An Email from a Reader
On March 22, I posted an article entitled “Muhammad Ali and the Coronavirus” on another website. Some reader comments in the “boxing forum” beneath the article were favorable. Others were not:
* “Who gives a sh– what Ali would have thought. He doesn’t think, he’s gone”
* “This is the dumbest article I ever read in my life. Wtf does Ali have to do with the coronavirus pandemic?”
I received several emails telling me that it was unfair to speculate as to what Ali might have thought about the coronavirus. Lonnie Ali and the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville disagreed with that criticism and posted the article on the Ali Center website.
I also received an email that read, “Who cares what a dead n—– would have thought about the coronavirus.”
Actually, the “N” word was spelled out in its entirety. But “The Ring” has a policy against certain words appearing on this site.
There is a virus spreading across America that has nothing to do with COVID-19. It has existed since the dawn of civilization. Like other plagues, it returns in more virulent form from time to time.
I think we can assume that the writer of the “n—–” email was a bigot and proud of his (or her) bigotry. There have always been people like that. Once upon a time, open expressions of bigotry were common. Then those utterances became unacceptable to most Americans. They might have been bandied about in back rooms and bars. But they were denounced by people of conscience. I’m not talking about “political correctness.” I’m talking about basic decency.
Now, once again, people are reinforcing each other in their prejudices. There’s a boldness to the hate that’s creating an environment that older generations saw when Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney were murdered in Mississippi and Matthew Shephard was murdered in Wyoming. Neo-Nazis are coming out of the closet. People are proud of their bigotries.
I get emails from readers on a regular basis. Many of them are well thought out, including some that disagree with me. On one occasion, a reader took me to task for a column I’d written and made his points so well that I helped him get his email published as a column. That led to a two-year stint as a paid columnist for a website until he went on to other things.
I also get emails from people who tell me that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and was responsible for 9/11 because he was aware of the plot and did nothing to stop it. This ignores the fact that George W. Bush was president on September 11, 2001. Obama was an Illinois state legislator at the time and didn’t become president until January 20, 2009.
Chatrooms reach a wider audience than person-to-person emails. Letters to the editor of a publication must meet certain standards to be published. Chatrooms are often guided by the mantra “anything goes.”
Some chatroom comments are intelligently expressed. Whether or not I agree with them, they represent a point of view that, like mine, deserves to be heard. But I’m astounded by the ignorance of some of the people who comment. They say whatever they want to say without knowing the facts and without regard to accuracy or truth.
“Everyone knows that Hauser is on the take from Arum . . . Everyone knows that Hauser hates Arum . . . Haymon must have paid Hauser to write this article . . . Hauser hates successful black people.”
On March 14, three days after the National Basketball Association announced that it was canceling all games until further notice and one day after a Top Rank fight card at Madison Square Garden was canceled, I posted a column about the burgeoning coronavirus pandemic and its impact on sports.
Two days later, using a pseudonym, a reader went into the “fight forum,” attacked reports about the coronaviris as “a LIE,” and grouped me with “leftist treasonists all too happy to be a part of this disruption to our economy. The real viral outbreak,” the comment continued, “is TRUMP DERANGEMENT SYNDROME, aka TDS!! Look at how it’s destroying our country.”
The comment was removed from the forum because of a website policy that precludes posting certain types of statements (including inaccurate information that threatens public safety or health).
I later learned the identity of the person who had posted the comment. He actually writes occasionally for the website in question. I’d met him once before. He thinks I’m a “leftist treasonist.” I think he’s an ignorant coward who hides behind the anonymity of posting on social media.
Recently, I posted an article on another website entitled “Which Active Fighters Deserve to be Called Great?” I quoted Larry Holmes as saying, “What makes a fighter great is the opponents he beats,” and added, “Boxing’s current business model deprives elite fighters of the opportunity to prove and improve upon their skills by fighting other elite fighters. Except on rare occasions, the best no longer fight the best. We don’t know what most of today’s top pound-for-pound fighters would do if faced with an abundantly skilled opponent who asks questions of them that they haven’t been asked before. Instead, we’re left to speculate as to which fighters might someday be great or might have been great if only they’d fought the best.”
Manny Pacquiao, I concluded, definitely deserves to be called “great.” I also listed nine other active fighters – Terence Crawford, Vasyl Lomachenko, Mikey Garcia, Gennadiy Golovkin, Oleksandr Usyk, Naoya Inoue, Roman Gonzalez, Tyson Fury, and Canelo Alvarez – and voiced the opinion that, based on his accomplishments to date, Canelo is most deserving of the group.
The first “comment” posted in response to the article began, “thomas huaser the fraud!” (either the poster couldn’t type or he couldn’t spell; I’m not sure which) and accused me of writing “fake news.”
Another correspondent complained, “Hauser doesn’t even mention Inoue here.” Actually, I did.
A third rocket scientist let it all hang out: “What a rubbish article. No wonder Hauser hasn’t written a book since 2004. And this clown is going to be in the HOF himself? Shows you what a joke that is.”
This is typical of the “say anything you want without regard to facts” approach. For the record, I’ve published 23 books since 2004. This includes fifteen collections of articles about boxing (published annually by the University of Arkansas Press), five collections of essays on subjects ranging from race relations to the Beatles, and three novels. One of the novels was about Charles Dickens. Rocket Scientist might not have heard of Dickens, but he was a famous English author.
My point is this. If you disagree with me, fine. You’re just as entitled to your opinion as I am to mine. But get your facts right. And don’t debase the dialogue with stupid unfounded accusations.
Let’s state the obvious. Discussions about which active fighters today are “great” are insignificant when set against America’s current national trauma. But boxing forums offer a window onto what exists at present in other realms of social media. A lot of people use social media responsibly. But too often, their voices are drowned out.
There have always been ignorant mean-spirited people on both sides of the dialogue. But now these people have a platform, and standards for discussion have dropped.
It’s getting harder and harder to stand up to the mob. Dr. Nitin Sethi (chief medical officer for the New York State Athletic Commission and a respected neurologist) appropriately stopped a fight between Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal at UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden because of a horrific cut above Diaz’s right eye. The stoppage exposed Sethi to merciless ignorant online attacks (including ethnic slurs and attempts to damage his reputation by posting fake patient reviews).
Bullies are often the loudest kids in the schoolyard and make the most noise. Shouting louder than anyone else and saying outrageous things gets attention. The default mode for too many people is to criticize and attack.
But it’s more than a loss of civility. Too many people say anything they want without regard to truth. The “facts” are whatever they want them to be. The crux of what they write is often a crude attack based on race, religion, or sexual orientation. And too many people support whatever the speaker says as long as their own biases are reaffirmed.
This behavior has been normalized. It trickles down from the top and oozes up from the bottom. Rather than bring us together, social media has divided us by algorithms that push divisive content to users who lose sight of how they’re being manipulated. Anyone with any belief set can find a group of like-minded people on social media.
But there are also heartening examples of positive dialogue.
On May 17, I posted an article entitled “What Will Fans See When Boxing Comes Back?”
A week later, I received an email from a reader. I’ve taken the liberty of excerpting it here.
“This is an interesting article,” the email began, “and I do not want to comment too much due to the fact I have to check into a few facts.”
That in itself was a refreshing start. Fact-checking rather than – as we used to say before guns became a political flashpoint – shooting from the hip.
Then the letter evolved into something very different from the average reader email that I get:
“Deception and corruption and just dirty dealing are being done to American workers right now. Those that work in retail in this country and are being sent back to work or told, ‘If you do not return, there will be no unemployment insurance for you. If you decide not to return to work under whatever conditions we deem acceptable, you will have no pay.’ That means to some of us, NO FOOD NO SHELTER. That means being thrown into deep poverty. Deep poverty eats away at your pockets rather rapidly. Then it eats away at your insides. Not just from lack of food but the inability to continue to take the humiliation that comes with being out of work and broke in the country. You become the enemy. You are no longer a citizen. You would have had to experience it to know it, TH.”
“I am not looking to school you or anyone,” the email continued. “But this country has been exposed. This entire system has been exposed. And the whole sports world has been exposed. Those that blindly run toward the stadiums and the arenas are being fed a lie. If no person can go without sports for a few years, I feel for them. And is it really sports that is important or is it just money? Is that not really the driver? Sports used to be something that the average guy could identify with. Could relate to. Could afford to go to. He felt part of it. Now, more and more, I see the sports fan as a sucker. All he is is an irritant to be tolerated while the athletes perform. Let the games begin. Keep sports relevant. Then knock off this dying from a virus talk. Sacrifice for the good. The good of who? Well, the fan of course. Got to blame someone when this all goes south. Enjoy the Memorial Day celebrations.”
I’ve corresponded with this writer since then about a range of subjects. We don’t always agree. But we listen to each other and learn.
I’ve also thought a lot recently about an article I wrote in April 2008 entitled “Hypocrisy at West Point.” The article was critical of a policy called the “alternative service option” that had been adopted by the United States Military Academy in 2005.
The purpose of the alternative service option was to resurrect the football program at West Point. In the five years prior to its adoption, Army’s gridiron record was a pitiful 5 wins and 53 losses. The alternative service option released cadets who had “unique talents and abilities” (i.e. were good enough to play in a major professional sports league) from their commitment to serve five years of active duty in the Army. I was highly critical of the option and wrote accordingly.
A boxing website is a strange place to spark a debate about United States military policy. But that’s precisely what happened. “Hypocrisy at West Point” was discussed at length in service academy chatrooms. Then the debate rose to a higher level. In July 2008, the alternative service option was rescinded by the Department of Defense. It was reinstated earlier this year by Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, I was surprised by the outpouring of email that I received in response to the article – close to three hundred emails in all. The overwhelming majority were from service academy graduates.
I’ve always respected the service academies. To get to these places, a young man or woman needs a high degree of intelligence, analytical ability, and motivation. Equally important, they are told, “For the rest of your life, you will be representing the academy. You should express yourself accordingly.”
The emails that I received raised my respect to new heights. They were thoughtful. They were well-written. They took the exchange of ideas to an even higher level.
They also educated me.
In “Hypocrisy at West Point,” I’d made a thoughtless remark about the United States Military Academy motto. More than a few readers (many of whom agreed with my position on the alternative service option) took issue with that remark. And they were right. Thus, in a follow-up column entitled “West Point Revisited,” I closed with the following:
“A lot of thought went into the views expressed [by the service academy graduates] above. I want to add one last thought of my own to them. My previous article contained a reference to the United States Military Academy motto: ‘Duty, Honor, Country.’ General Douglas MacArthur, in his Farewell Speech to the Corps of Cadets at West Point, referred to ‘those three hallowed words’ as ‘an expression of the ethics of the American soldier’ and ‘a great moral code.’ The reference I made to the motto was disrespectful and inappropriate. I apologize for it.”
Several days later, I received another email, this one from a 1985 United States Military Academy graduate who wrote, “Sir, Both your original and follow-up articles were forwarded by a fellow graduate of West Point. I read them both. As a military man, I am skeptical of the intentions of the media in general when it comes to my chosen profession of arms. But I do not have to agree with a man to read and learn from his work. I only have to respect him. Your concluding thought in the ‘West Point Revisited’ article told me all I need to know about you. You are an upright man who can respect the military and the ideals to which we hold ourselves. Therefore, I can respect you and your point of view.”
That’s how issues of public interest should be debated and discussed.
Thomas Hauser’s email address is [email protected] His most recent book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. He will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the Class of 2020.