Tyson Is Our Monster

The Nevada State Athletic Commission did what fed-up sportswriters and much of the public clamored for when it KO'd the scheduled April 6 mega-bucks fight between Heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson in Las Vegas. Tyson's maniac, depraved assault on anybody and everybody at a pre-fight news conference and yet two more sexual assault accusations against him made the Commission's decision to cancel the fight a no-brainer. An unrepentant Tyson blamed Lewis, the commission, sportswriters, the gaming industry, the fans and everybody -- that is, everybody except Tyson -- for cheating him out of his big Vegas payday.

But why should he finger himself? He's always played the poor, misunderstood victim, and far too many have let him delude himself into believing that. Tyson has long been much of America's poster boy for perversion. Nearly everyone that now loudly screams for his head is well familiar with his sordid and pathetic history as street thug, bully, brute, and lecher.

During his 1992 trial on charges of raping former Miss Black America, Desiree Washington, his attorneys played hard on his bad as I wannabe image. They evidently hoped that since everyone knew that this was his public image the jurors might cut him some slack if they thought that the woman he was accused of raping should have known what would happen if she went to his room. The jurors didn't buy it, and convicted him.

After his release from prison, many boxing promoters and corporate media owners openly played on Tyson's bad boy image. They greedily hoped that this would swell the gate and bring king's ransom riches back to the dying sport of boxing.

They were right. Thousands of fans forked up premium dollars to cheer and jeer the bad boy Tyson in his quest to reclaim his spot on top of the boxing world. Despite the pompous and self-righteous statements the Nevada commissioners made after dumping Tyson, they were the ones who slapped him with a chump change fine of $3 million and a temporary ban after he hacked off part of Evander Holyfield's ear in their 1997 fight and let him fight twice more in their state.

Many sports writers have milked their love-hate affair with Tyson. They ply the public with a barrage of scandal and gossip stories on him, lambaste him as an animal and a savage, and then leap over each other to grab their seats at or near ringside at the next Tyson fight fiasco.

Many African-Americans claim that Tyson is being persecuted by white society, especially the white media, for being an outspoken black man. They turned him into a hero/martyr. This only adds to the Tyson mystique. There have never been any racial principles at stake in any of Tyson's misdeeds, or the controversies that surround him.

For a hot minute it seemed that Tyson might redeem himself. He was a model prisoner during his three-year stretch in the Indiana State prison on the rape conviction. He found religion and tried to improve himself educationally. He married a young black professional, and gave money to charities. He quietly settled a civil suit with the victim of his rape attack. He made no inflammatory attacks on black women, many of whom picketed and protested his public appearances.

Tyson at times has even appeared to be uncomfortable with his marquee image as America's poster boy for celebrity sociopath behavior. Every chance he gets he lashes out at society for turning him into an extravagantly paid punching bag. He told one interviewer "They pay $500 to see me. There's so much hypocrisy in the world." Pumped up by sports fans, admirers, the media, and boxing's money crowd as boxing's primal force gladiator, Tyson took full advantage of that hypocrisy, he believed he was "Iron Mike," a man above the law who could do anything and get away with it. His news conference antics didn't change that. He immediately took a victory walk around the block and was cheered, back patted, and signed autographs for droves of well-wishers.

After the Holyfield debacle, Tyson got a second chance to become the richest ex-con in history. Many hoped that he wouldn't blow his chance and that he would succeed in making at least some of his detractors finally take his mug off their bad boy poster. But it is now stunningly clear that big money and sports fame will never turn Iron Mike into clean Mike.

Yet despite the Nevada Commission's decision and the wrath of the sports world and the public, in an era when much of the media routinely turns the thug behavior and clownish shenanigans of some athletes and celebrities into big bucks and ratings, Tyson's stock may soar even higher when he fights again. And the betting odds are that he will, since the World Boxing Council is desperately searching for another fight venue and Lewis still seems eager to make the match. Many of those who now shout the loudest for his blood will be the ones clamoring the loudest for tickets to see him hammer someone in, or more likely outside, the ring. If Tyson is a monster, he's our monster.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a columnist and author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press). Visit his news and opinion website: www.thehutchinsonreport.com.

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