”The only time I touch a man is in the ring” – Sexuality, Masculinity and Boxing in Philadelphia

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It was recently revealed that former light heavyweight contender Yusaf ”Mack Attack” Mack, has ‘acted’ and appeared in a gay porn video. Mack is one of many great fighters hailing from Philadelphia. He recently retired from professional boxing last year after losing his last fight against boxer Cory Cummings.

Philadelphia is a city, as described by Gabe Oppenheim in his book ”Boxing in Philadelphia – Tales of struggle and survival” (2014), with a rich history of boxing. It’s a city that’s well known for producing some of professional boxing’s greatest champions, such as Smonkin’ Joe Fraizer and Bernard Hopkins. Philly fighters are generally known for their exceptional viciousness and toughness. Oppenheim (2014) describes the ruthless scene that is boxing in Philadelphia:

 

The word on the street about Philly fighters was that they beat each other so hard and so often in their own city – in the gyms and in official matches – that they never made it onto the national stage” (Oppenheim, 2014: 5).

 

In a city where boxing is portrayed as the embodiment of traditional masculinity, toughness, aggressiveness and physical prowess, it is not strange that questions regarding professional boxer Yusaf Mack’s sexual orientation have caused such a stir in the local media. Mack is currently engaged to a woman, but whether he’s gay, straight or bisexual is not really the interesting part of this current media case. What’s curious about this ‘scandal’ is that it appears that being portrayed as gay is worse than being portrayed as a porn star. The video of Mack engaging in sexual activity with two other men is online, and undoubtedly many have seen it. To distance himself from this video, Mack has argued that he agreed to ‘act’ in a porn video because he desperately needed money. He further claims that he was drugged and that he does not remember anything from this particular night.

While ‘defending his sexuality’ in the media, Mack has stated that ”My whole life, I’ve been what they call a whoremonger. I love females”. This statement itself is an indicator of how embedded the relation between masculinity and heterosexuality is in boxing, perhaps especially in the Philly scene. The central question here is; how is being gay worse than being a ‘whoremonger’? And why is Mack’s sexuality such a scandal in the first place? What is really the most scandalous subject; 1) that a professional athlete is gay? or 2) that an engaged father-of-ten has agreed to and ‘acted’ in a porno video?

Many sport scientists have researched the relationship between sexuality and sports. It’s generally accepted that because sport is an arena where you train and compete against people of the same sex (at least most of the time) and where body and physical contact is a central part of engaging in the activity, heterosexuality becomes particularly important in sport as a social context. Naturally, this has changed over the years, and sport internationally has become more open to different types of masculinities and sexualities. Media stories like this one regarding Yusaf Mack, does however demonstrate that there are still many barriers for social inclusion in elite sport. And perhaps these barriers are even stronger in sports closely linked with masculinity, such as professional boxing.

References

G. Oppenheim (2014). Boxing in Philadelphia – Tales of Struggle and Survival. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield

About author
Anne Tjønndal er utdannet idrettsviter (MSc. Sport Science) fra Norges teknisk-naturvitenskapelige universitet (NTNU) i Trondheim. For tiden er hun tilsatt som doktorgradsstipendiat (PhD Research Fellow) ved Universitetet i Nordland (UiN) i Bodø. Hennes doktogradsavhandling omhandler innovasjon og idrett.
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