Has there ever been an athlete who burned as brightly and flamed out as spectacularly as Mike Tyson? The former “Baddest Man in the World” tore through two marriages and $400 million, fathered seven children with four women, spent three years in prison for rape and did another 3 1/2 months for beating up two people following a traffic accident, recently lost his four-year daughter, Exodus in a tragic accident, and has just generally been the poster boy for waste, excess, selfishness and self-destructive behavior.
As the saying goes, look up “disaster” in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of Mike Tyson. Most likely with a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear hanging from his mouth.
So when this week’s edition of Sports Illustrated landed on the coffee table with their annual “Where Are They Now” stories, I was unpleasantly surprised to see a cover teaser reading “MIKE TYSON—NO JOKE: HE’S A NEW MAN.”
I thought, No shit? Good. Because the old man was an asshole.
I’m sure the editors of Sports Illustrated were sorely tempted to put Tyson on the cover instead of an old photo of baseball star Stan “The Man” Musial. I’m also sure they were scared nobody would buy it and some subscribers would simply chuck the magazine in the trash saying, “Oh God, not HIM again. How is it this thug isn’t dead or in jail.”
But surprise, surprise. When I read Pablo S. Torre’s story I first found my interest piqued. The more I read the more engrossed I became. By the time I finished I concluded it was one of the powerful and compelling pieces of writing I had read this year and in many years before. After the multiple black eyes sports journalism has been hammered by with ESPN’s slavish fawning LeBron James dog-and-pony show and jerk wads like Jason Whitlock bumping their gums about crap, it was a pleasant surprise to read such a sharp and savvy article about one of the world’s best known and least sympathetic figures.
Even if you only buy Sports Illustrated during football season or just the swimsuit issue (ya perv) this issue is well worth paying for (or stealing if you’re a thief). If you’re broke as a joke go read it at a library. “Borrow” a friend’s copy and forget to give it back until you’re finished reading. Do this now. Trust me on this.
There’s outtakes from the interview on SI.com, so you can get a small flavor of how deep down the rabbit hole it goes including how Tyson, who had ballooned to over 330 pounds dropped over 100 of them to get down to a fighting weight of 220 because as he says, “I don’t want to be grotesque about it, but when you’re 330 pounds it’s hard to wipe your ass.”
Mike may have cleaned up his act a lot but he’ can still serve it up real raw at times.
Who can say if Tyson has really changed his evil ways or this is just a temporary visit to sobriety before falling back into his bad habits of violence, drugs, and dumb stuff? If the past is prologue, then the odds aren’t in Iron Mike’s favor. But I found myself pulling for him just a bit more when I read this story he related to Torre.
In 1989, three years after becoming the youngest heavyweight champion ever, at age 20, Tyson accepted an honorary doctorate from Central State University, a historically black college in Wilberforce, Ohio. “I got there and, and all these girls are happy to see me, ” Tyson recalls. “I’m having a ball; I think I’m somebody.” So atop the daïs the next day, he devised a punch line: “I don’t know what kind of doctor I am,” Tyson proclaimed, “but from the look of all these pretty black sisters, I hope I’m a gynecologist.”
Back then, at least some people laughed. Today, however, there is dead silence in the room, finally broken by Tyson’s rasp. “Two years ago,” he says, “I talked to some people about my mother. And I learned that she went to school right down the street from [Central State].” His voice grows louder. “And I was down there and said some stupid, dumb ignorant shit like that. My family waited to get a motherfucker like me”–even louder now—“and I embarrassed 500 years of our family! As they waited for me to get there! To say something for them! And I embarrassed them! ” Tears are welling in Mike’s eyes when Kiki (Tyson’s wife) interjects, “They were proud! You were a kid, honey!”
“Baby,” Tyson says, “No. That was a real bad one. No excuse…My mother and her family thought that education made them somebody. I could have said something awesome! I could have explained how my mother went to school. But the first thing I thought about was my dick.” He pauses. “If I didn’t have a dick,” he quips, exasperated, “I could’ve run for president or something.”
I sincerely doubt there has ever existed an alternate reality where Mike Tyson could be the President of the United States and I have serious doubts whether the redemption Tyson seems to have found is lasting or written in sand to be washed away with the next debacle. I do know that all with a hard fall comes painful wisdom and no one has fallen as far and harder than the former Baddest Man on the Planet.
Then again, it doesn’t matter how far you fall as long as you can find the strength to rise again.