In Tyson case, justice, business will be served


September 11, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

The word on the pay-per-view circuit is pretty clear. This rape charge against Mike Tyson is bound to be great for business. That says something about humankind that I don't even want to consider.

Scandal sells, we know. And Mike Tyson, the accused, wraps himself in scandal the way politicians wrap themselves in the flag, and to the same purpose. It's pretty disgusting. And no wonder some people are insisting Tyson's Nov. 8 fight against Evander Holyfield should be forcibly postponed.

It sure looks bad. Not that image is a particular problem for anyone involved in the boxing world, or how else would you explain Don King's continuing success? I refer you to a quote in USA Today from Kathy Duva, wife of promoter Dan Duva: "If we were worried about how things look, we wouldn't be promoters."


It is well-known in boxing circles that a rap sheet suggests a certain pedigree, meaning Tyson is your basic royalty. The only time he's not in trouble is when he's in the ring, unless Buster Douglas is there, too. You know all the stories. You know the all the horror stories. We've watched Tyson walk down the mean streets of America, and it's no coincidence that every street he's on seems just a little bit meaner than it was before he arrived.

And yet, no one has ever been under indictment while fighting for the heavyweight championship.

Should an accused rapist be allowed to fight and make his millions?

The answer is yes. Absolutely. This is America, where we subscribe to the notion of innocent until proven guilty, even if many people are convinced that Tyson must be guilty. He may be. He may not be.

In any case, he gets his day in court. And he gets his night in the ring.

In sports, we are subjected to all manner of mindless, flag-waving, fife-and-drum-playing displays of patriotism, as if the games themselves were a testament to the national good. Real patriotism is standing behind Tyson's right to make a living until he is convicted and sent to prison, if that happens.

We should have learned our lesson from Muhammad Ali, who was stripped of his titles and not allowed to fight while he challenged the draft laws during the Vietnam war. Eventually, he was cleared of all charges, but not before losing years out of the ring in the heart of his career. That was a scandal.

Not that Tyson is innocent. He may be innocent of this rape charge, but he is guilty of much else, certainly of excessive behavior. In recent years, he has reached out-of-court settlements with two women who accused him of making improper advances. Another took him to court and won a small settlement. Another suit is still pending. His ex-wife, Robin Givens, claimed he beat her and that their life together was a "living hell." If you saw them together on the Barbara Walters special, you couldn't help but believe her.

Tyson readily admits being a heavy partier, and there is much evidence of his abusive behavior. But his visit to Indianapolis last July forthe Miss Black America pageant is being portrayed as a rampage.

The rape charge by an 18-year-old contestant -- which, if Tyson were found guilty on all four counts, could put him in jail for as many as 63 years -- is only the beginning. He is also a defendant in two civil lawsuits that are asking for $121 million. The reigning Miss Black America said Tyson allegedly pinched her buttocks. The organizer of the pageant accused Tyson of being a "serial buttocks fondler" and said that 10 of the contestants claimed to have been fondled or propositioned by Tyson.

The bit about serial buttocks fondling is a very funny line unless you happen to be a woman who finds herself in Tyson's company. Assault is assault, by any name.

Sadly, no one is surprised anymore when athletes are accused of sexual assault. We've all read the headlines. It has been estimated that as many as a third of on-campus sexual assaults involve athletes. Even if that figure is too high, it still suggests, among other things, that athletes are too often taught that rules don't always apply to them.

But does Tyson's behavior mean he shouldn't be allowed to fight? If it weren't so tragic, the concept would almost be laughable. Try to picture this: that a fighter must meet some moral standard before he is allowed to climb into the ring and beat another man senseless.

It's a violent game, and violent people often find themselves involved in it. Tyson certainly qualifies. That he is fighting Holyfield, a Bible-quoting champion, only serves to further the good guy-bad guy image that makes a fight a big sell. This fight could be the biggest sell of all. The live gate sold out, despite ticket prices ranging from $200 to $1,200, in less than two weeks. The fighters, and the promoters, are going to make a fortune.

If that seems wrong to you somehow, then you can do a little something about it. You can refuse to pay the $39.95 that it costs to watch the fight in your home on pay-per-view TV. That would send the strongest message possible.

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