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After Controversial Interview, Then Defiance To Apology, Showtime Is Over For Malignaggi

Michael Woods

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Thursday’s news that Paul Malignaggi had been bounced from the Showtime boxing family had jaws dropping. A day later, debate and discussion about the event hadn’t ceased.

Why exactly was he told his services were no longer wanted, while still contracted to the cabler? Clarity on the development hasn’t been achieved, not even close. That is so for many reasons, chief, perhaps, among them being that the interview which seemingly prompted the personnel change was removed from the cybersphere.

The material dropped on IFL, an online videography outlet started in 2010, on or about April 22. And it made some minor ripples, but no waves. At least, not publicly. In asking around, trying to get a better sense of why Showtime cut the chord with their all-star analyst, I heard from credible sources that it wasn’t just the interview.

There had been an accumulation of issues, and, I’m led to believe, people at Showtime believe they had tried, a number of times, to nudge the talkative talent into dialing things back.

The news that Malignaggi, who began on air with Showtime in 2012, had been shown the door first appeared on the website Boxing Scene. Reporter Keith Idec wrote that, “Comments Malignaggi made three months ago..have cost Malignaggi his job as an analyst for Showtime. BoxingScene.com has learned that Malignaggi will not be part of Showtime’s broadcasting team moving forward due to comments Malignaggi made regarding racism and other issues during an interview with IFL TV that posted to its YouTube channel April 22.”

One could hear the comments from the interview during the afternoon on Thursday, via the link provided in the Idec story. Then, by the evening, IFL had yanked the talk Malignaggi had with IFL host Umar Ahmed.

And, when I checked back on Friday evening, the fateful session was back on the IFL site. Click here to listen for yourself.

Showtime is a boxing lifer, within a media landscape that has seen stomach-flipping churn in recent years. Their sports department, with boxing as centerpiece, is overseen by Texas native Stephen Espinoza. He started out in the field of law and then found he had a fondness and a knack for operating within this red-light district of sports. Boxing still functions as a beacon of hope for have nots, young folk not disposed to succeed on a pathway that features a stint on an Ivy-covered campus and a six figure salary. Boxing still holds the door open for those who grew up in an unstable home environment, and found a reason for being in a milieu that is reflexively disregarded by critics as needlessly brutal. And Malignaggi (see video below, Paulie talks abut the neighborhood he came from) counts himself among those who have been rewarded for his investment in the so-called “sweet science,” and is severely grateful for that.

He’s been on the record admitting he could have headed down a darker path, had he not latched on to pugilism as his passion, then vocation. People who followed him and saw his rise in the pro ranks, and then in the analysis side of the game know that he’s pretty much always been unafraid to speak his peace..and then some.

As of Friday night, though, the 39 year old bachelor bred in Brooklyn hasn’t weighed in to offer his take on the divorce from Showtime.

Idec wrote on Thursday that Malignaggi’s “outspokenness has caused several issues during his seven-plus years with the network. The decision to eliminate Malignaggi from Showtime’s broadcast team was made when Showtime wanted Malignaggi to apologize for what he said. Malignaggi did not think an actual apology was necessary.”

Idec said that he reached Malignaggi, who debuted as a pro hitter in 2001, seeking comment, and “the Magic Man” declined to weigh in. I, too, messaged Malignaggi, asking for his side of the parting and I didn’t receive a response.

Over the years, I’ve had copious interaction with Malignaggi. He could be relied on as a consistent source for a boxing writer, because he had and has a facility for breaking down both Xs and Os, and the swirling hubbub of outside the ring drama. And, as the Showtime suits are more than well aware, he’d every so often be the center of that hubbub himself.

From my perch, I can say I’ve been impressed with how Showtime didn’t censor the talent who I dubbed “the mouthy Malignaggi,” mostly. But yes, I’d now and again take in some of his spicier antics and then dream of being the fly on the wall when Espinoza got wind of the latest kerfuffle.

And, once or twice, I’d process those antics, as when he seemed to go rogue after a sparring stint with MMAer Conor McGregor went off the rails, with people at Showtime, informally.

Basically, I was trying to figure out where their line was, how much they’d be willing to put up with. How much would they “let Paulie be Paulie” because they knew his contributions on air were A grade? Now we know the answer, or at least see the approximate measurements of the line.

And no, I don’t know from an on the record Q n A with Espinoza or high level Showtime source who could give more specifics on how it came to this. But common sense allows me to say with certainty, though I’m happy to go on record and dial it back if I’m wrong, that things changed on Memorial Day 2020. On May 25, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a 46 year old black man named George Floyd interacted with law enforcement. Here is how the game-changer death got described in a story written by Caitlyn McFall for Fox News‘ website July 21:

“George Floyd, a black man who died while in police custody on May 25, after former police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes, despite pleas from Floyd that he could not breathe.”

The death resonated deeply, it’s not a leap to say, all within the United States. No…resonated isn’t the word. It was a Taser crackle, followed by pepper spray in the eyes, and then a choke hold, for too many people who’d been stopped and frisked, and hassled and followed in stores and called the N word and on and on.

It’s appropriate for me to tell readers that watching the video drove me to tears.

Seeing one so-called law enforcement officer kneeling on the neck of Floyd, as another one performed crowd control saddened me..angered me..disgusted me.

I tell you that so you get a better sense, if you’ve maybe never read one of my stories before, of who I am, how I think, what I believe. And that is pertinent to my writing of this piece, because I am not a robot. My feelings affect what subjects I tackle. My views inform my coverage of boxing. And my “political” leanings are not something I take much care to keep under wraps. It doesn’t take much to get me going about how loathsome I find the practice of “family separation,” for instance.

If you and me talk, it doesn’t take much to get me sharing my disgust for the handling of the specter and impending arrival and touchdown and spread of the coronavirus within the United States by Donald Trump and company. I’ve not tried to hide my enmity for the man and I regularly excoriate his conduct and track record and performance as Commander in Chief. Heck, Trump knows it. He blocked me on Twitter in 2014.

Was it because I made clear how grotesque I found it when he started to outline the parameters of his campaign strategy on June 16, 2015, announcing his candidacy with, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” In and of itself, that statement right there would have been enough for me to dismiss Trump as a candidate for anything.

But that’s me. Paul Malignaggi thinks otherwise. I know, because we’d discussed it. He was kind enough to come in to the Everlast studio and talk boxing, and politics, and what have you, on Nov. 29, 2016. It was a Tuesday, and Paulie sat across from me while I introed him.

“The man with us here today, he is one one of the most compelling people within the sport of boxing,” I said. “He is acknowledged as THE BEST on air analyst in the sport, on television,” I continued. “He is absolutely fucking fearless when it comes to speaking his mind.”

I re-played that hit yesterday, and got transformed back to the moment. He smiled, and I cracked up, when he said he dug the intro, and that he was almost going to say it humbled him…but nah, he’s not usually really one much for humility.”

I’d reach out to him in 2017, too. I got a lowdown, from his perspective, on sparring Conor McGregor. Then, things fell off. I don’t recall why. But I feel like it was not like it was specific to Paulie, I’d ascribe it more to the overall aura of dividedness in America. The factionalism, the tribalism, it became harder for many of us to keep it light. Most of you know what I’m talking about. Thanksgivings, in plenty of houses, featured more drama, year after year. I’m not sure when it was, his bestie Peter “Cards,” we’ve always gotten along, joshed with each other, he blocked me on Twitter.

It may have come after a back and forth debate on politics. That’s probably for the best, actually, because it gets to a point where we need to be asking ourselves, what’s the point? We don’t think we’re going to convince anyone, do we? People seem to be pretty well set in their ways, and maybe it’s just better to let it lay, yes?

So, really, I hadn’t talked to Paulie for a good long spell. And so that meant I missed more of what he’d say outside of his on air Showtime hits. Nope, I hadn’t heard that session with Umar Ahmed of IFL, not until Thursday afternoon. I hit play, and leaned in. What the heck had Paulie said to get fired?

Umar asked him his thoughts on what Devin Haney had said during an April 15 interview. Commenting on a potential bout with Vasiliy Lomachenko, Haney said 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. “Can’t no white boy beat me any day of the week,” Haney 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.

Fallout came. Haney three days later Tweeted “I’m not racist and I never will be racist.” I did a column on that brouhaha, for Bad Left Hook. “I confess, my button doesn’t get pushed by what Haney said,” I wrote. “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.”

There’d be no shortage of people who would disagree with me, and who’d state that we must be crusaders for equality of outcomes when it comes to this sort of ‘race card’ play. We can digress into that argument another time.

Back to Malignaggi.

Umar asks him about the Haney ‘white boy’ interview and Paulie ponders, and gets contemplating.

And guess what, I listened, and I heard Paulie handling it well. He said it’s not a great idea get into race matters in the way Haney did. And he noted that Haney is young, in his early 20s. Nuthin’ really to see here, it was innocuous, him talking about a Devin Haney vs Luke Campbell fight.

At around the 3:29 mark, Paulie started tiptoeing towards hotter waters. He talked about trends in boxing, racial/ethnic trends. But it was not that bad, he simply noted that various groups had their times leading the pack, and really, it’s not so kosher to engage in lumping fighters together not by skill set, or weight division, but by skin color. Yeah, pretty deftly handled, I’d say, Paulie was telling all, in so many words, that “race discussions” can get you onto thin ice. He did that, showed he knew the line, but he’d push himself. Same way he did it fighting on too long, doing a Bare Knuckle Boxing event, a dude with badly brittle hands.

This was shock talk, too obscene. Isolated, a one off, it could be tolerated. But Showtime saw too many one offs, and had enough.

 

And then Paulie himself headed to the thin ice. “I don’t know if Devin got the memo,” he said, with maybe the slightest tinge of elevated pride, or something, at 4:39, “but it’s no longer the time of the African-American anymore in boxing. It’s no more the time of the African-American in boxing, it’s the Eastern European that’s become the dominant species in boxing.”

Full stop, maybe, in the office when this interview was brought to the attention of the Showtime leadership crew. The interview took a turn here, clearly. Was it a disastrous turn, was it now at the point of no return? Was it there where the ice got too thin for Paulie’s weight to hold?

That’s debatable. What if he stopped there? And that section alone was brought up, and it was explained to Paulie that it is indeed dangerous ground to walk on when you make an assertion, a declaration, without equivocation, that the lighter skinned people are now ‘dominant,’ and the darker skin folks are not? It’s so dangerous, in fact, that you really shouldn’t go there. Talking amongst friends, that’s one thing, maybe. But to a journalist?

I can imagine it being communicated to Malignaggi, ‘We are a publicly traded company. The standards, the practices, it’s different. We really have to be extra careful, extra mindful, not to step on toes, not to offend.’

I can imagine that being said months ago. And I can imagine how the same lines, about ‘the dominant species,’ might be heard by people listening to the interview after they saw George Floyd being choked out, on video, by a white cop.

And the IFL interview kept going. At 5:40, once again, Paulie scores a positive point, his backers could argue. He again says that it isn’t ideal to divide fighters into racial-ethnic groupings. Then, right after that, a flare up, about how Haney ‘didn’t get the memo.’ “The last time I checked, they were white,” Paulie says, of Eastern Europeans.

That ice is thin in that spot. You could listen and hear an edge in his voice, depending upon with what POV you came to the table to listen to the interview. Paulie’s defenders will hear that bit and not hear an edge.

And the analyst himself, you can hear when the gears are switching in his mind, because he then says aloud to Umar that the best thing to do ‘is leave it alone.’

Malignaggi does for a time leave it alone, he pivots, back to talking about Haney’s career path. Then, a quick slide back to how great Eastern Euros are.

It would have been a good time to then take a look at a ratings compilation, and see if perception matches reality. It isn’t as likely one gets painted as, maybe, insensitive to the flammability level of the national racial climate, if one chooses to ground one’s argument in some statistics. If Paulie were able to go back in time, if he wanted to dive deeper into Haney’s immature posturing about his self perceived superiority against a select grouping of competitors, he could have riffed off the race/ethnicity makeup of the BWAA’s P4P Top Ten.

And Malignaggi could have lifted the discourse by aiming for a more scholarly handling of the topic. What if he shared with listeners an in-depth verbal treatise on the relationship between rates of immigration from certain continents to America? And drew a line between immigration surges and subsequent levels of collective success within boxing? Then, higher ups at any company he did work for would not have had to worry about potential ramifications, about how co-workers might be now be looking at him in a different light, silently questioning if their previous pleasant interactions with him were not authentic. Co-workers…and perhaps African-American boxers booked on Showtime…and viewers not part of that bloc Paulie ID’d as being “dominant.”

Next, Umar probably did Malignaggi no favors, by his pivot. He brought up Haney’s ‘white boy’ comment, and said that many people think there’s a double standard in play.

Danger…heading towards the thinnest ice area of the pond. And guess what, Malignaggi showed savvy ring generalship….and then delivered a massive goin shot, at his own cup. “Of course, of course, that’s why I kind of try not to join into the race conversations. This is one of the exact examples why I don’t believe there is racial oppression in 2020 in this century, I believe there has been, sure, but I don’t believe there’s racial oppression today, I believe it’s all made up. And I believe it’s exaggerrated.

That’s where I stopped the tape, and just sat and thought.

I found myself thinking about Tim Bradley on ESPN talking about how it felt to get pulled over, with his four year old son in the car, for the crime of being black and driving a nice car.

Some people don’t know the definition of “oppression.” That is no slight, I’ve better understood my ignorance on too many matters in the days and weeks after that George Floyd murder. I grew up in Wellesley, Mass., there weren’t too many times I needed to look up the word “oppression.” In and around Wellesley and surrounding towns, I heard the word “oppressive” used in the context of hot weather, mostly.

Oppression is “prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control.”

More whites are better understanding the consistent level of oppression felt by the dark skinned in America.

I am thinking at this point I will get people sending me some stats, maybe in meme form, sadly. Instead of doing some research and comprehending and admitting that this wasn’t some aberration, this was a continuation of a pattern.

Maybe, but I doubt it, will I change one damn mind with this article. It’s my duty to decency to try.

What do you remember about 2014? Do you remember how the summer in some regions of America got hotter, because in July, Eric Garner got choked out to death on Staten Island, NY, his pleas that “I can’t breathe” ignored by a cadre of law enforcement surrounding him. You maybe don’t know the name, look it up. The cops thought he was maybe selling loose cigarettes.

This level of violence, leading to death over selling single cigarettes. We have a national anger managament problem.

Do you remember the following month, Michael Brown‘s life ended, in Ferguson, Missouri? He was 18, he was not armed, he was shot and killed. Cops thought he might have stolen a box of cigars from a market. There were other incidents, other over steps by law enforcement, with darker skinned people being treated cruelly, for the offense of being black. But they didn’t make the news, not the like death in November 2014 of a 12 year old boy, in Cleveland, Ohio. Tamir Rice, remember his name, tell his family oppression in 2020 is a hoax. He was holding a toy gun, but the cop who shot and killed him didn’t check to make sure. And wasn’t prosecuted.

Paulie continued, though.

Someone told me that Showtime kept giving Paulie rope, here Umar handed him line.

“And this is exactly one of the reasons why, the fact that a black fighter can say that, and not pay any price financially…but if a white fighter said that about a black fighter, or any black fighters at all, he’d probably lose his TV contract, and probably TV networks wouldn’t touch him. So, I won’t tell you that it’s a double standard, but I’ll tell you that the whole hypotheses of racial oppression is way above and exaggerated in this century.

The interview continued, Paulie talked about Deontay Wilder, and how he has ‘yes men’ around him, and it seems like no handlers are there to keep him from making unwise comments.

“The decision to eliminate Malignaggi from Showtime’s broadcast team was made when Showtime wanted Malignaggi to apologize for what he said,” Idec wrote on Thursday. “Malignaggi did not think an actual apology was necessary.”

So, we can if we wish engage in theorizing on alternate reality. Could Malignaggi could have slid back into his seat, and the IFL chat would’ve faded away, rendered hazy by his undeniable analytical acumen? Here’s a guess supported not by confirmation from persons in “the room where it happened” but from some decades of living and watching human nature, my own and of people who hold positions of higher power…In the weeks and days preceding the parting of the ways, tabulations were done by Malignaggi’s superiors and an uncomfortable truth emerged: There will be a next time, some version of it.

And to a degree or another, it will detract from the mission of the department, and distract from the desired focus of programming, the athletes inside the squared circle. Irreverence can be forgiven in talent, but not so easily if ‘colorful’ behavior possibly threatens the harmony of the working environment

Paulie has had ample time to ponder it now. Word is he’s still contracted to do work for Sky TV, he will still make a fine living. There will be no shortage of people telling him he was wrong, no debate, that he should put aside the pride, and apologize. I don’t think it would get him the Showtime job back, so he wouldn’t be doing it for that reason.

Paulie, then ultra vet Al Bernstein, Mauro Ranallo and emcee Brian Custer. Anber Mares will take the chair next to Al, following the departure of the defiant talent.

There will also be no shortage of people who tell him to stick with his guns, that he was just being honest.

Before he decides, if he hasn’t already, it might be most helpful for him to switch it up. It will be hard, it’s hard for me, I like to yap. But I’ve been trying to be better about this, since Memorial Day 2020.

Paulie could go to a friend, maybe inside the boxing sphere, a black friend.

And ask to start a conversation. And when the conversation starts, stop talking.

Just listen, don’t interrupt.

Fighters adapt, they listen to the wise cornerman, right? Paulie could maybe take the sage advice and apply it.

Really, it’s not anything that the nation a whole doesn’t need. Less pride, more humility, work on empathy and kindness.

Instead of building the brand and measuring success in “millions,” use different metrics.

Get taught a hard lesson, admit fallibility. Muhammad Ali said that he appreciated losing, it made him a better being than all the showy victories did. Paulie showed admirable stubbornness as he gritted his way to wins as the bones in his hands splintered. Now, I think, is a good time for him to resist the temptation to stay 100% locked into his public persona, and those entrenched core precepts that mostly have served him quite well.

By the way, that’s not to single him out.

Our country as a whole will itself pivot to a better position when it’s decided, en masse, that we can grow our collective soul by seeking to find areas of common ground, rather than holes to exploit in supposed foes.

Editor/publisher Michael Woods became addicted to boxing in 1990, when Buster Douglas shocked the world with his demolition of the fearsome Mike Tyson. The Brooklyn-based journalist Woods has covered the sport since then, for ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com, ESPN New York, RING, and he was editor of TheSweetScience.com from 2007-2015. Woods is also an accomplished blow by blow and color man, having done work for Top Rank, DiBella Entertainment, EPIX, and numerous other organizations.

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