By Eric Lunger
Abner Mares, a former three-division world champion, might be best known for his two excellent bouts with rival Leo Santa Cruz. Mares lost both fights, first by majority and then by unanimous decision. But this week, Mares posted a win in moral courage.
An immigrant himself from Guadalajara, Mexico, Mares now resides in California and is on track to become a United States citizen in 2019. He released a statement last week that read in part:
I came to the United States from Mexico at age 7. I came here without the proper papers and didn’t speak English. Like so many women before her, my mother brought my brother, sister, and myself here for a better life. Life wasn’t easy, and we watched her work three jobs… Now as an American resident who will become an American citizen in 2019, as a father, a son, and a brother, it breaks my heart to see and hear of the forced separation of parents from their children at the borders.
Immigration is a complex issue, to be sure, and there are no simple solutions. But it is equally true that the one thing all people want, ultimately, is a chance to provide a better future for their children. That part is simple. People come to the United States because it is a land of opportunity, where hard work and a dream can be the foundation of a better future. Mares continued:
What is happening at the borders of this country, of MY country, is simply inhuman. I am an example of the American and Mexican dreams combined, the North American dream. I have a successful career in boxing and a successful business in the United States and Mexico that employs both American and Mexican citizens. I am lucky enough to have a loving family that is happy, heathy, and together.
Normally I find political symbolism in sport to be trite or superficial as, for example in the smarmy and overblown emotional “patriotism” that the NFL markets. I also think it is unfair for society to demand that athletes stand for some idea or that they are held to some simplistic, one dimensional standard. I loved when Charles Barkley said, many years ago, “I’m a basketball player — your role model should be your dad,” or something to that effect.
But there are rare times when sports, politics, and culture come together to encapsulate the Zeitgeist in a way that ordinary politics or polemics cannot: Jesse Owen in 1936 defying the absurd racist doctrines of the Nazi party; Muhammed Ali refusing induction into the army to protest American conduct in the Vietnam war; and Colin Kaepernick making a principled demonstration against continued police violence against African-Americans.
It takes courage to step through the ropes into a professional boxing ring; it takes another type of courage to speak out against injustice. For a man who makes his living with his fists, Abner Mares found a voice that all Americans can be proud of.