Justice was served? Don't buy it

March 26, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

"Free Mike Tyson," that's what the T-shirts said. Not Mike Tyson, convicted rapist -- heavens, no. The T-shirts were talking about Mike Tyson, political prisoner.

As if Tyson were Nelson Mandela.

As if racism were the issue.

Some victim, that Tyson. Now that he's free, he reportedly will earn $30 million for his first fight. No one bats an eye over this. No one bats an eye over anything anymore.

What a week in sports.

Michael Jordan changed his uniform number from No. 23 to No. 45, a naked marketing ploy he disguised as a tribute to his late father.

Donna Harris-Lewis read a poem at Boston Garden, trying to shout down the mounting evidence that her husband used drugs.

Did we mention O. J.?

And now Tyson.

Makes the baseball strike look like child's play.

Tyson emerged from prison yesterday, flanked by his managers and that noted father figure, Don King. He left in a limousine. He attended a Muslim prayer service. He flew home to Southington, Ohio.

4 Only in America -- that's what King always says.

Scorn the victim, celebrate the felon.

Only in America indeed.

The victim, in case you've forgotten, is Desiree Washington. Tyson raped her nearly four years ago. Today, she is a fifth-grade student teacher in Pawtucket, R.I. -- surely not the job the former beauty contestant had in mind.

Tyson as a political prisoner?

The only way you can make that argument is if you're talking about sexual politics -- and even then, the case is extremely weak.

Maybe Washington had no business being in Tyson's hotel room. Maybe she was drawn by his celebrity and attracted to his money. But none of that excuses the crime, which was rape.

Please, not a word about how Tyson did his time, and justice was served.

Desiree Washington is still doing time, and will be for the rest of her life.

The average convicted rapist goes to jail, and his life is never the same. Tyson is just the opposite. He went to jail, and his life might turn out better.

Not because he's rehabilitated.

Not because he converted to Islam.

Because he's the former heavyweight champion of the world.

His three-year imprisonment amounts to a marketing bonanza. People forget, but Tyson was a fighter in decline when all this happened, a lost soul. Now, like that other famous Mike, he's back.

And the anticipation is just as great.

The jail term? Rather than destroy Tyson's image, it adds to his mystery, adds to his appeal. Is Tyson in good shape? Did his skills diminish? Can he still fight? These are the questions that have the boxing world abuzz.

The talk is that Tyson will save boxing, just like Jordan's comeback has rejuvenated the NBA. The parallel is even more intriguing if you believe Jordan served his own form of sentence for gambling, which everyone vehemently denies.

Of course, gambling is one thing, and rape is another. But it doesn't matter what sins you commit -- if you're a star athlete, people not only will forgive and forget, they'll often refuse to believe you did anything wrong in the first place.

The T-shirts tell the story -- the most fashionable excuse these days is racism, even when the accuser, like Washington, is black. Look at Tyson, O. J., even Reggie Lewis. For many, the question is not right or wrong, but black or white.

The reaction is understandable. Racism in this country is an ugly fact. But when Tyson is depicted as that kind of victim, it's just so absurd, so offensive. The war on racism is better fought in a hundred different ways.

Forgive and forget -- whites are no better. Who do you think will compose the majority of the audience when Tyson makes his first appearance on pay-per-view? Everyone will rationalize. The past is past. Iron Mike is back.

The reality is, people want to see him fight. But if you're going to rail about the greed in sports, the breakdown of moral standards and the cynicism of our age, there comes a time when you make a stand.

It might not come when you're asked to buy a baseball ticket at the end of a ridiculous strike, because you enjoy the game. It might not even come when your child wants a No. 45 Chicago Bulls jersey, because everyone loves Michael.

But one day soon, Mike Tyson will fight on pay-per-view.

You want to help him become the world's wealthiest convicted rapist, go right ahead.

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