Jewish World Review Jan. 29, 2002 /16 Shevat, 5762

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
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Mike Tyson is incapable of embarrassment -- THERE are, as near as I can tell, two schools of thought about the fight before the fight.

The first holds that, as heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis entered the New York news conference on Tuesday, challenger Mike Tyson stalked toward him for the ritual staredown to promote their April 6 fight. One of Lewis' bodyguards raised a hand to impede Tyson, who responded by throwing a punch. Next thing you know, the fighters are rolling on the floor trading blows, and the president of the World Boxing Council has - how perfect is this? - inadvertently been knocked unconscious. Members of Lewis' camp claim that, during the melee, Tyson took a bite out of their man's leg.

The second school of thought holds that all of the above happened, yes, but it was planned. A publicity stunt.

But here's what I'm thinking: Whether you buy the first version or the second doesn't make a lot of difference. Both suggest a credulous public with an unfortunate and inexhaustible appetite for the transgressions of famous people.

Or, to put it another way: Can somebody please tell me how it is that Mike Tyson, a sociopath with diminished skills and all the personal charm of barbed wire, remains employable? Much less to the tune of $17.5 million, which was reportedly his guaranteed take from the forthcoming fight.

After all, as a human being, he's a car wreck. A few random selections from his long catalogue of offenses are sufficient to document that description. Tyson is a convicted rapist who served three years in prison for his assault on a teen-age beauty queen. He once bit a chunk out of Evander Holyfield's ear in the boxing ring. In 1999, he was jailed for assaulting two motorists. In 2000, he told Lewis he wanted to EAT his children. He has said he enjoys hurting women during sex. Last year, a 50-year-old woman who lives in the mountains near Los Angeles accused Tyson of raping her; prosecutors declined to file charges. Meanwhile, police in Las Vegas say they've found evidence supporting another woman's claim that Tyson raped her.

There's a whole lot more, but you get the idea.

Suffice it to say that the first time I heard his nickname, Iron Mike, I thought the sobriquet referred to his fists. I've long since become convinced it actually refers to his head. Or maybe, his heart.

And yet, here he comes to fight again and here we come - promoters could not promise him $17.5 million unless they were pretty darn certain of this - to watch.

Part of the reason has to do with morbid curiosity, the fact that, like a car wreck, Tyson exerts a gravitational pull on the public's attention. But the other part - the lion's share, I suspect - involves the simple truth that we hold celebrities to a different, more lenient, standard than we do other people.

Would you employ a Joe Smith who had Tyson's rap sheet? Or Robert Downey's? Or Dennis Rodman's?

But the famous are not like you and I. Because they can punch, emote or rebound, we look at their sins and pronounce them merely ... troubled. There's always a second chance for them. There is always redemption for them.

I'm not here to inveigh against redemption. Everybody loves a comeback kid. Forgiveness is, yes, divine.

But there's a point where forbearance is abused so much that forgiveness becomes an act of gullibility. A point where simple self-respect demands that you withhold from some obvious loser your support, your acclaim, your money. Yet we never seem to reach that point with famous people. O.J. Simpson is the only celebrity I can think of who seems permanently exiled from the sunshine of our good graces and he, for criminy sake, had to be accused of a double homicide!

Meanwhile, Iron Mike goes merrily on. After the Tuesday fracas, he grabbed his crotch and cursed the audience. The next day, predictably, he apologized.

If you buy that apology, you'll be glad to know I can get you a good price on some Enron stock. Mike Tyson is incapable of embarrassment.

But then, so, apparently, are we all.

Comment on JWR contributor Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s column by clicking here.

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