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Original Issue


The Tyson Letter

The letter received Monday by Marion County (Ind.) Superior Court Judge Patricia Gifford that may earn former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson early release from prison contains the magic words that he was supposed to have uttered weeks earlier. In his letter, part of a document known as a petition for reconsideration, Tyson still stops short of admitting to having raped Desiree Washington on July 19, 1991. But he does term his conduct that night "inexcusable" and says, "I am sorry for it."

If Tyson had stayed on script at his original sentence-reduction hearing before Gifford on June 13, he might already be a free man. But Tyson departed from what sources had told SI's Lester Munson was the prehearing plan to make an apology (SI, June 13). Instead, the boxer inexplicably slipped back into his defiant mindset of the trial two years earlier. He refused to concede that he did anything wrong other than fail to escort Washington from his hotel suite to her limousine after having had what he called consensual sex with her. Although Gifford did write two days later that "the defendant has demonstrated a pattern of behavior consistent with evidence of rehabilitation," she was not pleased that Tyson did not, as she had expected him to, admit that his conduct had been inexcusable. So she rejected his plea.

Iron Mike took a different tack in his letter to Gifford. The text read in part:

I apologize if my statements to the Court last week were not as clear to you and to the prosecution as I would have liked.... I want you to know and I want [the] Washingtons and the prosecution to know that my conduct was inexcusable. I should not have expected a woman to come to my room that late at night, not knowing her, and to expect her to have sex with me. I did explain in the courtroom that I did use bad conduct that was inexcusable and I am sorry for it.

That may be enough to sway Gifford. Moreover, another factor could help give Tyson's latest plea a fighting chance. In the June hearing Gifford found that Tyson, having failed his GED test by one point, had not completed an education program while in prison. However, in the petition filed on Monday, Tyson's lawyer, James Voyles, citing a change in Indiana law, argued that Tyson's tutoring sessions with Muslim counselor and schoolteacher Muhammad Siddeeq fulfilled the requirement of an "educational program."

Should Gifford rule favorably on Tyson's petition—no hearing is necessary this time around—he could be released before Labor Day.

Graceful Voice

Greg Louganis last week dived into the controversy surrounding the decision to have Cobb County, Ga., host the preliminary competition of men's and women's volleyball at the 1994 Olympics. Upon accepting an award at the Olympic Festival in St. Louis, Louganis, a four-time gold medalist in diving, asked the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) to find an alternative venue because Cobb County commissioners had passed a resolution last August condemning the "gay lifestyle" as incompatible with family values and as unwelcome in Cobb.

"The gay athletes who participate in volleyball preliminaries will have the added pressure of knowing they're not wanted in Cobb County," said Louganis, who announced at the Gay Games in New York City last month that he is gay.

The ACOG decided more than a year ago to hold the volleyball preliminaries at the Cobb Galleria Sports Centre, and officials are reluctant to change that decision. The finals will be at the Omni in Atlanta, where no antigay measures are on the books, but scheduling nightmares would result if the competition were shifted to the Omni or another Atlanta arena.

Whatever the complications, the ACOG should move the preliminaries out of Cobb County, especially if it wants to live up to its lofty mission statement: "To conduct the Centennial Olympic Games with sensitivity, integrity, fiscal responsibility and commitment to the needs of the athletes."

King of His Court

In the wake of Earl Strom's death from brain cancer on Sunday, there will invariably be those who refer to him as the last of a disappearing breed. If that stamps Strom as a crotchety old-timer, a whistle-blowing relic of the 1950s, then it misses the point. Precisely what made Strom special was that he was a basketball referee for all times, all ages, all players. He was still at the top of his game when he retired from the NBA after the 1989-90 season, the No. 1-rated pro hoops referee in everyone's poll. Strom even got three best referee votes in a USA Today poll of NBA players, coaches, trainers and general managers taken last season. Bill Russell, who was in his second year with the Boston Celtics when Strom made his first call in the NBA, in 1957, loved his work, Julius Erving loved his work, Michael Jordan loved his work.

The illness came upon Strom, 66, suddenly. On Jan. 21 he entered Pottstown (Pa.) Memorial Medical Center because of headaches and dizziness. Two days later he was operated on to remove a malignant brain tumor. Radiation treatments were not effective, and Strom died at his Pottstown home with his wife, Yvonne, five children and seven grandchildren at his side.

Although Strom struggled over the last six months of his life, he was able to greet family members and friends and, best of all, keep up with developments in the NBA. He was in front of his television set when the Houston Rockets beat the New York Knicks in Game 7 of this year's NBA Finals. That prompted him to muse about his own Game 7 experiences, and it wasn't until then, says his son Eric, that the family truly realized how much of Earl's refereeing history was woven into the history of the NBA. Strom officiated Game 7 in five (1966, '69, '78, '84 and '88) of his era's nine NBA Finals that went the distance.

During his retirement Strom was a benevolent burr in the side of the NBA, railing, in interviews and in columns that he wrote for several newspapers, against the league's chief of referees, Darell Garretson. Strom thought that Garretson depersonalized the art of officiating by discouraging interaction with the players and the fans. The human aspect of refereeing was always what interested Strom. That, combined with sound judgment, compassion and a love for the game, made him the best basketball referee who ever lived.

Water Hazard
Over the years the Japanese government has taken a lot of heat for its defiance of international whaling regulations. But rest assured that Japan is plenty strict when it comes to other sorts of marine abuse. Recently Japan slapped one citizen with a misdemeanor charge, punishable by a fine of as much as $306, for polluting the seas. It seems that the man, frustrated by the shortness of local driving ranges, hit more than 2,000 golf balls into Tokyo Bay.








This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us

While noting that it "is saddened by these latest events," Signature Rookies, a trading-card company based in Fleetville, Pa., announced that O.J. Simpson will fulfill his contractual obligation to sign 1,000 of the company's Simpson cards "regardless of current circumstances."

They Said It

Chuck Pool
The Florida Marlin publicist, on Cincinnati Red outfielder Kevin Mitchell's upper-deck home run at Joe Robbie Stadium last week: "There have been a plethora of guys to hit it up there, but that was the plethorest."