FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Pimping Mike Tyson

Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson began life in the condemned projects of Brooklyn, and condemned he has remained. His American journey has included stops in homeless shelters, reform schools, bankruptcy courts, and prison. Along the way, he earned and lost more than $100 million.

Now a completely bogus news story is out that Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss has hired Tyson as the main attraction for her 60-acre Nevada brothel for women called “Heidi’s Stud Farm. In a press release, the parasitic Fleiss said, “I told him, ‘You’re going to be my big stallion.’ It’s every man’s fear that their girlfriend will go for Mike Tyson.” She then quoted Tyson saying, “I don’t care what any man says, it’s every man’s dream to please women . . . and get paid for it.” Tyson had this to say about the subject: “I am not working with Heidi Fleiss nor have anything to do with her new business. There is no truth to these rumors.” His lawyers have threatened to sue if she uses his name for further promotion.

No doubt this will all become more fodder for the “Tyson as freak show, Tyson as beast” jabber on sports radio. That line goes down easier than discussing his bi-polar disorder; his attempts at suicide; his clinical depression; and how the SportsWorld has spent the last decade poking him with a stick, waiting a-titter to see what “Crazy Mike” does next.

They won’t discuss the sad truth that every inexcusable act of aggression towards women, every facial tattoo, every threat to “eat the children” of opponents, every bitten ear lobe, every public utterance, was a cry for help that never came.

But Heidi Fleiss wouldn’t have been his first pimp. Managers like Bill Cayton, Don King, and a throng of others have all taken turns using his physical prowess and picking his carcass clean.

Yet Fleiss’ “Stud Farm” with Mike as “stallion”, even though false, also carries a devastating historical echo. The first prizefighters in this country were slaves, owned by competing members of the plantocracy. They were the heroes of the plantation, greeted by whites and Blacks with both resentment and awe. These boxers in bondage were literally handed women slaves for sexual gratification but would be lynched if caught looking twice at the master’s wife, no matter how successful. In the 20th century, all African-American heavyweight champs have faced a similar vice between their race and sexuality.

Heavyweight champion Jack Johnson went to jail for “transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes” by sending his white girlfriend a railroad ticket to travel from Pittsburgh to Chicago. In an era when the KKK executed Southern Justice and the Klan-film “Birth of a Nation” was screened by a rapturous President Woodrow Wilson, Jack Johnson’s insistence on flouting the rules of white supremacy made him deeply dangerous, as his FBI file attests.

The backlash against Johnson meant that it would be 20 years before the rise of another Black heavyweight champ “the Brown Bomber” Joe Louis. Louis was quiet where Johnson was defiant. He was handled very carefully by a management team that had a set of rules Louis had to follow, including, “never be photographed with a white woman.”

All Black boxers were seen as either neutered or potential rapists until Muhammad Ali said, “I don’t have to be what you want me to be” and infuriated the sports writers of his day. One contemporary of Ali told me, “One of the things that made reporters so mad about Ali was that he told people how ‘pretty’ he was. The champion is supposed to be a stud, not pretty.”

Even progressive examinations of athletes can’t escape this trap of eroticizing their subjects. In Ken Burns’ otherwise stellar documentary of Jack Johnson, “Unforgivable Blackness”, Burns spends so much time gazing at the fighter’s crotch and tight pants, that Johnson’s bulge should be submitted for Emmy consideration.

In David Kindred’s wonderful recent book about Ali and Cosell, “The Sound and the Fury“, he unfortunately takes time to let us know that the naked Ali earns his title as “the greatest.”

Granted, it’s tough to find the humanity in a sport like boxing, that so relentlessly dehumanizes its subjects. But Mike Tyson is the scarred reflection of this ugly corner in the SportsWorld. Instead of stopping to sneak a peek, and cop a thrill, we should force ourselves to stare and think. Instead of laughing at Mike Tyson, we should take time to weep.

The tragedy is that Tyson is no animal. Trained by the legendary Cus D’Amato, the young Tyson was a student of the game. He watched grainy films for hours on end. He possessed beautiful lateral movement, and thunderous blows to the body. Only an intelligent boxer understands the demoralizing nature of body shots, and Tyson went to the torso like no fighter this century. He was also a scholar of the psychology of the sport. In the mid ’80s when fighters routinely came to the ring in flowing sequined robes like they were extras on George Clinton’s Mothership, Tyson would walk to the ring clad only in black trunks. While other fighters walked down the aisle to cheesy party songs, Tyson’s tune was “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins. I saw Tyson live when he was 20 years old, and trust me: Phil Collins was never so badass.

But the young Tyson, despite all the menace, also showed a real compassion for the people he knocked out. He exhibited smarts, charisma, and concern. Now he is just an exhibit.

DAVE ZIRIN’s new book “What’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States” is published by Haymarket Books. Check out his revamped website edgeofsports.com. You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing edgeofsports-subscribe@zirin.com. Contact him at whatsmynamefool2005@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

More articles by:

DAVE ZIRIN is the author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press) Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail