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Thursday, June 16, 2005

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Down for the count

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Down for the countDown for the count

Ex-champ turned chump not a tragic hero,
but a spoiled thug

Mike Tyson became the first hip-hop heavyweight fighter, the boxer who began with simple, straightforward ability but eventually embraced the idea of authenticity rooted in the negative. He decided to become not the people's hero, but the villain the people loved to hate, or the mad dog the public loved to pat with attention. By the end, Tyson was one for whom there were no rules other than making money and bringing attention to himself.

He had settled for garish tattoos, savage threats, attacking his opponents at press conferences and threatening to sodomize reporters who asked him questions he did not like.

Tyson's story rose from a bucket filled with sentimental suds; the tale spun by sports writers was one of a bad black boy from Brooklyn who had been redeemed by the art of boxing and the saintly attention of his white trainer, Cus D'Amato. Black and white together; ebony and ivory. What a symbol of our most consistent social dream, that those in possession of knowledge will use it to liberate those at the bottom.

Yes, D'Amato had surely discovered Tyson.

But Tyson had been wild and unpredictable when D'Amato was his trainer, and D'Amato ignored the tantrums because he saw in Tyson the chance to have one last champion. But D'Amato died before Tyson took the belt.

Being an uneducated man, Tyson was that odd combination of egocentrism, irrationality, insecurity and naivete one often encounters in the world of criminal behavior. In the tradition of the rappers who were committed to vulgar jewelry and the limousine life, he spent money as if it were going out of style and went from one expensive divorce or bad business arrangement to the next. He finally ended up embracing hip hop's contempt for women, going to prison for rape after he had conducted himself on the witness stand as if he were in a gangster rap video. Tyson returned a Muslim but soon disgraced himself and his sport by gnawing off part of Evander Holyfield's ear, a move he might have picked up from a scene in "The Godfather: Part III."

From that point on, Tyson became a professional villain. He had begun as a bad boy who appeared to have transcended his background; he ended his career - for now, at least - by flaunting every reprehensible thing he could think of saying or doing. Now, in the supposed sunset of retirement, he has philanthropic things on his mind.

In an era when so many have fallen into the muck of corruption, decadence and abuse, we can see that Mike Tyson is not a tragic hero who was felled by a world of such moral turpitude it proved too much to handle.

He seems but another of those famous people who had an overrated skill that could bring him fame and great wealth but a soul that never evolved beyond that of a sullen teenager. If there is a tragedy, it is that Mike Tyson never grew up because the world around him provided no charismatic examples of what being a grown man meant.

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