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Sideshow Effect

When hype leads to hate

THERE'S NOT much point in following sports if you're offended by spectacle. The first Olympics was a celebration of games, the arts and gloriously pagan vices. The Aztecs played a game called ullamaliztli that involved, among other crowd-pleasers, human sacrifice.

Here in America, where we have dedicated ourselves, almost from our nation's birth, to the production and enjoyment of extravagant ballyhoo, we have never recognized any limit to the number of bells, whistles and fighter-flyovers with which we consecrate even the most minor sporting event.

And yet it is not until this very month that I have been tempted by a mere sporting event to pray for forgiveness, take 32 showers a day and reacquaint myself with my lunch in colorful ways.

Which brings us to the upcoming encounter between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor.

Mayweather, 40, is a boxer, one of the best of his generation. He's also a notorious beater of women. McGregor, 29, is a mixed martial arts sensation who's never boxed professionally and is likely to be tattooed even beyond his present state of body art by Mayweather. The purse for this fight is said to be a combined $175 million. A ringside seat is said to cost $10,000. I would rather spend 10 G's to watch Mayweather and McGregor set $175 million on fire than come within 100 miles of this glorified cholera outbreak.

This is a festival for fools, a carnival of greed. Caligula would have been revolted by this fiasco, and so would his horse. The official hype is only one week old and I want to turn in my American citizenship, sail off to a distant isle and wait there until I and the rest of the human race devolve back to the primeval slime out of which we crawled. I would rather watch a raccoon fight an 18-wheeler on I-90 than this match. Anybody who pays to see it should not be allowed to cut his own meat, let alone handle his own money. You know what the difference is between this event and human sacrifice? Ring card women.

Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor have already demonstrated that there is no bottom to this barrel and no reason to believe one will be located by the time the fight occurs on Aug. 26. The fighters' traveling press rollout, which visited four cities in three countries in four days last week, had enough homophobia and racism to last months. Mayweather called McGregor a "f----t." McGregor called Mayweather "boy."

More than anything else, what is sickening about Mayweather-McGregor are the racial forces with which this event is flirting. Supposedly, in 2017, we are beyond using bigotry to hype a sporting event. What Mayweather-McGregor has proved, if it has proved nothing else, is that one vicious old dog still hunts.

There is no inside voice for racism, sexism and homophobia, much less one that is shouting from a podium. It is a fearful, dangerous time. And while there is never a good time for a prizefight that seeks to turn that dread and unease into a big payday, it's especially not that time now.

Not only are the principles behind this fight lost, but the principals are too. Mayweather and McGregor are already halfway to becoming vessels for some of the worst impulses in our society, impulses on which the reins have been loosened over the past two years. The spectacle surrounding this fight already has set modern standards for public vulgarity and ostentatious indecency, both of which will be richly rewarded by a public with an apparently insatiable appetite for bread and circuses. (The satirist Juvenal coined the phrase to demonstrate the decadence of a Roman elite that bought power with public spectacles and free wheat.) At a somewhat advanced age of 63, I have discovered that my tolerance for this kind of ballyhoo has an outer limit after all. Get this abomination off my lawn, dammit.

This fight is a festival for fools, a carnival of greed. Caligula would have been revolted, and so would his horse.