Talking Tyson

tysonIn the 1960s and ’70s, America’s youth cried out for people who went against the grain, who fought issues such as racism and the violence of war. Many of us cheered when civil rights activists and anti-war protesters went to jail while fighting for an ideal. Some people lost their lives in those battles but not nearly as frequently as youth do today.

There was no crack, no AIDS, no gang violence or overt, violent acts of racism in our schools. The schools themselves were comparatively safe havens. Now, middle schools in some places have grieving rooms and funeral funds. Teachers and students alike wait for what seems the inevitable call that one of their students has joined the list of children killed by guns or other lethal weapons. It happens every two hours, every day. Sooner or later, the barrel of a gun could point at almost any child.

Tyson survived that kind of childhood and became a hero to many–a fabulously rich hero at that. Sports are so intertwined with society that Tyson’s image spread beyond the youth who lived on the edge of fear and survival into middle class and suburban homes.

I wanted my two older children, now 23 and 25, to share my heroes: Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, Ali and several others.

Elisa and Joe embraced those legends, but Joe was also curiously drawn to Tyson, even after his rape conviction. I saw Joe–and many others–wear a Tyson T-shirt after he was released from jail. Joe even told me he hoped Tyson would reclaim the heavyweight championship.

I was blown away. “Joe,” I said, “this man should not even be allowed to box. Look at the violence in his life. He has been convicted of rape and has been implicated in six other assaults. If he goes out and makes a lot of money now, what kind of message will that send to young people?”

Like many others, Joe thought it was possible that Tyson was set up by the police and Desiree Washington, the woman the court ruled he had victimized. So many are ready to blame the victim in rape and assault cases. Joe and I have debated that one for years.

Tyson obviously did go on–and made a fortune equivalent to what five million Americans would earn in an entire year. He also sent quite a message to our children.

But now, sports are drawing a line and saying Tyson crossed it. This time, he has not violated a woman or beat up a parking-lot attendant; he hurt a fellow athlete on live television in a way that disgusted anyone who witnessed it.

My daughter suddenly said, “Now I really believe he raped that woman. I had some doubts before because she did go to his room. Now I have none.”

Joe acknowledged, “You were right years ago about Tyson, Dad. I cannot believe I did not see it then.” Lawyers would never make such a connection, but the public was ready to do sot

I have read all the articles since Tyson bit Evander Holyfield. There seemed to be a universal cry for serious sanctions, including a ban on his fighting. In a USA Today opinion poll, 64 percent favored a lifetime ban over the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s revocation of his license, which is subject to reinstatement after a year.

What does it tell us about our values that there was no similar outcry after he was convicted of rape, one of the most heinous acts that can be committed? Tyson should have been banned for life at the time of his 1992 conviction. Except for boxing’s profiteers, who in America is better off for the fact he was allowed to fight again?

America prides itself on its enormous ability to forgive and grant second chances. It is part of our greatness as a nation.

But in addition to the rape, Tyson has had six publicly reported incidents involving violence outside the ring in the past decade. He crossed the line many, many times before he bit Holyfield. Forget “for the sake of boxing” or “for the sake of sport.” Tyson should be banned forever for the sake of our children. They don’t need yet another confusing signal from us that there are no major consequences for serious antisocial behavior. The message should be crystal clear: morals over money.

1 response to “Talking Tyson”

  1. Dandie Mark

    15th Jan, 16

    I actually did not know that he has raped someone. I searched for it online and learned the story. It could have been avoided. Sad story.

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