No excuses this time for Iron Mike's behavior

February 10, 1999|By GREGORY KANE

JOE MADISON, you've gone too far. But you've got guts.

On Monday, Madison, the superb program director of Radio One's talk stations WOL and WOLB, walked where many are reluctant to tread: He questioned whether sending Mike Tyson - the epitome of dysfunction - to jail for a year ``does any good.''

Madison went even further. He suggested that Montgomery County Judge Stephen Johnson sentenced Tyson solely to get publicity. Assuming the accusation is true, it's also quite beside the point.

The issue in the matter of Mike Tyson is what it always has been: the conduct of Mike Tyson. The former heavyweight champion pleaded no contest to charges that he punched one man in the face and kicked another last summer after a fender bender in Montgomery County. That's called assault and battery. Johnson may indeed be the publicity hound Madison claims he is. But it's just as likely that Johnson simply took into account Tyson's history.

The guy's a convicted rapist. He continues to proclaim his innocence but admits he committed so many other despicable acts that justice might have simply crept up on him in the Desiree Washington incident.

He mugged old women as a teen. Lest we forget, he's the same guy who took a chunk out of Evander Holyfield's ear and then portrayed himself as a victim. And this is just the stuff he's been caught at. He's been out of control for years. He even alluded to it. When former heavyweight champ George Foreman remarked several years ago that he wanted to ``get Mike Tyson in a ring before a good district attorney gets to him,'' he wasn't just wisecracking. Foreman and everyone else not living in denial knew that Tyson was little more than a thug, a reprobate and a miscreant with a boxing license.

Madison contended that Tyson is being subjected to a double standard, that other folks guilty of ``road rage'' aren't sentenced to jail. Tyson indeed is being held to a double standard. But sometimes double standards apply.

Tyson isn't some Joe Average who came down with a fleeting case of ``road rage.'' He's a professional boxer. When he jumps from his car and punches someone - a 62-year-old man much smaller than Tyson, in this case - it's not a simple case of assault and battery. Professional boxers who hit average citizens are guilty of assault with deadly weapons - their hands, which they are trained to use to inflict harm. The notion that Mike Tyson should have gone into Johnson's court last week and been treated exactly like everyone else is sheer nonsense.

But at least Madison didn't claim that Tyson was the victim of white racism. If there is any one black man in the country whose problems are not caused by white racism, it's Tyson. But some callers to WOL and WOLB didn't hesitate to blame Tyson's woes on a white racist criminal justice system. One caller even went as far as to link Tyson's treatment to that of a New York City police fatal shooting of a West African immigrant last week.

Such reasoning comes from a tortured mind. But Tyson's been the beneficiary of such reasoning for years. Every time he's screwed up, hordes of supporters have been willing to grab any opportunity to shout that it was someone else, not Mike, who was responsible. But the reason Tyson continues to stumble is that he knows that no matter how outrageous his conduct, he'll always have his defenders.

Such devotion might come from those who are among Tyson's legion of boxing fans, who believe he's one of the greatest heavyweight boxers to lace on the gloves. That's another mystery. Whom has Tyson beaten to be considered a great heavyweight? Victories over a blown-up light-heavyweight like Michael Spinks - who was terrified when he fought Tyson - and an over-the-hill Larry Holmes don't exactly qualify Iron Mike for membership in the great heavyweight club.

Had he fought in the era of the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, he'd have just been another contender getting his clock cleaned regularly by the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Foreman and even Jerry Quarry.

Tyson's just a good heavyweight. Unfortunately, he's a dreadful human being. Some racist, publicity-seeking judge didn't put Tyson behind bars in Montgomery County. Tyson did that.

The excuse-makers pleading his case don't make matters better for him. They make them worse.

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