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Yet More Trouble For WBA Lightweight Champ Gervonta “Tank” Davis

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Boxer Gervonta Davis was trending on Saturday night, and not for the right reason.

Davis, the 25 year old Baltimore native who holds the WBA 135 pound crown, was seen in a 14 second video clip that went viral. TMZ reported the unsettling scene caught on tape occurred at a “charity basketball game in Miami.”

If you aren’t on social media, this is what the video showed:

Davis (23-0 with 22 KOs) is sitting near the court, and he stands over a woman sitting to his left. He seems to be yelling, or speaking loudly, and now standing over her, with his right hand he yanks her forward, and upward. He grabs beneath her neck, it’s hard to tell if it’s by a lapel of a jacket, or shirt.

Many watching said it looks like he’s grabbing her by the neck, and yes, the reaction on social media was mostly harsh and condemning of this action.

A man sitting to the left of the woman sees what’s happening and he seems to be finishing a text as he slides away. Two large men cluster near Davis and the lady, while Davis pulls on her, and they walk toward an exit. The four of them disappear, and the video ends.

And the furor began.

The video has been watched 6.6 million times, and counting, after the account mr_luares posted it at 6:34 PM ET on Saturday. The caption atop that Tweet, “Gervonta Davis rolled up ready to straight choke slam shorty” rubbed many folks the wrong way, and “debates” occurred on social media, with those opining that there is NO POSSIBLE explanation or excuse for Davis to do that butting heads with a minority who didn’t see it as that big of a deal.

Davis himself reacted by deleting his Twitter account. He did post to his Instagram account, it appears, this message:

As of now, Davis’ IG account was scrubbed and his 2.1 million followers can see that he has done zero posts.

The TMZ report continued, “Witnesses tell us the two began yelling at each other and things turned physical — although it’s unclear who put hands on who first. But you can see in the video it’s a heated situation — and the two were both escorted out. We’re told no one has been arrested.” The woman has been referred to publicly, in multiple published accounts, as the mother of his daughter, born in April 2018.

I messaged a Team Davis spokesman, seeking a response: “No comment for now. Thanks,” I was told.

I also requested a statement from Showtime Boxing, where Davis has been making his home of late, including in his last bout, which unfolded on Dec. 28 in Baltimore versus Yuriorkis Gamboa. I will insert that if and when it is furnished.

Davis is seen as a top dog in the game now, and is being pushed toward super-stardom, with his backers feeling he can be the next solid PPV draw. But there are worries, even among his close crew. He was over weight for his last fight, and that’s the mild stuff. Davis was arrested in September 2018 after fighting outside a DC bar. In March 2019, there was more police action involving Davis. He was charged after a beef at a Virginia mall, and TMZ said one witness fingered Davis as shoving a cop. The fighter has made it clear that he doesn’t trust how the media does their jobs. He Tweeted this after the 2018 news dropped:

And Davis has a point, because media can be quite selective in their coverage. It can be persuasively argued that race can factor into coverage, with an overwhelmingly light-skinned media core being unaware of some of their week spots, regarding entitlement, and lack of understanding of cultures not resembling the ones they grew up in, which often had them on a certain educational and socio-economic pathway. Additionally, with boxing media becoming more tribal, and media as a whole enjoying less independence, as newspapers die off, the desire for outlets to cover difficult or controversial topics can be impacted. Writers or journalists whose paycheck is delivered by a particular promoter or platform provider know that if they bite the hand that feeds, they will lose their job. It makes for an uneven, at best, media landscape within the boxing sphere.

So–The court-side incident spurred heated debate, and also some cool-headed discussion. I got ratio’d when I opined that this society features too much in the way of hot takes, and not not enough nuanced discussion, and that I’d like to learn more beyond what that 14 second video portrays. Many folks interpreted that as me implying that Davis’ behavior was acceptable. “Many folks” included my wife, for the record.

She told me that if she didn’t know me, she would have gone at me, for not stating explicitly that such behavior is in no way, shape or form acceptable. In seeking to push us all to be smarter, do better in attending to how we react to material like this, I inadvertently suggested, to some, that this wasn’t that big a deal. Mea culpa. It was a big deal, especially, I think to people who have been treated that way. Grabbed, shoved, demeaned, in public or private. Yes, many of them females, who’ve endured trying times with partners, often men, who acted inappropriately when frustrated.

Again, mea culpa.

Noted, and accepted, in good faith, my wife’s POV, and her sisters’ POV, Aunt Marisa also gave me the what for on Sunday…and all who believe that not often enough are we seeing and hearing the issue of domestic violence soundly denounced by media, and by all beings. Enough is enough, seems to be a primary POV among perhaps a growing number of Americans.

I’m sure that a few folks who told me I dropped the ball recalled this Tweet from Davis:

Yes, people who had seen this quite possibly regarded Tank as an accident waiting to happen, an unexploded bomb of a being. That right there was a blazing red flag. Was there a reaction from right-thinking people close to Davis? I do not know, but if there wasn’t then, then hopefully there will be now. For his own good, for the good of his family, his kid, for boxing, for society.

On Sunday, I invited anyone who want to chat with me, via DM, so we could process this issue, without anybody feeling a subconscious desire to “perform” on the Twitter stage. One old Twitter friend, Andrew Sawyer, age 30, responded.

He’s from Saint Paul, Minnesota and he works as a drug and alcohol therapist. Sawyer, a huge boxing fan, works with a lot perpetrators of domestic abuse and facilitates a DV class, as well.

“It ties a lot into entitlement/privilege as well as the general view on women,” Sawyer told me. “Davis clearly has a history of both. You can even see it on a larger scale with the comments online. It’s as simple as (people) referring to her as his ‘Baby Momma’ or his ‘bitch,’ which is dehumanizing, (and encourages) the belief that he has the right to treat her that way because she birthed his child. Comments about how she must have been acting for him to do that to her. No ownership for him being an abuser. Even comments wanting a bigger picture, they can give abusers an out,” he continued, referring to how I asked for more information, an investigation, and for more than 14 seconds of video to work off of in trying to figure out how things escalated to that point. “People die because of domestic abuse, I just had an old friend who was murdered by her partner the other week. Men particularly have a serious problem with how they treat women. Gervonta claimed he didn’t hit her. What he did was just as bad. He let her know she wasn’t even safe in public while completely embarrassing her and inflicting fear.”

Yes, the Davis incident has pushed buttons, understandably so if you are a sports fan, and comprehend that domestic violence is a pervasive problem within especially the National Football League, and other pro leagues. One player taking part in the Sunday Super Bowl, Tyreek Hill, plays wide receiver/kick returner for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Hill has a history of domestic violence, and police investigated whether he broke his 3-year-old son’s arm in March 2019. No prosecution occurred and the team or league didn’t suspend the athlete. That surprised some, because in 2014, police in Oklahoma arrested Hill and he was charged with assaulting his girlfriend, who was pregnant at the time. Cops said Hill, then attending Oklahoma State, punched her in the stomach and choked her. He pleaded guilty to domestic assault and battery, was sentenced to three years of probation, had to take an anger-management course and was had to agree to a domestic-abuse evaluation. Hill and the fiancee stayed together, and she birthed twins last July, but they parted ways, and battled out terms of the split in court.

The case of Ray Rice, which broke seven years ago, pushed buttons then, when video surfaced of Rice, then a Baltimore Ravens running back, dragging his significant other out of a NJ casino. She looked to be unconscious, authorities were called that Feb. 15, 2014 night. In March, Rice and the lady in the video were married. In July, the NFL said they were suspending Rice for the first two games of the 2014 season. Authorities dropped assault charges when Rice agreed to counseling. More video footage later came out, showing Rice hitting the woman, and he was suspended indefinitely from the league. 2013 was the last time he played in the NFL. Rice and the woman, Janay Palmer, remain together, reportedly. (Rice could compare notes with Gervonta, in how material caught on video gets exponentially more play than something simply described, in words.)

Boxing has been no means immune from seeing out of the ring incidences of domestic violence draw attention to the issue. Light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev has a case pending, for assault; he was arrested in June 2018, after a woman reported he punched her after rebuffing his sexual advances, in California. He settled with the lady, she told TMZ, but had paid her only $250,000 of the agreed-to $650,000…so she went public with specifics of the injuries she said he caused. Kovalev’s criminal case is moving forward, with the court setting a hearing for April 8. The fighter has not faced any punishment, suspension or otherwise, within the boxing sphere. With no central authority holding power, boxing is an every man and woman for themself, so it isn’t a rarity to see a pugilist not getting met with the sort of sanction that an NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL participant does.

One wonders about the correlation between being a boxer for a living, and engaging in inappropriate physical displays against loved ones. Jack Pemment, an expert in neuroscience, delves into the subject in more depth here. He ends his essay effectively, thusly: Domestic violence is an abhorrent endemic social problem that impacts far too many people on a daily basis. If boxing was somehow removed from the equation, the numbers would not drop. We need increased awareness, better education, better assistance, better justice, and a push for social reform to make domestic violence a thing of the past.

Light heavyweight Marcus Browne, a Staten Island, NY resident, in June 2019 was arrested and accused of criminal contempt for allegedly violating an order of protection for his ex girlfriend. The Staten Island Advance reported the June bust was the fourth for the 29 year old boxer arising from an incident involving his ex, over a span of 18 months.

Some folks will argue that what happens off the court, or out of the ring, is what it is, that athletes should be allowed to enjoy full separation between their work and home lives. That aside, the laundry list of boxers who’ve been accused or charged with domestic violence is long, and nothing to be proud of.

Others note that high-profile athletes are role models, like it or not, and they should adhere to standards of respectability. And that leagues, like the NFL, should do better at dealing with the players who transgress, as Rice did, because we are all in this together, and that a powerful organization like the NFL could and should be a pack leader in trying to activate progression in combating domestic violence.

It maybe wouldn’t be fair to write all this, and leave out this fact. It won’t excuse physical violence, conduct of the sort we saw on that video, but Davis came from a dire place. It did and does affect him, and ideally, he will seek to work on himself, and better understand how the trauma informs his day to day actions. His father did hard drugs, and was sent to prison and Davis has said his mom did drugs, he said crack, as well. At age 5, he was shuttled around from home to home in the foster care network, for three years, before his grandma got him and his two brothers back into the fold. Yes, that experience will affect someone, and outside looking in, it’s easy to see a report of Davis mis-behaving and not factor in where he came from. No, again, not an excuse, but to help explain, to give the wider world some context to work off of. Tank has said that where he lived, it was worse than some of the stuff people saw on “The Wire.” Blocks and blocks of boarded up houses, that sends a constant negative message to residents. Violence, out in the open, a constant presence, and that can make one habituated to it. Violence isn’t a last resort, or an aberration, it is a normal part of the day, like the weather. “My mother left me and my brother in our house by ourselves,” Davis has said. He grew up the black sheep, he’d get in trouble, and he’s another guy who boxing saved, he’ll tell you that…But he came to the sport with scars, internal ones, mental and emotional, and he’s still a kid, in some ways, a work in progress who needs to be surrounded by as many positive role models as possible.

We’ve heard that Al Haymon, the PBC boss, does indeed talk to PBC talent Davis, or an Adrien Broner, and other guys who have publicly stepped out of line. The industry titan will try, I’m told, to make the point to advocate for smartening up this way: if you go off the rails, you will not get to that place of prominence that boxing can bring you. There won’t be title shots and paydays that make you and your heirs all set for the long haul. But people are people, sometimes they listen, and nod, and in the moment make a promise to walk the straight and narrow. But old habits are hard to kick. And Davis it looks like is still set to one degree or another in his old ways.

Back to where he came from; his coach Calvin Ford owned territory in Baltimore in the 80s, and defended that territory, where drugs dealing was a lucrative business, without apology. “If I had to shoot you, I’d shoot you,” Ford said to the NY Times. “If I had to stab you, I’d stab you. If I had to beat you up with my hands, I’d beat you up with my hands.” In 1988, Ford was convicted of racketeering and conspiracy, did 10 years in a federal prison and in the joint, learned to box. He started coaching after he got out, and Davis is his prized pupil. Yes, he is a role model to Davis every day, and yes, he tries to give that good advice to the kid. But some of the same traits that make Davis a star on the rise, and must see TV, they aren’t so helpful out of the ring. Mike Tyson once described his fighting style as “impetuous.”

Great word, not used so much these days. Being impetuous can make one compelling to watch, help you fast forward to being a boxing superstar. Viewers are fascinated by unfettered (sanctioned) violence, subconsciously picture themselves as the aggressor, fantasize about pummeling those that have slighted them in the same ruthless and efficient manner, perhaps. Being that way outside the ring, and repeatedly finding yourself getting in hot water with authorities, that can only take place for so long, before society clamps down. Thirty years old Adrien Broner is nearing that place where patience will run out on him. When he’s no longer a functional attraction in a ring, the hangers on will drift away, phone calls won’t get returned, and he will look around and wonder, WTF. Davis ideally can look at Broner as an example of what not to do when handed fortune and fame at a young age, for being an ace within this dark trade.

Yes, “the show must go on” mentality still usually carries the day. Kovalev is a known name in the game, so he keeps getting title shots. Browne is a regular on PBC shows, while Hill didn’t go undrafted, as was expected, but was taken in the fifth round of the 2016 Draft by the Super Bowl champion Chiefs. And Gervonta Davis will continue to be featured on some platform or another. Noting the strong feelings on display on social media from people reacting to the Tank Davis episode, it seems clear that more and more, people are tired of high profile people, entertainers, politicians and athletes, getting free passes for bad behavior, and being enabled, because of their at-work skill-set. The vitriol aimed at Davis for this bad act is understandable, and even laudable. The person who posted the video, two days after, posted a follow-up take:

Taking moral stands on this issue has helped build awareness about the depth of the problem, and when the masses squawk about something, that can propel lawmakers, and culture-shapers to work harder and smarter, so we see fewer instances of domestic violence. And part of the solution-building ideally includes understanding the circumstances many of the transgressors grew up in, and finding ways to encourage healing the wounds of the hurt souls, and lifting up people and places where hope can be hard to find.

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About Michael Woods

Michael Woods

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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