Why I Never Accept Talent as an Excuse

Like most people, my philosophy on life has changed as I've aged. At least, I'd hope most people would evolve their views, or at least consider evolving. As my homeboy John Keats once said, "The only means of strengthening one's intellect is to make up one's mind about nothing -- to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts." 

But while much has changed, one thing I've always thought that probably will always remain true for me is that I don't believe shitty behavior should ever be excused by talent. 

I've been thinking about this a lot lately in light of the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather bout set for tonight. Everyone is buzzing about it. Even people who aren't traditionally boxing fans and don't follow the sport recognize this is one of the most historic fights of all time. My boyfriend's roommate, who is a huge combat sports fan, has been excited about it for weeks. Even my boyfriend, a sports fan, but not one with a particular interest in boxing, wants to watch.  And I'm excited for them and want them to have a great time while watching tonight.

But me? A woman who knows more about hockey than most, and can hold her own when talking about a number of other sports? I have no interest in watching the fight. None whatsoever. I don't really care about watching two guys punch each other, but, more than that, I don't care about it when one of the men has openly spoken out against gay marriage and campaigned against women's rights in his home country, and the other has dozens of racist, homophobic rants to his name, along with a lengthy history of domestic abuse. 

I had a friend laugh and say, "Yeah, that's why I WANT to watch them punch each other." Why? What does that prove, other than that one will lose while getting millions and millions of dollars and one will win while getting millions and millions dollars more?

I've had many more say, when I expressed my disinterest in the fight, "Okay, yeah, maybe they are assholes, but you can't deny their talent." Okay, so? Both are obviously skilled fighters. Both have trained hard. Both have reached the pinnacle of their sport. I won't deny them that, because it would be disingenuous and false. But both are also men I don't want to support, even if it's only a decision that matters to me alone. 

I've heard that excuse a lot over the years, mostly from men. The idea that talent, usually athletic in nature, somehow trumps not being a shitty human being. "I know Kanye West is an an asshole, but he's really talented." "I know Ray Lewis got away with murder, but he's one of the greatest linebackers of all time." "I know Sean Connery used to beat women, but c'mon, he was JAMES BOND." 

And it confuses me every time. Being skilled in sports or music is completely unrelated to ugly personal choices like being abusive, racist, homophobic, or otherwise. The existence of talent does not excuse or negate the existence of inhumanity.

"Yeah, but that's the point," some say. "You can not agree with what they do, but you can at least watch them and appreciate them for their skill." And I do understand that. Being immersed in the movie industry as I am, I can know that a particular actor or actress exhibits some seriously jerk-like qualities and still really enjoy their films. 

Famous people say ill-thought, dumb things all the time, and I roll my eyes and think, Really? You thought that would go over well? I generally don't think most foot-in-mouth moments are purposely malicious,  just dumb. Most celebrities shouldn't be crucified for their facepalm-worthy comments.

But momentary brain lapses are a very different thing from being physically and sexually abusive, actively campaigning against the rights of others, or regularly spreading hate speech. So I can't get on board with the idea that he (or she, of course) might be an awful human being because of X, but we should forgive him (or her) because of his (or her) huge talent in area Y. Because for me then, personally, it means you are putting entertainment, ultimately meaningless, above the rights and welfare of other human beings.

"Why does it matter? I'll never meet the girlfriend he abused," or "I totally support gay rights, but, I mean...me watching this fight isn't going to do anything to undermine that," or "Of COURSE I don't think abusing women is right; it's fucked up, but me not watching this fight isn't going to stop him from punching another girlfriend."

And all of that is true. Here's the important thing, I absolutely do not judge anyone who feels that way.  Hell, I understand the majority of people do feel that way. 

I've been told I think too much, that I sometimes take things far too seriously, that some of the things I take "too" seriously are just meant to be fun. I won't deny any of that. I'm an intense person and I admittedly do take deeper moral and philosophical dives into waters that are, to most people, only meant to be used as a kiddie pool. I get that about myself. I have loads of fun and so may sources of entertainment that I love, but sometimes, yes, I do need to lighten up and stop thinking so much.

But there are some lines in the sand I just can't cross. To me, I can't see this match tonight as "fun." So the rest of the world can watch it and cheer and I will be absolutely on board with that and happy for them. 

I just won't be watching, myself.