Manny Pacquiao is an unrelentingly generous man. He has given untold millions to feed, educate, house and heal his countrymen. He cares deeply for the poor, the vulnerable, the disenfranchised, the dispossessed.
Manny Pacquiao is a sinner trying to find his way. He will tell you that prior to finding his faith, he transgressed against his wife, his family, his friends. He was a drinker; a gambler; a womanizer.
Manny Pacquiao is a kind and respectful person. He is soft-spoken, modest, and quick with praise. He's good-humored and polite. He sells his fights with a smile, not a scowl (his idea of trash talk is "[He's] a good fighter. This will be a tough fight"). He asks no quarter in the ring, but is quick to grant it for fear of causing an opponent lasting harm.
Manny Pacquiao is the most famous man in his country. He's earned it. He ran and punched and bled and bruised his way out of abject, crushing poverty to become one of the highest-paid athletes in the world. He is one of the two best boxers of his generation; one of the best ever in his chosen endeavor. He came from nothing, and earned everything.
Manny Pacquiao counts among his personal friends Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, a strongman whose vicious, brutal, extrajudicial crackdown on the illegal drug trade has left up to 2000 dead. Pacquiao, an admitted drug user in his youth, publicly revers the President, telling Australia's ABC News that he believes Duterte was "anointed by God to discipline the Philippine people." This might be dismissed as another 'uniformed jock' tweeting out benighted claptrap, but Manny Pacquiao isn't a provincial athlete parroting a charismatic demagogue. Manny Pacquiao is a senator, a man who will one day run for president of his country, and a man who fully supports the criminalization of abortion while endorsing the state-sanctioned killing of Philippine citizens.
On November 5, Pacquiao ends an abbreviated retirement when he challenges Jesse Vargas, a competent and hungry fighter, for the WBO Welterweight title. Pacquiao is billed as the challenger with a wink and a nod--the fight means much, much more to Vargas, who despite being a belt holder isn't generally considered one of the five best fighters in his weight class. The consensus opinion--held by odds makers and observers of the sport alike--is that a committed Pacquiao should have little trouble with the game but ultimately limited Vargas.
Once a whirling dervish of violent intent, the "Pac Man" is no longer the elemental force of his youth--but he's aged extraordinarily well (despite a desultory performance against Floyd Mayweather in the richest prizefight ever staged), and remains one of the two or three best welterweights in the world.
It's true he's made concessions to age: The 12-punch combinations, delivered in bunches and blurs, are a thing of the past; in their place, the well-chosen pot-shot, the crisp, three-punch fusillade. Gone is the electrifying recklessness--the perpetual charge forward, the punches thrown while airborne. In their place, a mastery of distance, pace, and timing. The foot speed that allowed him to dart in and out of the breech at will is diminished but more efficient, providing a sturdier base of attack, a more reliable avenue of retreat (rarely used, but there if he should need it). The overwhelming feral aggression has ceded to patience and precision--delivered with still-elite hand speed. Manny Pacquiao, even as his 38th birthday approaches, remains a marvel.
And therein lies the dilemma of Manny Pacquiao.
Do you cheer the man who has inspired millions—perhaps tens of millions—with his tenacity, kindness, and humility? The man who has funded churches, medical facilities, scholarships, and more than a thousand homes for his country's poorest and most vulnerable?
Do you shun the man who has said “If you have male-to-male or female-to-female (relationships), then people are worse than animals.” The man who aligns himself with a leader who encourages lethal vigilantism, who believes it is the executioner's job to render judgement?
Is it possible to root for the fighter while abhorring the politician? Is it rational to shun the artist while celebrating his artistry? Do we permit ourselves to revel in the joy this man can inspire inside a boxing ring, when we know of the threat he could pose outside of it?
The dilemma of Manny Pacquiao. If you're a fight fan, let us know how approach it it in the comments below.