This is a man who has had an unparalleled sporting career, is revered in his country of birth, has given generously to friends and causes alike, has consistently been well-mannered, humble and a role model. Yet all of this is swept away by five careless words from which there may be no reprieve.

“They are worse than animals” are the five words that boxer Manny ‘PacMan’ Pacquiao said in reference to homosexuals who married. His ill-chosen words have unleashed a fire-storm for the Boxer who sees a life in politics in his native Philippines following his boxing career which has ‘one last fight’ scheduled. Nike immediately put him on the canvas and as hard as it is to believe, his statement has afforded the morally bankrupt Floyd Mayweather the upper hand. In responses to PacMan statement, Mayweather said, “Just let people live the way they want to live their lives… to each their own”. Good advice from an unlikely source for Pacquiao.

PacmanAcross south-east Asia, Pacquiao is revered. It is not inconceivable that he could one day become his country’s president such is his popularity. His opinion on gay unions is unlikely to disrupt his political aspirations in the Catholic conservative Philippines where same-sex marriage is forbidden, but, the damage to his reputation outside this part of the world will be difficult to salvage. He has shown himself to be out of step with contemporary thinking and sensitivities and regardless of his opinion on the matter, his careless and hurtful words unmask a bigotry that will be difficult to either excuse or ignore. The genie is out the bottle.

Five careless words is all it took to unravel 21 years of achievement for a ‘rags to riches’ Hero. Five words. There is a lesson here for everyone and especially for those in leadership: take care with what you say. Some like Donald Trump seems to profit by deliberately not taking care with what he says but there will come a reckoning, even for Trump, at some or other point. We live in a world where there is a seismic shifting of social values and negotiating these shifts – be that personally or collectively, is often difficult and sometimes, as PacMan has discovered, catastrophic.

Of course Pacquiao is now backtracking as fleet-footedly as he once did in the ring but this ‘thoughtless statement followed by abject apology’ routine is wearing thin, especially given the recent national discourse around racism in South Africa. Thinking before speaking is the correct order and the deeper work of examining and engaging one’s own biases, prejudices and blind spots is necessary.

Neglect this ‘inner work’ and being unmasked is inevitable. It may not happen as spectacularly as has been the case for Pacquiao, but it will happen at some or other point.

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