We (Don't) Need to Talk About Manny

The conversation about Manny Pacquiao and gay rights is not about Manny Pacquiao or gay rights
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Via Manny Pacquiao's official website, www.MP8.ph

There is news, there is gossip, and there is gossip so frivolous and absurd that it sort of becomes news. This is where we find Manny Pacquiao this week: hero of the Phillipines, champion of eight weightclasses, and frenemy of Mario Lopez.

By now, you’ve almost certainly heard that Pacquiao was not only booted from Thursday's episode of the Lopez-hosted Extra, but banned from The Grove, the outdoor shopping mall where Extra is taped, because of comments he reportedly made about gay people. The simultaneous mall/tabloid banning came after the L.A. Weekly quoted the National Conservative Examiner quoting Pacquiao quoting a bible verse stating that gay people should be killed. Only problem? Pacquiao never said that gay people should be killed and he appears not to have even read the older, Jewish-er part of the bible.

Let's work through this. First of all, it's worth noting that Pacquiao is not exactly uninformed by Catholicism. He opposes the use of condoms, and has spoken up against same-sex marriage, which puts him in about the same class as your average Republican member of congress. But as Mary Elizabeth Williams points out at Salon, the National Conservative Examiner story is in the National Conservative Examiner. As in, Examiner.com. As in, it might as well be a random Geocites page or a DIY Drudge Report knockoff.

It takes Williams about thirty seconds to deduce that Pacquiao never said we should carry out Leviticus 20:13 to the point of genocide. If you don't believe her, believe Pacquiao himself ("I didn't say that, that's a lie...I didn't know that quote from Leviticus because I haven't read the Book of Leviticus yet") or Granville Ampong, the writer of the actual article ("Pacquiao never said nor recited, nor invoked and nor did he refer to such context").

Why then, do we have the ever-informed Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless lambasting Pacquiao from their quite-frankly-absurd fortress atop Mt. Bristol? There is a direct answer and a long, indirect one. Both are obvious. The direct answer, which may seem long at first, is that the L.A. Weekly fucked up. When somebody there got wind of the Examiner (Examiner!) story, they went ahead and contacted the Grove’s corporate offices because of course a newspaper's first obligation is to create stories where they don't already exist, and because a giant outdoor shopping mall with a trolley going through it and Vegas-style fountains ought to know immediately when a potential celebrity attendee has said something stupid, even when he hasn't.

After collecting statements from the newly informed subjects of the story, the L.A. Weekly went about publishing said story on its website. The writers and editors there appear to have done so without checking sources, or even fully reading their original (Examiner!) source. So yes, that is the short answer: It’s bad journalism’s fault. But who are we kidding? We’re talking about a shopping mall and a tabloid television program. We’re talking about ESPN and the entire sports media industrial complex. This is the long answer: Gay marriage doesn’t matter at all, neither does the bible; what matters are the financial implications for all involved. All the players, even Pacquiao himself, are swimming in much deeper water than they care to be, because that deep water is what their respective brands demand right now.

Grove-developer Rick Caruso (a failed Dodger ownership bidder) is trying to run for mayor of L.A. so there can be more J. Crews in Watts; the last thing he needs is to irk his fundraisers by even appearing to implicitly kinda-sorta endorse murdering gay people. Extra is pushing its audience to its limits when it asks them to think about what kind of shoes Jada Pinkett Smith is wearing; gnarly passages from the Old Testament are beyond off limits. ESPN is just doing its usual pavlovian thing: When a story comes along that can be moralized about, it moralizes. And Pacquiao, who it seems would much rather be training for his upcoming fight, or singing, or doing anything really, is forced, in a desperate attempt to salvage his nice-guy brand, to repeatedly declare that he doesn’t hate gay people.

Or how about this. If you want real proof that this isn’t about gay rights, just turn to Floyd Mayweather, who nobody is mistaking for anything other than a skilled opportunist and as such waited until all this was happening to declare, "I stand behind President Obama & support gay marriage. I'm an American citizen & I believe people should live their life the way they want."

 It's not that the truth been lost amid the gossip, it's that sometimes the gossip is the truth.

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