Jewish World Review Jan. 28, 2002 / 15 Shevat, 5762

Stanley Crouch

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If Mike Tyson's a monster, he had lots of help -- THE tragedy of Mike Tyson goes far beyond boxing. It is about more than his attacking Lennox Lewis at a press conference and kicking off a brawl. It is about more than his cursing the press or biting ears in the ring or serving three years for rape.

It is the tragedy of that side of our culture that rewards young men for their skills despite their bad behavior, no matter how brutal or corrupt.

One saw it coming. About 15 years ago, former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes predicted that if Tyson did not get a grip on himself, he would be killed or go to prison or destroy himself.

Garbage, people said. Tyson was then known only as the devastating puncher with the lisp who loved his pigeons so much that we could easily see just how gentle a soul he was outside the ring.

There was, after all, Cus D'Amato, the legendary teacher of the pugilist's art, who was the kid's patron saint, the one we could trust to make sure Tyson became all he could be.

But, it turns out, D'Amato was not an updated abolitionist who freed Tyson from the plantation of street nihilism, disorder and the contempt for others that is central to the thinking of violent criminals.

D'Amato allowed Tyson to go crazy and throw tantrums at his training camp as long as he performed well in the ring. D'Amato helped the young talent go deeper into a dangerous psychological hole.

He died before his pupil became champion, and the strange, unpredictable and abrasive person Tyson became was explained by that loss of a father figure. Then, when he started courting black handlers and trainers, there was an undertone in the commentary that we often hear when a Negro seems to have deserted the good white folks in favor of those bad, well, black people.

For some observers, the problem with the people surrounding Tyson was not that they were crude, but that they weren't the kinds of white men who traditionally made all the decisions in boxing and who like to talk, argue and compromise with one another while structuring the big-money deals.

Some even believe, I'm sure, that if poor Tyson had just had some good white men around, he would have gotten himself straight.

Nope. Tyson is too much a part of his time. He's too steeped in the nihilistic culture of our moment, from the pointless gore of movies to the amoral materialism and hedonism of the thug school of hip hop.

In his contempt for sportsmanship and civilized behavior, he is, as the saying goes, keeping it real in the way a lot of hockey players, knuckleheaded basketball players and illiterate bad boys of the rap world do.

But as long as these young men are winners, the fans forgive them, the owners pay them huge salaries and women provide them with endless sexual favors.

Tyson surely cooperated in making himself a monster, but let's not pretend that he didn't have plenty of help and plenty of models.

JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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