As someone who is both remarkably good looking and a talented interviewer, I find it difficult to put myself into Michelle Phelps’ shoes. All jokes firmly aside, she is getting a lot of attention at the moment and there appear to be two clear sides to the argument. Either you’re a fan of her work or you’re a jealous sexist hater. Which is ludicrous.
Now, I feel that before I go on, I must distinguish between those I believe are justified critics and online trolls. Like with almost any ‘celebrity’ Michelle Joy Phelps will have people comment on almost everything she does with abuse and insults. As she’s female in a traditionally male oriented world, a lot of the abuse is misogynistic. There is a clear difference however between targeting someone online and criticising their journalistic ability. So, when I refer to her critics, I’m discussing those who can rationally and eloquently argue their case, rather than revert to childish name-calling. There are many out there (a lot of online boxing platforms funnily enough) who couldn’t care less whether she is male or female. They are merely questioning why, in their opinion, someone with little boxing expertise has become so successful.
Her staunchest defenders, for there are many, leap to her aid whenever someone dares to question her talent. The general jist seems to be that anyone who dares to suggest that she is successful (partly) down to her looks, is wildly out of order. The problem with this is that Phelps herself has admitted her appearance may play a part. So, if even she acknowledges that, then what is the problem with others pointing it out? In what is historically a male dominated profession, the only surprise is that it’s taken a perceived attractive woman this long to carve out a successful niche. I agree that more is made of it because she is a woman, however it is no different really to good looking actors being cast as Hollywood leads. Their looks don’t have any baring on their acting ability, just as Phelps’ looks don’t correlate in any way to her boxing knowledge.
The problem, in the eyes of her reasonable critics, is that she doesn’t really have much knowledge of boxing. I honestly can’t comment on this in great depth. I don’t watch her videos, so I can’t really admit to being a critic or a fan. In that sense, I’m in a perfect position to comment. A lot of people, whose opinion I value, don’t believe that she offers anything different to the thousands of other video interviewers out there. So I don’t make an effort to watch Behind the Gloves more than any other channel. To be honest, this isn’t unique to boxing. I find myself more and more bored with a lot of the bland sanitised interviews from most sportspeople.
“Are you happy with your performance?”
“Yes, I performed well”
You get the picture.
However, since we (BBB) moved into conducting interviews we feel that it is important to be well researched and at least appear to know what you’re talking about. It really doesn’t take a lot of effort to ‘Boxrec’ a fighter or find footage online. We are definitely finding our feet in the industry but no-one could accuse us of not understanding the fundamentals.
As with anything, her success (and subsequent scrutiny) isn’t black or white. There will be some, possibly many, of her followers who view her videos and compliment her in the hope that she will one day agree to marry them. It certainly seems that way when you read the comments. There are those that watch her videos purely because of her looks. Phelps herself referred to her abusers as ‘virgins’ which is ironic as I’d wager a large amount of her fanbase fall into this category. There will be those who are genuine fans of her work and find her funny, insightful and good at her job. There will be a mix of all those reasons.
The problem is that if she is happy to accept that her looks have helped get her to the privileged position she now finds herself in, then she must accept the criticism that comes with that. I’m not for one minute suggesting she must accept disgusting abuse online, but she must acknowledge that there are many boxing fans who demand more than a pretty face from someone who plays such a prominent role in boxing media. I firmly believe that there are many people out there who are more knowledgeable about boxing than Phelps. There are also people out there who could conduct more interesting and in-depth interviews.
If this is starting to come across as jealousy, that’s understandable. This is another argument, along with sexism, that often gets hurled at Phelps’ detractors. If you criticise her, it’s only out of jealousy and spite. Spite? Not from me. I wish anyone trying to make a living out of boxing all the success in the world. Jealousy? Definitely. I’m no more jealous of her than I am of Isaac Robinson (newly announced head of Media for MTK) or Ross Thompson-Jenkins (host of Sky Sports Toe 2 Toe podcast). I am happy to admit that I am very jealous of anyone who makes a successful living covering boxing.
By writing this piece, does that mean that I’m not focusing on my own life? Of course it doesn’t. I work very hard to make BBB as successful as possible and I am very happy with the steady progress we have made. That doesn’t mean that if someone asked me to host the WBSS or paid for me to read out newsbytes on the Sky Sports podcast, that I wouldn’t jump at the chance.
Jealousy will attract hate, but success will also attract criticism. It’s important to know the difference.