Boxers are involved in all sorts of fights. They fight themselves daily, making war on their bodies and minds to prepare themselves for the ring. They fight their sparring partners, their sleepiness in the wee hours of the morning and the ever-advancing hoard of deliciousness at the dinner table.
They fight their opponents, too, of course, and some of them even have had to fight trainers, managers, promoters, televisions networks, etc. Heck, I’ve even seen some that have had to fight fans for attention. For example, almost no one wanted to see Floyd Mayweather fight until it became apparent he might never lose.
Manny Pacquiao, age 35, has been involved in all sorts of fights during his career. He’s won most of them, and I suppose that’s the best anyone could ever really hope for when they decide to ditch the life of a commoner and head towards the ring.
But Pacquiao’s greatest fight hasn’t been against any one of the slew of world class fighters he’s shared the ring with. It wasn’t against Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales or Juan Manuel Marquez. It wasn’t Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito or Ricky Hatton either. It wouldn’t even have been against Mayweather had the two preeminent fighters of a generation squared off against each other as long hoped for.
No, Pacquiao’s greatest fight has been against the intrinsically evil practice of human trafficking, something which pervades our so-called civilized society to this very day.
Traffickers typically prey on those in poverty, and Pacquiao knows well what it’s like to be poor.
"When I was young my parents were jobless. We had no home. Sometimes we [couldn’t] even afford to have a single meal a day," Pacquiao told CNN’s Leif Coorlim. "When you see my slippers, one is green, one is red. And they had holes. I would walk the streets to sell, that's how I made my living as a kid. I felt sorry for my mother. I wanted so badly to study. I stopped though and pursued boxing."
But boxing’s been good to Pacquiao. Where he once had to literally put rocks into his pockets to make the minimum fighting weight as a 16-year-old, he is now considered one of the finest fighters who has ever lived. That goes double in his home country, where Pac-man is the Philippines’s most beloved celebrity as well as a national treasure. Where fighters over on this side of the world are relegated to mainstream media coverage just once or twice a year at most, Pacquiao’s ring exploits are covered almost daily by the Filipino media.
And Pacquiao has made his name in other vocations, too. He’s a singer, an actor and a congressman representing the province of Sarangani in the Philippines. It’s the latter role that Pacquiao leveraged for his fight against human trafficking.
In fact, one of Pacquiao’s first acts after being elected to congress in 2010 was to visit the Visayan Forum Foundation, a charity founded in 1991 to help victims of domestic servitude and forced prostitution. There, Pacquiao heard gut-wrenching, first-hand accounts from victims of trafficking.
Three of the rescued girls, all under the age of 12, told Pacquiao horrifying details of being forced to do things like perform sexual acts on strangers and drink their own urine. It was all recorded, of course, for the viewing pleasure of paying strangers all over the world.
The news hit Pacquiao like a ton of bricks, and he vowed then and there to use his political power to help combat the bane of human trafficking. On February 13, 2013, the Philippines passed into law the Anti-Trafficking bill Pacquiao had long championed, providing for strengthened prosecution of those who engage or attempt to engage in human trafficking, as well as extra protections for trafficked victims.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the move helped place the Philippines “among the countries that have made a lot of progress” in the global campaign against human trafficking. For his part, Pacquiao said he hopes to be remembered more for his public works than his life as a boxer.
"In boxing, I don't think people will forget me after I retire,” Pacquiao told CNN. “But I really want people to remember me as a public servant, who is good, who is a champion for the people."
It’s been almost a year since Pacquiao helped move the ball forward for the Philippines. But the fight hasn’t ended there. Just last month, authorities rescued 15 children from the country between the ages of 6 and 15 who were forced into child sexual abuse by a group of pedophile pornographers. Moreover, Pacquiao urged the government earlier this month to be on alert for reported cases of child trafficking in Samar and ready to take action.
There is still much work to do. But Pacquiao’s work thus far shouldn’t be forgotten, and the needs of these silent sufferers of modern day slavery shouldn’t be either.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking affects every nation in the world, and while sexual exploitation is noted as the most commonly identified form of trafficking, about 1 in 5 persons are used for forced labor.
The sheer number of victims is staggering. A conservative estimate puts the total at any one time globally at 2.5 million.
And it’s not just in the seedy shadows. It’s big business. Human trafficking generates $9.5 billion yearly in the United States alone.
In fact, experts told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week that Sunday’s Super Bowl game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks in New York would be America’s biggest human-trafficking event all year. Think about that for a second. A large, corporately sponsored event only the most wealthy of Americans can afford to attend is the perfect precursor for one of the more disgusting practices in the world today.
"It's modern-day slavery," Luis CdeBaca of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. Department of State told USA Today’s Erin Kelly.
Kelly paints a bleak picture of humanity, where dark and twisted secrets are kept hidden right out in the open.
“Human traffickers see major sporting events such as the Super Bowl as lucrative opportunities to bring in adults and children who have been forced into prostitution or are made to clean hotel rooms or work in restaurants without pay,” writes Kelly. “The victims are both Americans and foreign citizens, who are often lured to the United States by traffickers promising them good-paying jobs that do not exist.”
So it would seem the fight that matters for Pacquiao, the one he’s devoted the last four years of his life to in the fight against human trafficking, is the one that should matter for us, too.
Kelsey McCarson is a writer for The Sweet Science and a contributor to Boxing Channel. For more information on how you can help fight human trafficking, please visit the knowledge hub of the UN’s Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (GIFT).