Name the most amazing story in sports this year. The Super Bowl-winning Patriots? Sorry, good guess, though. Michael Jordan’s comeback? Close, but no. The failed contraction of the Twins and Expos? Nyet.
The biggest story in the sporting world so far in this short year has been the fantastic (and hypocritical) discovery by the Nevada State Athletic Commission that, dammit, they have scruples. What does that mean? It means that the commission has decided that Mike Tyson is just too unsavory a character to be allowed to box in the Silver State.
On January 29th, the commission officially declined to grant Tyson a license to fight Lennox Lewis for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world. The fight was scheduled for April 6 at the MGM Grand on the Las Vegas Strip, and it promised to be one of the grandest spectacles Sin City had seen in a long time. The city’s casinos expected a boon of millions and millions of dollars, and city fathers anticipated a flood of revenues into coffers depleted by the aftermath of September 11.
But Tyson, America’s favorite psychopath, managed to queer the whole deal. Under normal circumstances, or with any other fighter, there never would have been a question in the first place. The only reason Tyson needed to get the commission’s approval is that his license had been revoked in 1997. That’s when he took a couple chomps on Evander Holyfield’s ear in the middle of a bout.
By itself that incident might not have tarred Tyson. But Iron Mike is a complicated character, a tortured soul. He is both exceedingly shallow, and at the same time strangely deep.
Tyson is a guy with convictions. Among them is his boastful conviction, common to pugilists, that no one can lick him. There is also his conviction that the world just doesn’t understand him, that everyone wants to make him out to be some sort of animal. Tyson’s biggest problem is another of his convictions, namely, his conviction in a court of law for raping beauty contestant Desiree Washington in an Indianapolis hotel room a few years back.
But all of this — the jail time for rape, the ear biting, the paranoia, along with more in-the-ring infractions, instances of domestic abuse, and allegations of another rape — was public knowledge in the days leading up to what had been billed as a perfunctory meeting of the state’s athletic board. They were primed to grant Tyson his license.
Perhaps the commission was feeling a bit sheepish about this, as if by granting Tyson a license it would be excusing his pathological behavior. Luckily, just before it was expected to give its blessing to the brute, Tyson handed the commission an excuse not to.
In a New York press conference with Lewis, Tyson was irritable and argumentative, profane and belligerent. He shouted epithets at the assembled reporters, and called many of those in attendance “faggots.” Then he and Lewis started jawing. Tyson lunged and threw a punch, though at whom it wasn’t clear. In the ensuing scrum, Tyson bit Lewis on the leg (making Lewis something like the John Connally to Holyfield’s John F. Kennedy). The commission told Tyson and Lewis to take their antics elsewhere.
The trouble is, nobody seems to want to take Tyson. Georgia, Colorado, Florida Texas, and elsewhere have all made clear they do not want him.
The hypocrisy in this posturing has been amusing. Just consider Nevada telling Tyson to hit the road. This from the only state in the union with legalized prostitution. This from a state whose leading mayor — Vegas’s Oscar Goodman — made his mark as a lawyer whose specialty was getting guilty-as-hell mobsters off the hook for murder and other crimes. This from a state that happily continues to license Don King as a boxing promoter, even though he actually killed a guy!
Then there’s Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, who said, “This state should grant no special license or privilege to a sexual predator like Mike Tyson.” Barnes said this at a rally for Stop Violence Against Women Day, as if Tyson were applying for a license to fight Muhammad Ali’s daughter. Barnes and Georgia know a little something about sexual predators; the Peach State is home to the notorious Gold Club. You’d think if Barnes really wanted to do something about sexual predators in his state he would call out the National Guard to turn away NBA teams coming in to play the Atlanta Hawks.
In Colorado, the director of the state’s office of boxing (what, you didn’t know it had one?) said, “What made the decision was a little bit of everything, especially his record in the ring. With that kind of record, we wouldn’t know what would occur when he actually fought.” Exactly. That’s why so many people wanted to see the fight in the first place .
Just why Tyson needs a license to box anywhere, and just why boxing needs to be so regulated, are questions worth asking in light of this. After all, if Tyson had announced that he was going to write poetry or an advice book giving dating tips, as appalling as that would be, no state officials could stop him, no matter where he decided to do this. So why should demagogic pols have the right to veto a boxing match? As long as people are willing to pay to watch, and as long as Lennox Lewis is willing to step in the ring, it’s absurd that what some bureaucrat thinks should make a difference.
Lennox Lewis is really the only one who matters. And for a massive payday, he’s willing to risk going a few rounds with the Sweet Science’s Hannibal Lecter.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not excusing Tyson. I don’t like him. And he probably belongs in jail. But he’s not auditioning to be a babysitter. He’s just interested in getting in a ring and seeing if (as is more than likely) Lewis can knock his block off.
Oddly, it’s not up to the people who would be involved — Lewis, Tyson, and the general public. The tolltakers in the various state capitals have legislated for themselves the right to a say. And that’s exactly what they are exercising. As a consequence, Tyson and Lewis are searching far and wide for a venue. Nigeria and the Philippines are the most recently named international candidates, while Washington, D.C. (still high on its love affair with crack-smoking former mayor Marion Barry), is mentioned as a domestic possibility.
All of this has reduced Mike Tyson to the pathetic status of the Shah or Baby Doc Duvalier or any other despot who is no longer welcome in familiar haunts and must search the world for a place to go. Which is why my money on where the fight will take place is on the one haven that usually welcomes these types, no questions asked: France. Bon jour, Michel et Lennox!