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Devin Haney ‘playing the race card’ is nothing new for boxing or society

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Devin Haney struck a chord with many, but nothing he said is a new play in the game of boxing or life.

Devin Haney Media Workout Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images

The progression of the public persona of Devin Haney took a surprising turn on April 15, when the 21-year-old went there during a 78SportsTV live stream on YouTube, and got himself into a race card controversy.

Now, boxing, like most all of the mainstream spheres of media and commentary, has recently done well to be better about being progressive, and not indulge in racial promotional pushes. That’s not to say there aren’t missteps, but basically, most folks in the game now understand, at least publicly, that people are people.

Skills pay the bills, for blacks, whites, all sorts, and so over the last 20 years, especially, we less often see race card brouhahas pop up. And we didn’t expect Haney, who is currently WBC lightweight champion-in-recess, to be the one to bring that landmine to the public square, and step on it.

Commenting on a potential bout with Vasiliy Lomachenko fight, Haney said on to 78SportsTV aka Kevin Nash on a video chat: “I’ll tell you this, I’ll never, I will never lose to a white boy in my life. I don’t care what nobody got to say,” he said, while father/trainer Bill Haney took it in, from another location.

TCan’t no white boy beat me any day of the week,” he added, right after a reference to Black Fight Fan TV is made by Nash, and the commentator says he hopes Haney ends the hype that is Lomachenko’s rep.

“Talk that shit, Dev,” said Nash, fanning flames.

“Fight a white boy 10 times I’m gonna beat him 10 times,” the young fighter said.

“Yeah, because you Black Jesus, it’s easy work,” the host said.

It took you a second to let that sink in, maybe.

But maybe not, if you are a regular watcher of Nash’s 78Sports.

The host started the session waving to the Lions Den Boxing Community (LBDC).

On a BoxingScene message board, I saw a definition of LDBC: “It’s a community of fans that is anti-casual media. The opposite of the Steve Kim and Thomas Hausers of the world. If you full of ****, you will be called on it. Black, white, Mexican or Asian.”

Fred Hawthorne of the YouTube channel Barbershop Conversations, has described what LDBC is: an online community, which he numbers as maybe a half million “black men and black women that follow us on a daily-weekly-monthly basis.’’

LDBC, which has been a thing for about two years. has fanatic followers, as some boxing fans don’t appreciate the lack of diversity in boxing media, and like content that speaks more so to them. And now and again you see beefs among LDBCers, or with outlets or fighters or media outside that collective.

Haney, talking to Nash, spoke about some potential matches when the sport opens back up, and he spoke directly — not pulling a punch, seemingly quite comfortable with the repartee — about Luke Campbell and Ryan Garcia, Haney said he wants those bouts when the coronavirus dust settles. The chat totaled over an hour, but of course, the spiciest portions get excerpted, and when that happens, people need to try and circle in and see if there’s any missing context. I watched the lead-up to the provocative bits. They focused on Ryan Garciafor a spell, noting that Garcia has been working toward a Gervonta Davis fight.

Nash posited that Garcia is “avoiding” Haney, and Haney the younger, aligned with Eddie Hearn, said he’d take that fight next, and it should be easy to make, because Garcia is with Golden Boy and they could place the scrap on DAZN.

Then, the name of Vasiliy Lomachenko, the Top Rank pugilist from Ukraine, came up. Haney said he’d love to fight him, and/or Teofimo Lopez, also a Top Rank boxer. But they’re avoiding him, Haney declared. Papa Haney lobbied for Loma to fight his kid, and he said he thinks Loma is afraid to lose. The trainer-dad said they allied with Eddie Hearn because they figured he could deliver some of these mega fights.

Bill moved the chat in a different direction when he brought up his belief that some people get threatened by the Floyd Mayweather blueprint, wherein a fighter has a large degree of independence. Is it “politics,” he put forth, or is there discrimination in play?

“If they lose to us, they don’t own us,” he said, referring to promoters. Do people get mad that they are “free black men,” Bill asked rhetorically. Conceptions of how boxing capitalism can and should be practiced was a subtext to portions of the interview.

Nash entered Teofimo Lopez into the mix. Haney said that when he was right there in front of Lopez, Teofimo’s “energy was different.” He accused Lopez of looking to avoid him as well. After that, they took aim at Mikey Garcia.

The back-and-forth continued and, frankly, unless you are a hardcore fan, most of this won’t interest you. Not sure if it’s done because boredom is in the air or what, but the droning on about outside-the-ring plays and negotiations and non negotiations and such isn’t hugely scintillating. So, maybe it makes sense to make that splashy statement, because then news is made.

And that is part of the Mayweather blueprint, which Devin well knows. Keep your name alive in peoples’ minds, and that’s easier with incendiary or provocative remarks, because then the media latches on and carries promotional water.

Devin’s “white boy” Molotov Cocktail had some fight sports vets flash-backing, to Bernard Hopkins, who in 2007 took aim at the Wales native Joe Calzaghe, who’d been piling up Ws at 168 on the other side of our pond.

The Philly fighter stirred the pot, hard, when he said, “You’re not even in my league. ... I would never let a white boy beat me. I would never lose to a white boy. I couldn’t go back to the projects if I let a white boy beat me,” Hopkins stated.

If the desire was to conjure interest and generate revenue for a Hopkins vs Calzaghe fight, mission accomplished. On April 19, 2008 the Welsh ring general and the Philly technician scrapped in Vegas, on pay-per-view. Calzaghe got the nod, on my card and the officials’ tallies as well.

Boxing - Light-Heavyweight Title - Joe Calzaghe v Bernard Hopkins - Thomas & Mack Center - Las Vegas Photo by Nick Potts - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

Rewind deeper — the 43-year-old Hopkins was in Vegas for the Floyd Mayweather-Ricky Hatton Dec. 2007 promotion. The vet took the opportunity to snag some attendant hype. He went to the 35-year-old Calzaghe, and said he “would never let a white boy beat me.” He did this in the press room at the MGM, making sure he got buzzed about. Calzaghe went back at him, telling him he’d “whip his ass.”

Weeks later, Hopkins explained, it was no big thing, that fighters talk trash, and “it doesn’t mean I think white guys can’t fight.”

He did it, he said, to “raise the stakes.” Mission accomplished. He finished one interview by saying, “People say the world has changed,” and society is close to color blind, “but not that much.”

And for the record, Calzaghe was on the record in the lead up to the fight as not being offended by the “white boy” remark. He knew that the race card play would put more money in his pocket, and yes, he knows that in the gyms, there is often race-based joshing between pugilists that is not ill-natured.

On fight night, the judges, I believe, saw a better work rate from Calzaghe than Hopkins, and that’s why they gave a split decision to the man from Wales.

”A white boy beat you, mate,” Calzaghe said at the post-fight presser, his ire raised mildly as Hopkins declared that he’d been screwed out of a win.

And the argument persisted, after America chose Barack Obama to run the nation, or, should I say, some Americans did. Others seethed and sniped, and lost their shit that a black dude was running the show. Did all of them admit it? By no means. Takedown artists would get on Obama for such travesties as wearing the wrong color suit for a press conference. Remember, during his second term, how right wingers took issue with his wearing a tan suit while addressing the nation on the subject of unrest in Syria?

The current office-holder built a larger political base by telling all that he had intel that Obama was not born where he said he was, and was thus not eligible to be elected. He was born in Kenya, is a secret Muslim, and he’s not one of us — that was the basic messaging. And yes, it was racist at core, and it was effective, because Trump used mainly that talking point to corral enough supporters to get him elected. Race- and ethnicity-based smears got us to where we are today, with a man widely seen in circles of mainstream mental health experts to be a glaring sociopath overseeing the battle versus a pandemic that has claimed more than 40,000 American lives in two months. And every day, Trump proclaims to one and all how majestically he has performed, not eight weeks after publicly dismissing the pandemic as no big deal.

The day after a memo circulated at the White House warning that COVID-19 could mete out two million deaths in America, Trump Tweeted, “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. … Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

The mix of arrogance and ignorance, the personality profile that kept him asleep at the wheel to the extent that widespread ordering of PPE supplies by the Feds didn’t begin until mid-March means that this country will sustain coronavirus deaths by a multiple far beyond what a a savvy response could have wrought.

All this is to say, do I know that Devin Haney is read up on the race-ethnicity-class gap among coronavirus outcomes in America? I do not. I messaged him on Twitter to ask about his “white boy” comment, and will insert a reply if one is furnished. The CDC found that 33% of people who’ve been hospitalized with COVID-19 are African-American, while only 13% of the U.S. population is African-American.

It is also to say, Bernard Hopkins was right, back in 2007 into 2008. Society in America has changed for the better regarding race relations in our boundaries, “but not by much.”

And, also, let’s fully acknowledge that a racial contrast has been used to sell fights for many moons. Larry Holmes knew what button he was pushing when he called Gerry Cooney a “Great White Dope” in 1981, after dispatching Leon Spinks in Michigan. He hit a nerve in Cooney, saying, “If he wasn’t white, he wouldn’t be anywhere,” as ABC’s Howard Cosell played middle-man, knowing the drill.

Yes, more papers would run a story after a spat like that, and more people would tune in, hit the closed circuit, pay more at the arena, and buy the PPV when racial differences are brought to the fore. A buyer gets the sense that the action has to be fiery, because emotions have been summoned. Of course, you can argue that this sort of marketing is crass, and we know Cooney always took offense to that angle.

Oh, and activation of the race component didn’t disappear with Hopkins’ mocking of Calzaghe’s paleness. Conor McGregor took to the mic and said, “Dance for me, boy” to Floyd Mayweather during press conferences in LA and Canada, as he looked to elevate the hype for their 2017 fight. And there is no stat on hand to tell us how many folks ponied up to watch, having been alerted to the tango after catching a whiff of the Irishman’s mouthy marketing stabs.

But people don’t risk the blowback to their rep and inevitable scrutiny by fourth estate crusaders who grab on to the easy righteousness play because it doesn’t work. It works. Devin Haney has upped his social game in the last year, and is figuring out, the hard way, what levers flip in what ways when certain buttons get pushed.

I confess, my button doesn’t get pushed by what Haney said. Indeed, the older I get, the less impressed I am by the supposed progress America has made in race relations. Seeing the weak response by the Federal government to Katrina on the Gulf Coast woke me up to race and class divisions, and how wounds not only hadn’t healed like I thought they had, but in fact fresh wounds were being opened all the time. Wounds like the vitriol at Obama, how the proliferation of cell phones clued us in to how often someone was executed by “law enforcement” for the sin of being dark-skinned, and how so many light-skinned people feel free to tell an athlete or entertainer speaking up against race and class iniquities to “stay in your lane” or “shut up and dribble.”

For me, or anyone, to deny that race and ethnicity aren’t caustic dividing lines in our dis-united nation reeks of cluelessness. And if any of that informs Haney while he talks about how he doesn’t think a white guy can beat him, I wouldn’t really blame him.