By Ron Yengich
July 14, 1997: Boom! Biff! Pow! Chomp, chomp, chomp!
OK, everybody is up to their ears in comments about Mike Tyson's culinary habits. We have been fed a high-caloric diet of diatribes against the boxing parolee who tries to maim other men for a living, and women for fun.
Our table has been filled with an outraged repast of commentary such as that in the Deseret News of Monday, June 30, which in bold, black headlines cried, "A Sad, Dark Day for Boxing." Excuse me if I place my elbows on the dinner table and laugh out loud.
I hope former U of U law student and referee Mills Lane doesn't disqualify me for bad manners. A dark day for boxing, a sport, and I use that phrase only in the broadest sense, which is now run by those twin towers of equanimity, honesty and justice, Don King and Bob Arum?
I have never paid $60 (on the Pay-Per-View TV menu) just to watch someone eat. And although Bill Clinton feeds us pap about inflation being down, Mike Tyson's culinary habits are high-priced even for an age when a Coke goes for two bucks and a trip to McDonalds with the family will cost an Andrew Jackson. But, pay many did to watch the man the Italian sports paper La Gazzetta Dello Sport called the "bestia nera," that is to say "the black beast," use his opponent Evander Holyfield's ears for antipasto.
Boxing no longer has any sporting integrity. It is not sport at all. It is the latter-day incarnation of the Roman Circus, an arena where defenseless Christians were fed to the lions on the undercard of well-muscled slaves who fought main events with swords in hopes of gaining their freedom. It is true that for many poor kids Jews and Irish at the turn of the century and into the '20s; Italians, Slavs and Puerto Ricans in the '40s and '50s; Mexicans and Blacks from the beginning of the century have tried to box their way to economic freedom. This is one of the cruelest ironies in the supposed free-market system in our society: We pay men to make meals of one another in their chimeric hope of escaping the desperate poverty into which they are born.
We pay $60 to sit at home in the comfort of our living rooms while grown men brutalize one another as proxy for our conjured dreams of toughness and machismo. I say ours because, although I didn't pay for Holyfield/Tyson-II, I did buck up for their first fight. I would have bought the second, too, but I was indisposed, eating airplane food at the time.
We fools who pay for the fight actually purchase mayhem. Legal scholars LaFave and Scott tell us mayhem is: "The violently depriving another of the use of such of his members as may render him less able in fighting either to defend himself or to annoy his adversary."
That is the common-law definition of what Mike Tyson did to Evander Holyfield for our entertainment. And although there was some question whether the biting of an ear would fit the legal definition of mayhem, in Chaucer's day it was clear as early as 1403 that it was mayhem to "simply disfigure, as well as dismember" your opponent. LaFave and Scott also remind us that "many an ear has been bitten off" and led to a conviction for mayhem.
So what concerns does Tyson/Holyfield leave us to digest? It takes little reflection because attached to the economic component (poor kids attempting to escape ghettos) there is a racial component (remember "bestia nera") and a sinister aura of corruption that surrounds boxing (picture Don King and Bob Arum here).
As hard as it is to swallow the actions of Mike Tyson, it is equally difficult to bite into the reality described in the above-mentioned Deseret News.
Ron Borges, the Boston Globe prize-fighting writer, interviewed Teddy Atlas, Tyson's former roommate and former trainer. Giving Atlas our ear, he predicted that Tyson, a bully who could not stand the heat in the kitchen, would use a disqualification to escape Holyfield for whom he held only fear. Atlas said, "but like everything in his [Tyson's] life it will be misread. They'll say he's a savage ... they'll say he's an animal. And he'll be able to live with that ... He'll be able say yeah he's an animal, he doesn't mind that in his world. That's winning. That's glorification. That really is prestige in his world. It really is."
One might add, for those of us who pay to watch people like Tyson and Holyfield act like beasts, that is our only justification in "our" world as well.
While we continue to sate our senses with boxing as pseudo-sport, while we watch a man like Tyson eat himself from a poor inner-city child, who once sucker-punched old women for their grocery money along the food chain to $30 million for placing his mandible on the ear of the heavyweight champion of the world, maybe we are the ones who should have indigestion for what we have ordered to eat at the ringside cafe of mayhem.
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