The Big Fight!: Sports stardom vs. domestic violence and a question of moral character

By Helen Owton

* The following blog includes material of a sensitive nature and may not be suitable for all readers

Despite my interest in boxing as both a spectator and a participant and the typical pre-fight hype dominating the media I made a conscious decision not to watch the Mayweather v Pacquiao contest. I was disappointed that a sportsperson lacking in such moral character was able to receive such exposure and all I thought about was what it must be like for Mayweather’s victims of domestic violence (DV) to watch him receive so much media attention and admiration. Unlike some reporters, I was not banned from watching it; mine was a defiant choice. Mayweather served 2 months of a 3 month sentence when he pleaded guilty for 2 cases of DV, so the question remains after such a conviction as to why he was allowed to come back to the sport and compete on the world stage. Whilst Mayweather is undoubtedly a skilled fighter and a talented sports person, is it fair that this ability supersedes the welfare of his victims and allows him to remain a sporting hero in the public eye and a role model?

So often though, the victim’s perspective does not get considered so it’s important to understand the consequences of domestic violence and to recognise its severity. Victims of domestic violence can experience significant and prolonged psychological trauma (PTSD) and severe stress-related symptoms even years after the abuse.1 Much research1-7 has reported the psychological consequences of abused victims (depression, suicidal ideation, posttraumatic stress disorder, and alcohol and drug abuse). Furthermore, victims of DV have higher levels of health problems (gynecological, chronic stress related, central nervous system) with symptoms including abdominal, pelvic, back pain, appetite loss, urinary tract infections, vaginal bleeding, infections, painful intercourse, and digestive problems.8 Considering these traumatic symptoms I can only imagine the lengths these women would go to in order to avoid the hype surrounding this fight so as not to trigger any further trauma and stress. With boxing promoting at its best this would have been an immensely difficult task. However, Josie Harris had the courage to speak out about her experience which reinforces the need for everyone in the community to speak out and recognise the severity of DV because it affects so many people around them; it must have taken incredible strength for her to talk about it. To be honest, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more dialogue about this issue.

This is not the first case to question whether certain sportspeople should deserve the privileged position of ‘sports star’ following convictions involving violence against women. Most recently, in the UK, was the case of footballer Ched Evans in 2014 as to whether he should have been allowed to return to Sheffield United to train after being convicted of rape and serving 2 years of a 5 year sentence; after much deliberation he was not allowed back. This might have something to do with Evans remaining on the Violent and Sex Offender Register indefinitely which could be why he’s trying to prove his innocence now. As Charlie Webster stated in her interview, after she resigned from Sheffield United as Patron, “Rape is not a trivial subject”, and should be taken very seriously, particularly given the psychological and physical consequences of these crimes. Her argument was that whilst she believes in rehabilitation, she does not believe that it is right to put him back into exactly the same very privileged position where young boys and girls look up to footballers like David Beckham; all well-known sportspeople have that responsibility, including Floyd Mayweather.

What sort of messages do we give the younger generation or indeed any generation, if we allow people who have been physically (emotionally and/or sexually) abusive to continue to compete and be positioned on a godly pedestal where they continue to hold power and be glorified? A role model is “a person whose behaviour, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by young people” so a sportsperson cannot be judged only on their sporting success because young people who choose their role models judge them on their moral character as well. Any abuse is too much abuse and for any victims of abuse it is the responsibility of those in power to safeguard them from the exposure of re-traumatisation and flashbacks. It is hard enough for the victims to process what has happened to them let alone shove their abuser in their face and expose them to others’ admiration and glorify their violent tendencies in an event that lead to much opportunity to trivialise domestic violence (e.g. twitter jokes about Mayweather and DV). The ethos of boxing involves an opportunity for redemption not an opportunity to exploit sexist power to their advantage and be worshiped for displaced aggression.

As a convicted rapist, Ched Evans wouldn’t be allowed to coach so why should he be allowed to play professional men’s football? As journalist Lucy Hunter Johnston stated, “A convicted rapist couldn’t be a teacher, doctor or police officer, for example”. So shouldn’t ‘sports star’ be among this list as well, given that ‘boys look up to footballers, not their Dads’ and the link between major football tournaments and an increase in domestic abuse.9  However, if some sport stars are uniting to support Violence Against Women campaign then this seems to be a valuable argument to include ‘sports star’ among this list to recognise that any violence against women is not tolerated in sport. Mayweather may have won his big fight but he’s no winner in the big fight against domestic violence.



  1. Ghani et al. (2014). Psychological Impacts on Victims of Domestic Violence: A Qualitative Approach. Australian Journal of Basic & Applied Sciences, 8(20), 5-10. Available:
  2. Dorahy, M.J., Lewis, C.A. and Wolfe, F. (2007). Psychological distress associated with domestic violence in Northern Ireland. Current Psychology, 25(4), 295-305
  3. Kelly, E. (1988). Surviving Sexual Violence. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  4. Levendosky, A.A., and Graham-Bermann, S.A. (2001). Parenting in battered women: The effects of domestic violence on women and their children. Journal of Family Violence, 16(2): 171-192
  5. Phillips. K.E., Rosen, G.M., Zoellner, L.A. and Feeny, N.C. (2006). A cross-cultural assessment of posttrauma reactions among Malaysian and US women reporting partner abuse. Journal of Family Violence, 21, 259-262
  6. Pilar Matud, M. (2005). The psychological impact of domestic violence on Spanish women. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35(11), 2310-2322
  7. Rodgers, S. (1996). ‘Guilty knowledge: The Sports Consultant’s Perspective’. Paper presented at Workshop on Guilty Knowledge, Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education.
  8. Campbell, J., Jones, A.S., Dienemann, J., Kub, J., Schollenberger, J., Campo, P.O., Gielen, A.C., and Wynne, C. (2002). Intimate partner violence and physical health consequences. Archives of Internal Medicine, 162(10), 1157-1163.
  9. Kirby, S., Francis, B., & O’Flaherty, R. (2013). Can the FIFA World Cup Football (Soccer) Tournament be associated with an increase in domestic abuse? Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 00(0), 1-18. Available:

2 thoughts on “The Big Fight!: Sports stardom vs. domestic violence and a question of moral character

  1. Pingback: Why sportspeople convicted of violence against women forfeit their right to be 'stars' - StuntFM 97.3

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