Analysis on Tyson was good break from Olympics

Phil Jackman

February 17, 1992|By Phil Jackman

We interrupt this Olympic broadcast to bring you this report on a subject that transcends sports and has fascinated/upset/divided/intrigued people for months.

The show was labeled "Tyson: The Lost Champion" and it appeared on ESPN last night just as CBS was laying out our evening repast from France. Talk about a needle in a haystack.

With Charley Steiner, a guy who has been alternately close and distanced from Mike Tyson the last few years, a review of the former heavyweight champion's recent conviction for rape was in good hands -- with one drawback.

As sportscaster Al Bernstein put it fairly early in the one-hour special, "We have never been able to get a fix on Tyson. No one in the fight game is as diverse as this guy."

A series of boxing people tried mightily, however, before everyone 'fessed up and, after lots of freshman year psychoanalysis, agreed that's how it goes when dealing with a schizophrenic.

ESPN has done a million interviews with Iron Mike and, in a series of sound bites, we hear him say:

"As kids [on the rough streets of New York] we wanted to look nice and be decent people." Then, "I was a pest, a nuisance always in trouble."

"No, I don't see myself as a superstar." Followed by, "How dare they [opponents] challenge me with those basic skills."

Steiner asked: How did he fall so far so fast? If anyone worked at answering that question it was former champion and Tyson biographer Jose Torres, who said, "What Mike did that night in Indianapolis, he had done before. That's his attitude, his style [that he can do anything he wants]. I don't think he thinks he did anything wrong."

Instead of just stating facts before perhaps hinting at conclusions, many of the guests felt it was their duty to place blame. For instance, the "expert" from the New York Times, Bill Rhoden, indicated it was a white problem, Tyson always being surrounded by whites when, as Rhoden put it, "a black kid has to be taught by a black man."

Torres, a Puerto Rican, laughed, suggesting, "Mike just never grew up emotionally." Jose took a jump overboard, though, when he predicted, "Tyson might have serious trouble in jail. He has tasted the good life. We've seen some examples of how he has dealt with adversity. He's liable to commit suicide."

The nature of the fight game is such that it's a very hard, shady and cruel business. But, in the ring, it was never a problem with Tyson. Outside the ring is where all his problems came, which lends credence to Torres' line about his emotional immaturity.

It was pointed out that former champion Larry Holmes said years ago that at the rate Tyson was going, he would be dead or in prison in five years. With sentencing due for April 3 (and pending appeals), it appears as if Holmes is psychic.

* Three cheers for CBS! Unlike ABC, which made a practice of all but avoiding the subject, the carrier of the Winter Olympics went after the highly questionable and downright dishonest judging of figure skating during coverage of set program ice dancing last night.

After explaining the duties of officials, former champion and coach Toller Cranston put the whole issue in perspective when PTC he pointed out, "Many are under the impression judges are experts. That's completely false."

The piece then went on to detail how officials are intimidated, how they curry favor and, lastly, how self-serving they are toward their country or their own favorites.

No sooner did the competition end with a Unified Team pair holding an advantage over their French counterparts heading into today's free program when announcer Verne Lundquist reminded the French judge had placed the leading Russian team third while a Russian judge did likewise to the world champion and event favorite Duchesnays from the host country.

* This is the 10th day of competition from Albertville. As good as any of the packages and features prepared to accompany the mostly-taped shows has been the work of Craig Silver and David Blatt.

They're the producers for ski jumping and cross country/biathlon, respectively, and their human interest stuff has been outstanding.

It he was anywhere near town, triple medalist Vegard Ulvang of Norway, a guy who skis across Greenland and climbs Mount McKinley in his spare time and also possesses a contagious personality, would be the star of the whole show.

As for the jumping, school kids like Toni Nieminen of Finland and Martin Hollwarth head-to-head and in team competition has pumped Final Four-type excitement into this mostly ignored event.

* TODAY'S TIP: Hockey all the way, unbeaten Team USA taking on 3-0-1 Sweden in the last preliminary-round game for advantageous seeding in the sudden-death quarterfinals live at 2:15 p.m. CBS has it as part of a 1-6 p.m. show because of Presidents Day.

Beat the tourney-favored Swedes and the U.S. draws France in the quarters. Lose and it's the much-tougher Czechs. The U.S. beat Sweden on the eve of the Games in a game that saw eight players on the losing team injured. A revenge factor would seem to be in order here.

* THUMBS UP: CBS bypassing the long-held tradition of talking to figure skaters in the so-called "kiss and cry" area where coherence and enlightenment have always been at a premium . . . The net has already started thumping the drums for the women's figure skating final, which doesn't even start until Friday, but since it's going to be the capper for the Games, that's all right.

* THUMBS DOWN: The patently sexist practice of network anchorwomen Paula Zahn and Andrea Joyce being outfitted with different garb every day of the Games while their male counterparts have to play mix and match consistently. All except Pat O'Brien, of course. No one wants to trade jackets with "Midnight Madness."

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