The Current Crisis

Chicken Celebrity

It is not just that after years of run-ins with the law -- usually involving the abuse of women -- Mike Tyson remains in the public eye, free to erupt at any time. It is that there are at least three other famous men in the same very public situation.

By 2.20.02

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Washington -- The very day that I heard Mike Tyson is about to be licensed to fight in our nation's capital I read the following on the front page of the esteemed "Wall Street Journal": "Tyson will stop using the antibiotic Baytril, which the FDA wants banned, on chickens meant for human consumption."

Alas, thought I, no sooner does luck shine on Iron Mike than the ex-heavyweight champion is in trouble again. Fight fan that I am, I thought: "What the hell is Tyson using Baytril for?" Could it be that the medication works like Prozac, and that the ill-starred fighter is trying to render himself equable in polite company or at least at stoplights? All of us fight fans remember the mayhem that ensued when Tyson was last treated discourteously at a stoplight.

Then those words "chicken…consumption" caught my eye. Mike only eats red meat, usually raw. Oh, how foolish of me. The "Journal" was not reporting on Tyson the fighter but on Tyson the chicken plucker. To be sure the chicken-plucking Tysons of Springdale, Arkansas, have as many run-ins with the law as Iron Mike, but the two families are unrelated.

So far Mike Tyson is as clean as a hound's tooth regarding Baytril use, and if he stays clean he may soon be given a chance to regain the heavyweight championship in the very shadow of the Washington monument. The three-member District of Columbia Boxing and Wrestling Commission unanimously agreed to a procedure that will allow Tyson to fight here despite his spotty résumé and recent displays of cannibalism. Surely you remember the time he was suspended from boxing for gnawing on Evander Holyfield's ear during a heavyweight competition. And just a few weeks back he lost his chance for a Nevada boxing license when, during a press conference, he erupted in fisticuffs and again attempted to sink his teeth into the flesh of a potential opponent, reigning heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis -- and for no earthly reason. There was a very fine chophouse nearby. Lewis had not even been cooked.

Now, of course, all Washington is convulsed in debate over whether Tyson should be allowed to perform in this famous city. The infallible "Washington Times" reports that a fight between Tyson and the delicious Lewis could bring the city $150 million in revenue and a much-needed bounce to the tourist business that has fallen off dreadfully since 9/11. Tyson is possibly the most controversial of all heavyweight champions, having spent three years in the calaboose for sexual assault and yet another year for road-rage assault. He is under investigation even now for two more alleged rapes. Feminists call him a "sexual predator" and want him banned from the fight game. Yet fight fans want to see him in the ring. They claim, notwithstanding his manifest weaknesses, he is a swell fighter.

Well he may be a fine fighter, but there is something eerie about him. It is not just that after years of run-ins with the law -- usually involving the abuse of women -- he remains in the public eye, free to erupt at any time. It is that there are at least three other famous men in the same very public situation, each with his own claim to talent and his own alibis and complaints to being victimized. The first that comes to mind is O. J. Simpson. He remains at large after beating one particularly grisly rap and after several other serious displays of violence.

The other two public men who travel the country with lurid charges filed against them are a former President and an embattled United States Congressman. In the case of the former President the charges of abuse of women (one is a rape charge) have not been wholly substantiated. He was, however, found guilty of contempt of court; and he was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice. Few would argue with the claims that he is a repeated perjurer and obstructer of justice. Some just say the claims do not matter. The most lurid charge against the Congressman remains unsubstantiated; though at this writing it appears he will be defeated because of the charge, which is in fact very serious.

The former President is an amusing fellow, and it is said that he has not done the country much harm. He has, however, served as a role model for some very unsavory figures; for instance the Congressman, who has torn a page from the ex-President's game book and now claims that one of the best reasons for re-electing him is that it will help criminal investigators maintain public interest in the whereabouts of Chandra Levy's body. I am not kidding. Congressman Gary Condit said that to a "New York Times" reporter.

As I say, the continued presence of these men in public life strikes me as eerie. Tyson may be champion of the world again. Simpson is starring in a documentary of his life. Clinton is a celebrity -- admired here, booed there -- all await his next scandal. And Condit is, well he is a politician who now uses Clinton's tactics to remain in Congress. Once out perhaps those tactics will help him remain a celebrity. I find all that eerie.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.