As early as New Year’s Day, during the bowl games, ESPN had the item on its crawl, helpfully led off by “BOXING”: “Evander Holyfield will fight Francois Botha for WBF world heavyweight title in Uganda on January 16.”
Anyone who follows the sport knew of this proposed matchup well before the waning days of 2009. Boxingwise, it’d have been one of the last things in a fan’s mind. But the network, seemingly determined to get this “news” item to as wide an audience as possible, kept it crawlin’ on through the day and into the night. Thanks, ESPN, but, as they say, boxing can do bad by its damn self. Paging Uncle Roger.
Within days, the fight was pushed back. The Associated Press is catching up with it today, January 5:
KAMPALA, Uganda — Evander Holyfield’s return to the ring against Francois Botha has been postponed to late February to give the fighters more time to prepare.
(Well, I guess not everyone got the memo. As recently as today, ESPN’s Cam Martin had this madcap item in his “Weekly Best” column:
Not to even speculate as to the proper translation for “more time to prepare,” but if you’re 6 years old and believe the bout’s promoter, 80,000 Ugandans will be showing up when this thing does go down on February 20. The AP piece nods at the ex-champ’s dog of a financial situation, his poor record of late (five wins in his last 12), and it’s off to the professional commentators: two old guys fighting for a fake belt the,,,WTF belt LOLLOLOLLOL… boxing is really going down the tubes…the heavyweight division is trash…what a joke.
But the joke here, and it’s a bad one, is that these two would even involve themselves in an event in Uganda, a country with as corrupt and criminal a government as exists on the continent. This is a country that is, today, considering legislation that would put you to death if you’re gay. “Homosexuals can forget about human rights,” declareth James Nsaba Buturo, Uganda’s—no shit—“minister of ethics and integrity.” Scare quotes mine.
“I detest gays in my heart,” says Kassiano Wadri, Ugandan Parliament member, in a totally macho way. “When I see a gay, I think that person needs psychotherapy. You need to break him.” Scary quote totally his.
Lest we take all Ugandan politicians as paranoid, fanatical, and homophobic, President Yoweri Museveni, steps in to “soften” the bill and assures us that he is here to “harmonize.” A presumably chided and disappointed Minister Buturo: “[T]he revised law would most likely make life in prison the maximum penalty for offenders.”
It’s important to note that just being gay is illegal and punishable by lengthy prison terms in 35 African nations–and that American Christian evangelicals traveled to Uganda in March of 2009 for a series of talks on “family values.” The preachers were presented as “experts on homosexuality,” and considered the trip a great success. One, Scott Lively, boasted that a Ugandan had told him that the campaign “was like a nuclear bomb against the gay agenda in Uganda” and that “I pray that this…[is] true.”
Now, I don’t expect Frans Botha to make a peep. He’s a guy who in the ’90s rode corrupt IBF rankings to a title shot and couldn’t even get the win right, testing positive for a banned anabolic steroid postfight. (He denied it, as if that needs to be added.)
But why can’t Holyfield, who has long advertised himself as a Christian, who claimed that God (with the help of televangelist huckster Benny Hinn) healed a hole in his heart, do something Christlike? Or just kind and bold and right, if there’s any difference?
The news is out—this is what is happening in Uganda in 2010. Touching someone of the same sex “(a) with any part of the body; (b) with anything else; (c) through anything,” according to proposed legislation (forthrightly titled the Anti-Homosexuality Act) gets you jailed or worse.
Imagine what good press—maybe even legit press—Holyfield could get for himself and for the sport by taking a stand here or just making some noise. Everyone knows Evander is broke, financially, but if he truly is the real deal, he’d heed the Biblical advice posted on his own home page: “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
Somebody needs to do the right thing.