Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson began life in the
condemned projects of Brooklyn, and condemned he has remained.
His American journey has included stops in homeless shelters,
reform schools, bankruptcy courts, and prison. Along the way,
he earned and lost more than US$100 million.
a completely bogus news story is out that Hollywood madam Heidi
Fleiss is hiring Tyson as the main attraction for her 60-acre
Nevada brothel for women called "Heidi's Stud Farm." In the press
release, the parasitic Fleiss said, "I told him, 'You're going
to be my big stallion.' It's every man's fear that their girlfriend
will go for Mike Tyson." She then quoted Tyson saying, "I don't
care what any man says, it's every man's dream to please women...
and get paid for it." Tyson had this to say about the Heidi Fleiss
rumors: "I am not working with Heidi Fleiss nor have anything
to do with her new business. There is no truth to these rumors."
His lawyers have threatened to sue if she uses his name for further
doubt this will all become more fodder for the "Tyson as freak
show, Tyson as beast" jabber on sports radio. That line goes down
easier than discussing his bi-polar disorder; his attempts at
suicide; his clinical depression; and how the SportsWorld has
spent the last decade poking him with a stick, waiting a-titter
to see what "Crazy Mike" does next.
won't discuss the sad truth that every inexcusable act of aggression
towards women, every facial tattoo, every threat to "eat the children"
of opponents, every bitten ear lobe, every public utterance, was
a cry for help that never came.
tragedy is that Tyson is no animal. Trained by the legendary Cus
D'Amato, the young Tyson was a student of the game. He watched
grainy films for hours on end. He possessed beautiful lateral
movement, and thunderous blows to the body. Only an intelligent
boxer understands the demoralizing nature of body shots, and Tyson
went to the torso like no fighter this century.
young Tyson, despite all the
menace, also showed a real
compassion for the people
he knocked out. He exhibited smarts,
charisma, and concern.
Now he is just an exhibit.
was also a scholar of the psychology of the sport. In the mid
'80s when fighters routinely came to the ring in flowing sequined
robes like they were extras on George Clinton's Mothership, Tyson
would walk to the ring clad only in black trunks. While other
fighters walked down the aisle to cheesy party songs, Tyson's
tune was "In The Air Tonight" by Phil Collins. I saw Tyson live
when he was 20 years old and, trust me: Phil Collins was never
But the young Tyson, despite all the menace, also showed a real
compassion for the people he knocked out. He exhibited smarts,
charisma, and concern. Now he is just an exhibit. But Heidi Fleiss
wouldn't have been his first pimp. Managers like Bill Cayton,
Don King, and a throng of others have all taken turns using his
physical prowess and picking his carcass clean.
Fleiss' "Stud Farm" with Mike as "stallion", even though false,
also carries a devastating historical echo. The first prizefighters
in this country were slaves, owned by competing members of the
plantocracy. They were the heroes of the plantation, greeted by
whites and Blacks with both resentment and awe. These boxers in
bondage were literally handed women slaves for sexual gratification
but would be lynched if caught looking twice at the master's wife,
no matter how successful. In the 20th century, all African-American
heavyweight champs have faced a similar vice caught between their
race and sexuality.
champion Jack Johnson went to jail for "transporting women across
state lines for immoral purposes" by sending his white girlfriend
a railroad ticket to travel from Pittsburgh to Chicago. In an
era when the KKK executed Southern Justice and the Klan-film "Birth
of a Nation" was screened by a rapturous President Woodrow Wilson,
Jack Johnson's insistence on flouting the rules of white supremacy
made him deeply dangerous, as his FBI file attests.
backlash against Johnson meant that it would be 20 years before
the rise of another Black heavyweight champ, "the Brown Bomber"
Joe Louis. Louis was quiet where Johnson was defiant. He was handled
very carefully by a management team that had a set of rules Louis
had to follow, including, "never be photographed with a white
Heidi Fleiss wouldn't have been
(Tyson's) first pimp. Managers like
Bill Cayton, Don King, and a throng
of others have all taken turns
using his physical prowess and
picking his carcass clean.
Black boxers were seen as either neutered or potential rapists
until Muhammad Ali said, "I don't have to be what you want me
to be" and infuriated the sports writers of his day. One contemporary
of Ali told me, "One of the things that made reporters so mad
about Ali was that he told people how 'pretty' he was. The champion
is supposed to be a stud, not pretty."
progressive examinations of athletes can't escape this trap of
eroticizing their subjects. In Ken Burns' otherwise stellar documentary
of Jack Johnson, "Unforgivable Blackness", Burns spends so much
time gazing at the fighter's crotch and tight pants that Johnson's
bulge should be submitted for Emmy consideration.
David Kindred's wonderful recent book about Ali and Cosell, "The
Sound and the Fury", he unfortunately takes time to let us know
that the naked Ali earns his title as "the greatest."
it's tough to find the humanity in a sport like boxing, that so
relentlessly dehumanizes its subjects. But Mike Tyson is the scarred
reflection of this ugly corner in the SportsWorld. Instead of
stopping to sneak a peek, and cop a thrill, we should force ourselves
to stare and think. Instead of laughing at Mike Tyson, we should
take time to weep. And be angry.
has just got himself a new blog site, www.myspace.com/edgeofsports,
which he invites you to visit. His new book, "What's My Name Fool?
Sports and Resistance in the United States," is now in stores.
You can receive his column, Edge of Sports, every week by emailing
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