There was a time, the
records indicate, when the world of sports was populated
by characters. Baseball players renowned as much for their
ability to knock back pints at the hotel bars as they
were for their on-field prowess. Hockey players whose
spot on the roster had nothing to do with hockey and everything
to do with fighting. With these characters came incidents,
and among these we can count the bench clearing brawl,
the tell-all book, the marriage to and subsequent divorce
from a celebrity wife, and the five minute major for fighting.
As they will, times have
changed. Jim Bouton, Mickey Mantle, and Art Donovan have
been replaced by Derek Jeter, or some variation thereon.
Their kind is no longer welcome. The tyranny of the well-intentioned
has intervened to sterilize and prepackage sports as surely
as it has with so many other things. Ticket and concession
prices have soared out of the reach of the working class,
and quality is now measured by the extent to which the
"product" is family-friendly. Disney, which wouldnt
have gone anywhere near hockey in the seventies and eighties,
bought an NHL team and named it after one of their movies.
Yet in much the same way
that plenty of people in California still choose to smoke,
interesting athletes do exist. Oakland Athletics pitcher
Barry Zitos oddities are currently the subject of
an Esquire profile, and this years NHL playoffs
have been as wild as ever. These things have been pushed
to the margins, but they havent been eliminated.
The rough edges of the world can never be completely smoothed
over, and it is for this reason that it is important to
remember Mike Tyson.
Boxing has never been the
sort of place where one would be likely to find a great
deal of intelligent discourse. Mike Tyson has turned his
own corner of the boxing world into a gallery of incomprehensibly
weird verbiage. The collection began some time ago, with
its most notable acquisition being his statement to Lennox
Lewis a couple of years back that "My style is impetuous,
my defense is impregnable, I want your heart, I wanna
eat his children." Then two weeks ago, while training
for the long-awaited Lewis fight, he gave an interview
during which he made several outlandish claims. Among
(To the reporters in the
room) "I wish that you guys had children so I could kick
them in the fuckin head or stomp on their testicles
so you could feel my pain because that's the pain I have
waking up every day."
"There's no one perfect...
Jimmy Swaggart is lascivious, Mike Tyson is lasciviousbut
we're not criminally, at least I'm not, criminally lascivious.
You know what I mean. I may like to fornicate more than
other peopleit's just who I am. I sacrifice so much
of my life, can I at least get laid?... That's just who
I am. I want to have a nice career for my children. I
want them to have a great education. I want to fly my
birds. I want to live my life. I want to have a drink
every now and then. I want to have a charity event every
now and then. And every now and then, I want to fornicate
and that's just being a human being."
There is a lot more to
what Tyson said, including his feeling that if Jesus were
to come back now he would probably sit down with Tyson
and have a drink and discuss things (for more, check out
The overwhelming response to Tysons rant has been
predictable. Hes been condemned and called out of
control and insane, and there have been numerous calls
for us all to stop listening to him so that maybe hell
Now, there are two things
going on here. On the one hand there are people who find
the things Mike Tyson does and says distasteful. Some
folks find him hilarious, but it's easy to understand
why one would be put off. That is as far as it ought to
go, but in the typical fashion of the well-intentioned,
the calls have come fast and furious for Tysons
head. To what purpose?
The only thing accomplished
by condemning Tyson is that the ego of the person doing
the condemning (too often a "journalist") grows exponentially
larger. Saying that youre sick of Tysons tirades
is saying youre a better person than Tyson, and
this makes you feel good. But cloaking that simple equation
in the language of one who would like to save society
from the Tyson monster is pointless. The truth is that
Tyson is harmless. His business is entertainment, and
at this he succeeds amazingly. He is no crazier than a
thousand men whose names we will never know and whose
lives will never affect our own. We may choose to disagree
with what he says and find it disgusting, but that is
not what lies at the heart of the Silence Tyson movement.
What lies there is self-righteous fear.
Its fear of the unknown
and the dirty, and its a self-righteous urge to
remake the world in ones own pure vision. Having
the fear is fine, but attempting to turn it into a crusade
is ridiculous. Not only will Mike Tyson not go away until
Mike Tyson chooses, but we need his antics for one simple
reason: to remind those who would deny his world of the
fact that it still exists.