When did you first hear of Anthony Joshua?
Were you like the vast majority of Nigerians who stumbled on him when our senators and politicians always quick to latch on to success by Nigerians in sports, no matter how tenuous the connection between the person, began to laud him and allude to the fact that his father is from Ogun? Or were you one of the boxing super-fans who first cottoned on to him when he went professional after the 2012 Olympics in Great Britain, lauding his stellar outing there and excited for what he would bring to the sport? Or maybe you are one of the horde of women who fell in love with his high yellow, toned body, always half bare between training sessions and vacations and bloody matches? Does it really matter how you discovered him, if like the rest of us you have come to the same conclusion; that Joshua is a ‘man’s man’?
What does it mean to be a man’s man anyway?
There are many ways to go about answering this question, much of the discussions today are shaped by decades of civil rights activism, gender equality battles in and outside the courts and the continual fight for the LGBT community to find expression outside of the gender expectations that were considered nearly 100 years ago. Or you could just read Anthony Joshua’s GQ interview from March 2017, which has recently resurfaced online, riding on a wave of outrage. In the interview, which covers the spectrum from personal to professional life, Joshua is asked a number of questions, one of which revolves around a ‘secret’ son, Joshua had with his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Nicole Osbourne, who is now 2 years old. When asked about his level of involvement in his son’s life, Joshua admits that his son is almost exclusively raised by his mother, his girlfriend and her mother, and that while he provides some support to his child right now, he suggests that he cannot ‘nurture’ his son, and alludes to that aspect of child-rearing being the exclusive preserve of women.
Disappointing but unsurprising. What is however inexcusable, is how Joshua answers the follow-up question (I have reproduced it verbatim, because some things really cannot be paraphrased).
Are you a strict dad?
I don’t think I’m that strict with Joseph, I don’t know why. But with my niece I’m strict. I think it is because she is older, but also he’s a boy – he’s going to be a man’s man, he’ll want to spread his wings, be a Jack-the-lad, build his character. But I am sure there are things I will be strict about. But with my niece, there is none of that Jack-the-lad nonsense for her! My view is you have to be a good woman, respectful, one day you will be someone’s wife, you have to learn family morals… what it is to be a good woman.”
Again, disappointing, but not surprising.
For some context, you’d have to look beyond Joshua’s excellent physique, his aptitude for knocking other men out and his sudden rise to meteoric fame and look at the person he was before. Before this soon to be infamous interview, this in-depth profile of the boxer was published by GQ. Apart from being a vehicle for Joshua to preen about his investment portfolio and success as a boxer, the magazine manages to shed a much-needed light on Anthony Joshua’s troubled past and how he got into boxing.
Boxing is about control, and while Joshua might have ditched hoodies and sneakers for a lace-up boot and gloves, he is still the very much the same man.
Six years before Joshua went pro, he was a pariah, banned from his hometown of Watford for constituting himself a nuisance and either instigating or participating in a number of brawls in the area, as well as some petty crime, he was even remanded briefly in prison custody and forced to wear a tracking ankle bracelet. Determined to make himself even more menacing, Joshua took to lifting weights, which then led him to boxing. Joshua is undoubtedly talented, but while he has left the life that led him to boxing, he clearly has not rid himself of the myopic beliefs that rule that life and force the people trapped within it to perpetuate misogyny and other toxic behaviours.
For Anthony Joshua, a man whose first response to being punished for crime was to make himself even more menacing, boxing is the perfect sport. Toxic masculinity is hard-wired into boxing. Men are put in a ring and told to cause grievous bodily harm to each other for the amusement of an audience. The winner is praised not just for their skill and technique but for how economical and effective they are with violence. Add to that an upbringing in a Nigerian home, with its subtle reinforcements of the assumed superiority of men over women, layered over Joshua’s position as the only child of his mother and only one of his father’s many, the cards will fall as they may but the hand he was dealt seems filled with perilously slim pickings. Boxing is about control, and while Joshua might have ditched hoodies and sneakers for a lace-up boot and gloves, he is still the very much the same man.
Joshua might be referring hypothetically about his niece and wanting to control her life and limit her choices, even though she wasn’t included in the question asked of him, but he is very much indeed living his principles. Anthony Joshua is a product of his environment, a poor product if we are being honest. And perhaps it is time we let these popular figures be just that, popular figures whose only job it is to perform whatever support or activity that has endeared us to them in the first place, and keep the proselytising to themselves.