suggested that homosexuality is something that can be fixed and likened it to visiting the doctor with a broken leg. At the time he said:
“What would be good about it? That ain’t normal……It’s a choice, come on, that ain’t the way nobody is made. If you were born and your leg were turned this way, what do you do, you go to the doctor and get it fixed back right.”
This was in response to a question from fellow housemate, Luisa Zissman, as to why there were few boxers who had publicly come out as homosexual and the lack of support they faced from within the sporting industry.
That same year even Manny Pacquiao was accused of making homophobic remarks when asked for his views on gay marriage. Whilst there have since been claims Pacquiao was misquoted at the time, he did later clarify his remarks by detailing his opposition to gay marriage, again based upon religious convictions.
Consistent and Proportionate Criticism Needed
My point is not that these fighters, as well as others like them that I have not listed, haven’t received their share of criticism over the years, indeed they have and deservedly so. However, there has been an acknowledgement that their pugilism within the ring is worthy of sporting recognition, regardless of how flawed or controversial their character may be away from squared circle.
This is an issue that is not solely limited to boxing. This point crosses sporting divides. Journalists or individuals may not like Fury as a person, that’s fine. However, I disagree with the fierce moral outrage that was directed towards him when there are other sportsmen and women who haven’t been held to the same standards.
Just one example away from boxing is Jason Robinson, England’s Rugby World Cup winning full-back, who described homosexuality as an “abomination” in his autobiography. Yet Robinson was able to provide punditry during the recent Rugby World Cup free from the label of ‘homophobic bigot’ – that was so quickly attached to Fury in some quarters.
For his part, Fury claimed that the media criticism he has faced since his defeat of Klitschko stems from “racial discrimination and jealousy.” There is no evidence to support that claim, however, the wider point remains that bias continues to exist amongst mainstream media.
This is a trend that has long existed, and journalists are after all human. Like everyone else they are likely to be more biased in favour of someone they like and enjoy a strong working relationship with, as opposed to someone they do not. That is understandable, it’s just human nature.
However, the fact that members of the media are guilty of inconsistency with their outrage is prejudicial and unfair, in my opinion. If you wish to criticise Fury for his remarks, fine, but do so proportionally and without letting that criticism detract from the scale of his sporting achievement, which was considerable to say the least.
History has shown that when the offender is somewhat more appealing to mainstream media, this is easy enough to accomplish.
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