July 10, 1997 in Sports

Tyson Sentence Has No Bite

Tony Kornheiser Washington Post
 

Clip and save: Mike Tyson will fight next year, in October or November, against Evander Holyfield. In Las Vegas. Make your reservations now.

Oh, that’s right, Mike Tyson was . … dumda-dum-dum: BANNED FROM BOXING.

His boxing license was REVOKED.

The five-member Nevada State Athletic Commission THREW THE BOOK AT HIM.

They gave him THE MAX.

Oh, please.

They gave him one year.

He’ll be back in Las Vegas before Liza Minelli will.

The terms under which Tyson’s license was revoked allow him to apply for reinstatement in a year. So don’t be surprised when Tyson does so next July 8 - and when, a few weeks later, a Tyson-Holyfield rematch is announced.

And why will that happen, boys and girls?

Because as a very smart man once told me: “The answer to all of your questions is: money.”

You may have noticed that Nevada is - hmmm, how shall I put this delicately - a hellhole. It is mountains and desert. I have driven through it; it’s as forbidding as the moon. The lovely patches of green in Las Vegas and Reno are no more natural than the chests on so many of the chorus girls there.

Nevada’s single attraction is the “chaching” of easy money through gambling. Nobody would set foot in Nevada if not for gambling. One way to attract gamblers to Nevada is by offering first-class entertainment. Siegfried and Roy pass for this. So does boxing. Mike Tyson is the biggest draw in boxing. And because of his recent notoriety he is bigger right now than ever. Tyson’s next fight - against anybody, against Andrew Golota in a steel cage, or against Wayne Newton in a laundromat - will bring many millions of dollars to Nevada. If Nevada had actually BANNED Tyson, he would have pursued his boxing career in a foreign country, and all that cash money would have crossed America’s borders with him.

The five-member Nevada State Athletic Commission voted to keep the money coming in.

In political science this is called “voting your self-interest.”

(By the way, did you get a good look at those “Nevada businessmen” on the commission? My friend Nancy said she thought each one looked like he could wake up with a horse’s head in bed next to him tomorrow morning.)

You’ll forgive me for snickering at the fire-and-brimstone spin the Nevada State Athletic Commission is putting on its decision. These guys are standing around and puffing out their chests like they just sentenced Tyson to life imprisonment on Mars. They’re making a big deal that they fined him all the law allows. But while $3 million is a lot to you and me (if it’s not a lot to you, feel free to donate yours to me) Tyson still has $27 million coming! “This deserves the maximum punishment,” Elias Ghanem, commission chairman, said gravely.

But Tyson didn’t get the maximum. The commission made a big show of revoking his license, and all the while they were winking at the guy. “Get outta here, Mike, you beast … wink-wink. Pssst, you can reapply next July.” A two-year suspension would have had more, um, bite than this.

Tyson will be back in a year.

He will go before these same guys, with notes from his therapist, testimony about his good work in the community, evidence of “rehabilitation,” and he’ll be reinstated.

Tyson could have been banned forever. He did nothing less than throw the fight; the second bite removed all doubt about premeditation. Tyson was afraid of such a ban. That’s why during his public apology last week he pledged that he wouldn’t contest the commission’s decision, adding, “I only ask that this not be a lifetime ban.”

I admit I was moved by Tyson’s apology. (At least Tyson read the statement himself, unlike Roberto Alomar, who let the Orioles read one for him after he spit on John Hirschbeck, a scandalous act of behavior.) To me, a fair sentence for Tyson would have been a two-year suspension - with some creative codicil, such as reducing the suspension to one year if Tyson agreed to donate the purse from his next fight to help victims of anger.

It doesn’t surprise me the businessmen from Nevada applied the law more lightly. Holyfield himself gave them the opportunity. Holyfield has already said that he has forgiven Tyson, and he wouldn’t be averse to fighting him again. Surely the members of the Nevada State Athletic Commission could persuade themselves that if Holyfield feels that way - and he’s the aggrieved party - why should they treat Tyson more harshly?

I mentioned Alomar before in the context of Tyson’s apology. There’s another context where Alomar intersects with Tyson - and it speaks to fan tolerance. Tyson looks like a terrible villain now, a miscreant, someone polite society should shun. Roberto Alomar looked like that, too. During the playoffs fans in Cleveland and New York rushed into the aisles to boo Alomar and scream hateful things at him. Yet less than nine months later baseball fans had voted him to start in the All-Star Game. Sports fans tend to forgive, even if they don’t forget.

People hate Tyson now, and they may hate him forever. But the next time Tyson fights, the pay-per-view is going through the roof. Tyson is the attraction. Not Holyfield. Not anybody else in boxing.

Tyson is the one who’ll draw the crowd and keep the roulette wheels spinning. And that, more than anything else, is why Nevada didn’t toss him out on his ear.


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