Publish date:


One man's opinion: Somebody, Please, POSTPONE THE FIGHT

From the window shade to the doorknob, room 606 at the Canterbury Hotel in Indianapolis isn't much more than 15 feet long. Yet last week it seemed to contain the whole of boxing. What happened in that room between former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and an 18-year-old contestant in the Miss Black America pageant in the early-morning hours of July 19 has set boxing on its ear. On the afternoon of Sept. 9, a grand jury in Indianapolis decided that the testimony it heard from two dozen witnesses, including Tyson, relating to what had occurred in room 606 was sufficient to indict Tyson on four felony charges—one count of rape, two counts of criminal deviate conduct and one count of confinement.

That indictment, to say nothing of Tyson's history of abuse of women and the ruthless way in which Tyson and his promoter, Don King, handled a press conference two days after the indictment, prompted an intense debate over whether Tyson should be allowed to fight to regain his heavyweight title from Evander Holy-field as scheduled on Nov. 8 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

Legally, of course, the 25-year-old Tyson has every right to fight. An indictment is not a verdict. At the same time, contrary to pronouncements by those in favor of the fight, Tyson's rights would not necessarily be violated if other parties to the fight tried to delay it by, say, 90 days. Many people seem to think that the argument over the fate of the fight begins and ends with the undeniable fact that Tyson is innocent until proved guilty. Yet individuals accused of crimes are frequently suspended from their jobs. To suggest that the bout be delayed until after the trial, which is scheduled to begin on Jan. 27, is not to prejudge Tyson; it merely reflects the view that proceeding with the event under existing circumstances would be unseemly.

The question is, Should an accused rapist with a documented history of ferocity toward women be paid $20 million or more to display that ferocity in the ring? Should the corporate sponsors of that fight, notably Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), Southland (7-Eleven convenience stores) and Sharp Electronics, underwrite this tainted spectacle? Should TVKO, the pay-per-view service (whose parent company, Time Warner, owns SI), televise it to an estimated audience of 50 million people? For that matter, should anyone feel right about plunking down $40 to watch it?

Tyson's sexual aggressiveness has led him down some disturbing paths before. This is a man who two years ago, upon being awarded an honorary doctorate of humanities at Central State University, stood at the podium and said, "I don't know what kind of doctor I am but watching all these beautiful sisters here, I'm debating whether I should be a gynecologist"; who, according to published reports, was thrown out of a department store in 1986 for making "lewd and obscene" comments to female customers; who once told his biographer that "the best punch I ever threw" was one that connected with his former wife, Robin Givens; who two years ago allegedly tried to kiss a parking lot attendant against her will and then hit the man who came to the woman's aid; who settled a civil suit by paying damages to a woman who said he fondled her as she danced with another man; who was found by a New York jury to have committed battery on a woman who charged him with grabbing her buttocks and breasts at a nightclub; who in a pending suit has been accused by a former assistant to Givens of assault and sexual harassment; and who, Newsday's Wallace Matthews reported earlier this month, took off his pants at a party and began rubbing himself against women.

"Come on, you don't think Mike Tyson is a target?" says Tyson's undauntable public relations agent, John Solberg. "If Mike Tyson had a dollar for every time a girl grabbed his ass, he'd be a billionaire."

But in his biography of Tyson, Fire & Fear, Josè Torres, a former confidant, quotes Tyson as saying, "I like to hurt women when I make love to them. I like to hear them scream and see them bleed. It gives me pleasure." Tyson has denied those quotes, but Torres stands by them.

And last week Torres told SI that while he, Tyson and the fighter's friend and assistant, Rory Holloway, were discussing one of Tyson's sexual exploits, Holloway said to Tyson, "Oh, yeah, remember, Mike? Remember that girl, she was unconscious, you were [being so rough with her] in the bed against the wall that she was unconscious when I got there. She was knocked out!"

"And they were both laughing so hard," said Torres last week. (Says Holloway, "It's all a lie; I never said anything like that to Josè Torres.")

One of Tyson's first girlfriends, according to Torres, was a friend of Torres's wife, Ramona. But after two or three months with Tyson, says Torres, the young woman confided to Ramona that Tyson was forcing himself on her in a way that hurt her. "I think they broke off because of that," Torres says.

Tyson's behavior in the hours before the alleged rape has also come under scrutiny because of two civil suits brought against him alleging that he sexually harassed a number of other contestants in the Miss Black America pageant (SI, Sept. 9). Last week Jeffrey Modisett, the Marion County prosecutor, said, "It is quite possible that other aspects of [Tyson's] behavior will become very relevant in the case."

Would the NFL let a Tyson perform in its games with a rape accusation hanging over his head? Would any league? Would a police department let an officer Tyson keep working? No sooner was Pee-wee Herman arrested—arrested, not convicted—in July on misdemeanor public indecency charges, than CBS canceled reruns of his show. But as John Weistart, a Duke law professor who specializes in legal issues involving sports, notes, the Holyfield-Tyson fight stands to produce an enormous onetime windfall, and the entities involved in it "need Tyson for this event to happen."

Tyson is aggressively confronting the charges against him, helped not only by King but also by a formidable legal team headed by Vincent Fuller, one of the most renowned criminal lawyers in the United States. On Sept. 11 Tyson, accompanied by King and Fuller, arrived in Indianapolis to plead not guilty to the charges against him. Bail was set at $30,000. Tyson and King then held a press conference at which Tyson declared his innocence. "I didn't hurt the woman," he said. "I love women; I mean, my mother's a woman."

During the course of the press conference Tyson and King both mentioned the victim's name several times—King bellowing it emphatically. When reporters asked King why he was identifying the young woman, he replied that Tyson was the victim, not the woman, and added, "Why should he [Tyson] be beleaguered when she can throw a rock and go hide? Ain't nothin' sanctimonious about [Tyson's accuser]. Let her face a band of you guys, and you ask her, 'What were you doing in the man's bedroom at two in the morning?' "

When CNN's Nick Charles asked Tyson later that day what he might learn from this whole episode, a glum-faced Tyson said, "To separate yourself from the riffraff around you."

The woman who has accused Tyson of raping her is hardly riffraff. She is a freshman at a New England college who has been an overachiever. Two years ago a local newspaper ran a lengthy article about her after she won a beauty pageant in her hometown. The story began by saying that she was not "just another pretty face" and added that she had won an international youth leadership award—one of only 200 students in the world so honored. She had also won citizenship awards during each of her six grammar school years and was a standout student, an athlete and an officer of the usher board at her church. The newspaper reported that she planned to attend law school and hoped to become either a corporate lawyer or a sports lawyer, representing professional athletes.

"I wouldn't want to be a criminal lawyer," the young woman told the newspaper. "If I knew someone was wrong I'm not sure I'd want to defend them." She explained that entering the local pageant was a special challenge for her because her town—and the pageant—had very few minorities. She told the paper that when she won the contest, she said, "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., your dream is coming true." According to the article, when the young woman was announced as the winner of the local pageant, she was introduced as "the first black woman president of the United States."

What this woman was doing in Tyson's bedroom at 2 a.m. will be up to a jury to assess. But, despite what King insinuates, a woman can be anywhere she wants at 2 a.m., and a "no" still legally suffices as a clear signal that the woman is not consenting to sex. King and some of Tyson's other apologists have also implied that the fighter's accuser is looking to make a buck or get some ink at his expense. But in fact, the complainant in the rape case has scrupulously avoided the limelight—as King acknowledges when he accuses her of hiding—and she has refused several substantial offers for her story from tabloids and TV magazine shows.

What she is doing now is attending classes and, says Ed Ger-stein, one of her lawyers, receiving counseling to help her deal with the trauma he says she has suffered.

Tyson's team has already won Round 1 of his battle against the prosecutors in the rape case. Just before King and Tyson leveled their verbal assault on the woman in the Indianapolis press conference, Tyson's lawyers asked for a gag order against attorneys on both sides, and last Friday they got it. Clever. After King's inflammatory performance in the very shadow of her courthouse, how could a thoroughly irritated judge Patricia Gif-ford not issue the order? Of course, King, who is neither a defendant, a witness nor an attorney, is not covered by the gag order. So guess who has the last word?

One of those last words was particularly unctuous. Asked if the controversy would hurt the fight, King said, "I think all it will do is add a little bit more glamour to it." Glamour? Hardly. Profit? Absolutely. Even before the events in Indianapolis, the fight was certain to attract the largest pay-per-view audience ever and gross as much as $100 million, far more than any previous fight. Not one of the more than 30 participating local cable companies contacted last week by SI said it was contemplating not showing the fight. "Hey, the trial's not till January," said the marketing director of a major Midwestern cable outlet. "Let's pick up a few bucks and then see what happens in court."

"Personally, I think the guy's a real jerk," says Stephanie Walter, regional manager of pay-per-view for Paragon Cable of California, "but this is just business."

This is business, true, but business needs consumers. Could enough outraged consumers put pressure on the sponsors to get the fight put off? Perhaps, though predictions by King's archenemy, rival promoter Bob Arum, that massive boycotts by women's groups such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) would plague the fight have so far fallen flat. NOW has for the time being decided against a boycott. Says Rosemary Dempsey, the national vice-president of NOW, "We won't be manipulated into putting money in the pockets of Tyson's managers or his competitor's managers with a knee-jerk reaction. That would serve only to put the focus on the fight game and reward one promoter over the other, and not necessarily raise support for the victim or raise public consciousness about violence against women."

Surprised to find their good names associated with a highly lucrative but suddenly tainted event, the bout's corporate sponsors are trying to put the best face on their involvement. "We are supporting the event, not the two individuals," says Southland spokesman Don Cowan. The folks at Anheuser-Busch are saying essentially the same thing. But what is the event without the two individuals? That's like supporting the wedding, but not the bride and groom.

Some people aren't buying the sponsors' rationale. "If there was the possibility of losing money, they'd take the moral high ground quickly," says Weistart. "The minute the tide turned and the rape charge became so embarrassing it would threaten corporate profit, they'd pull the plug."

Southland currently bans Playboy and Penthouse from its 7-Eleven stores, but it hasn't backed out of its involvement with the fight. Is it wrong to show women naked but O.K. to abuse them?

Both companies say they are deferring to the Nevada Athletic Commission on the question of whether the fight should be held as scheduled. The commission could have invoked the "moral turpitude" clause in its rules—a clause that does not require a conviction for a fight to be scrapped but only a preponderance of evidence of wrongdoing—but it chose not even to hear arguments on the matter. According to the rules, only one of the five commissioners had to ask for a hearing on the Tyson situation and it would have been held. One commissioner, Las Vegas businessman Luther Mack, explained his no-action decision to News-day this way: "I'm prejudiced, because I want the fight to happen in Nevada." Mack knows that if Nevada passed on the fight, Atlantic City would snap it up.

TVKO wants the fight to happen anywhere. Its take could be as high as $40 million. Last week, TVKO boss Seth Abraham told The New York Times that TVKO is committed to the fight even though it knew that "greed and avarice would be attached to that decision." Abraham told SI, "This [the rape charge] becomes part of the story and that's regrettable. You can't pretend it's not there. The writers think we're going forward because of the money, but that's not why. It's not just, 'Let's count the cash'; we have a commitment and a contract with the promoter." What would Abraham say to angry women cable subscribers? "Justice will be served in Indianapolis," he replied, "not by TVKO."

Where does propriety fit into all this? How does it look to have an accused rapist vie for his sport's biggest prize? "If we cared how things looked," said Kathy Duva, wife of the fight's promoter, Dan Duva, and a spokesperson for the family's Main Events Productions, "we wouldn't be promoters."

Check the map. Boxing doesn't build high roads. The fight will almost certainly happen. And when it docs, where will the heavyweight division be? If Holyfield wins, he loses, in that he fought a man with a guillotine over his head. If Tyson wins, boxing loses. Do you want an accused rapist modeling your belt—even for a couple of months? And if Tyson wins and then winds up in the state prison in Michigan City, Ind., boxing really loses. If the champion goes to jail, the division will almost certainly revert to chaos. With the best heavyweight in the world behind bars, everyone else will be just a pretender; the era of huge money fights will be but a fond memory in the heavyweight division, and the lower weight classes, even with attractive fighters, will suffer the fallout as well. "What's the worst that can happen?" says Randy Gordon, the chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission. "He takes the belt with him to jail forever."

Obviously, that prospect is more agreeable to the fight's money interests than a scenario in which the fight is delayed and Tyson is then convicted—whereupon the $100 million-plus bonanza would go up in smoke. And so the show will go on. One face-saving way out is for Tyson to make a moral call and volunteer to postpone the bout—but he won't, and no one should be surprised at that. He is a man whose father was never around, whose mother died early, whose trusted trainer and guide, Cus D'Amato, died when Tyson was still in his teens and whose other surrogate father, Jimmy Jacobs, died not much later. He is surrounded today by sycophants and wannabes and handled by a man with electrified hair who defends him in the most tawdry fashion. Moral calls? A man does not think much of moral calls when he has nobody in the world to disappoint.




As Tyson was being arraigned, King began a smear campaign by naming Tyson's accuser.



Saying, "We do not endorse individual participants," Budweiser, often a sponsor of Tyson's bouts, has no plans to pull out of the Nov. 8 fight.



If Tyson defeats Holyfield and is subsequently convicted of rape, their showdown could be the last megabucks fight for years to come.