By Thomas Hauser
There was a time when Mike Tyson was known for his awesome ring talent. Now he's more like Michael Jackson. Jackson can still dance and sing a bit, but that's not why people turn on their television sets to watch him. Likewise, the heart of Tyson's appeal is no longer his ability as a fighter but rather his potential for deviant behavior.
"The Tyson of before was the best heavyweight in the world," Oscar De La Hoya said earlier this year. "Now it's different for him, and he knows it. People don't want to watch him for his boxing skills. They just want to know what he'll do next."
At the final prefight press conference for his July 30th fight against Danny Williams, Tyson sounded an optimistic note. "My future seems so much brighter than my past," he said. Then he got knocked out. But worse, he quit.
"This is a guy he should beat, and he didn't," Tyson's trainer Freddie Roach told the media afterward. "I give Danny Williams some credit; I'm not going to tarnish his win. But you can't be a contender if you can't beat Danny Williams."
The end game wasn't supposed to be this way. The young Mike Tyson entering a boxing ring resembled a carnivour ready to devour its kill. He came forward as inexorably as the ocean tide, throwing punches that crashed down upon hapless foes like ten-foot waves. When he hit opponents, their ribs caved in and they went down like they were wearing roller-skates.
Eddie Futch, the legendary trainer who spent seven decades in boxing, observed, "The root of Tyson's effectiveness was his quickness. What made him so effective was the speed with which he delivered his power. He had the quickest delivery of any hard puncher since Joe Louis."
Tyson was groomed, not merely to be heavyweight champion of the world, but to be one of the greatest fighters of all time. The message he transmitted was, "I hit harder than you can take; and at some point in the fight, I will destroy you." He won the World Boxing Council title with a second-round knockout of Trevor Berbick at age twenty after boxing for only twenty months as a pro. Next, he consolidated and successfully defended the crown with victories over Pinklon Thomas, Tony Tucker, Tyrell Biggs, Larry Holmes, Tony Tubbs, Michael Spinks, Frank Bruno, and Carl Willams.
But there came a time when the fists of opponents began to talk back in myriad ways. From the hands of Buster Douglas: "Does that hurt, Mike?" From Evander Holyfield: "Mike, I did it to you once, and I'm doing it again." From Lennox Lewis: "You're not bobbing and weaving away from punches the way Cus D'Amato taught you." And from Danny Williams: "You're a three-round fighter now, Mike."
Tyson was 23 years old when he lost to Douglas in 1990. Since then, he has wasted more talent than any heavyweight in history. Most boxers get by for a while on technique when their physical skills start to decline. But with Tyson, it was the other way around. His technique declined years ago, and he survived by virtue of his physical skills. Now, those assets too are diminishing, and the glory years have become the gory years.
Tyson's fall from grace has been without grace. He seems to enjoy beating people up, but is less enamoured of competitive fights. The man who once demanded of opponents, "How dare they challenge me with their primitive skills?" has won only five fights in the past eight years. During that time, his record has been 5 wins, 4 losses, and 2 no contests. Given the multiplicity of titles and the mediocre state of the heavyweight division, he could conceivably win a belt again someday. But he is now 38 years old, and "Iron Mike" Tyson is no more.
There's considerable debate as to how great Tyson was in his prime. His uninterupted reign as undisputed heavyweight champion lasted for thirty-eight months. That's pretty good. Over the past seventy-six years, only Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, and Larry Holmes exceeded that standard.
Still, even when he was at his peak in the ring, Tyson was beset by demons. He was a man who, worse than actually being ugly, believed that he was ugly. And he seemed to think that he should be allowed to do whatever he wanted to do when he wanted to do it. But life doesn't work that way.
"There are no baby pictures of Mike Tyson." Tom Junod wrote in defense of his subject. "Nobody cared enough either to keep them or take them in the first place. There are no pictures of Mike Tyson smiling without teeth or sleeping in a crib or being held aloft in the arms of his father. He is around twelve years old by the time of his first extant photograph. And because no pictures of him exist before that one, it's almost as though he didn't either, until the first click of the shudder nudged him into being and he was born on film, fully formed, already finished, already stocky, already strong, already scared, already heartbroken, already truant, already violent, already in trouble, and already captured thirty-eight times between the ages of ten and thirteen and delivered into the hands of the law."
Hence, the Mike Tyson reality show. Tyson was charged with assault and battery after striking a parking-lot attendant and settled the case for $105,000. A street fight with boxer Mitch Green resulted in a $45,000 jury award in Green's favor. An incident in which Tyson was knocked unconscious after driving his BMW into a tree led to press reports of a suicide attempt. Myriad lawsuits filed by various women alleged sexual misconduct. A disastrous marriage to actress Robins Givens ended in a much-publicized divorce. Finally, on February 10, 1992, Tyson was convicted of rape. "I'm not sure if he's a psycho or if he's just no damn good," prosecutor Greg Garrison said.
Tyson was released from custody after serving three years in prison. In his first fight back, he knocked out Peter McNeeley in 89 seconds. The bout did nothing to bolster his ring credentials, but spoke volumes regarding his earning power. Victories over Buster Mathis Jr, Frank Bruno, and Bruce Seldon followed. Next on the list of intended victims was Evander Holyfield.
Holyfield was presumed to be a shot fighter. But in an upset of monumental proportions, he knocked Tyson out in the eleventh round. Then came the fight that has come to define Mike Tyson's career. On June 28, 1997, he met Holyfield in a rematch and was disqualified for biting off part of Evander's ear.
"At first, when the pain came and I saw him spit the ear out of his mouth, it was a shocking thing," Holyfield said later. "Shocking things are supposed to happen to other people. But when I came back straight at him, it was his turn to be shocked. I broke Tyson's heart that night."
Thus, the demons raged on. Tyson married Monica Turner, but that marriage too ended in divorce. He broke a rib and punctured a lung when a motorcycle he was riding skidded off the highway after hitting a patch of sand. He filed a lawsuit against Don King, accusing the promoter of cheating him out of tens of millions of dollars. And he wound up in jail again; this time for three months, after assaulting two motorists in the wake of a traffic accident.
Meanwhile, Tyson's mental state had becoming an issue in Nevada, where his most lucrative bouts were held. After biting Holyfield, he had been fined $3,000,000 and his license was revoked by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Now he wanted to fight again in Las Vegas. But the commission insisted that, before being relicensed, he undergo a psychiatric evaluation at Massachusetts General Hospital. Thus, in September 1998, Tyson was examined for five days by a team of physicians in Massachusetts.
"Mr. Tyson did agree to proceed with the evaluation and cooperated with the process," the subsequent medical report stated. But the report added the caveat, "There were times when his anger over the process made it difficult for him to continue. Appropriate breaks were taken and Mr. Tyson was able to continue."
In other words, Tyson was difficult to handle. Stopping for "appropriate breaks" is psychiatric shorthand for "we had to manage him through the evaluation." The physicians couldn't just do their job; but when Tyson was reminded of the consequences of acting out, he calmed down.
"Mr. Tyson was open and direct throughout the evaluation," the report continued. "Part of his openness and honesty, however, was to express clearly to us his sense of humiliation at being asked to undergo an evaluation by mental health professionals."
To translate: If a fighter bites off a piece of someone's ear in a boxing ring, there are repercussions. But Tyson didn't fully accept that, so he was humiliated by, and indignant at, the evaluation process.
Much of the evaluation focussed on Tyson's "anger management" or lack thereof. And regrettably, much of it was reminiscent of the 1980 Mayo Clinic report that found Muhammad Ali physically fit to challenge Larry Holmes.
For example, the road rage incident that led to Tyson's imprisonment for three months was dismissed with the notation that it "was explained by Mr. Tyson in a manner consistent with his representations to others [i.e. Tyson lied]. No further details of that incident are outlined here," the report continued, "in light of the fact that the alleged incident [which involved uncontrolled rage under stress] is potentially the subject of an ongoing criminal hearing."
Ultimately, the report found Tyson's neurological condition to be normal. But a neuro-psychological evaluation designed to detect possible brain damage by observing how the brain functions found problems with attention and weaknesses in both short-term working memory and fine motor coordination. The physicians also found dysthymia (chronic mild depression), hyper-vigilance (a condition similar to, but less severe than, paranoia), and "issues related to his personality (i.e. psychiatric jargon for a borderline personality)."
The report closed with the conclusion that Tyson was mentally fit to return to boxing and, most likely, wouldn't "snap" again as he'd done when he bit Evander Holyfield. In that regard, the physicians wrote, "Boxing provides a different set of stesses, in many ways less troubling for Mr. Tyson, than the process he underwent in our offices."
One wonders whether these health care professionals understood the stress associated with being in a boxing ring.
The Massachusetts General Hospital psychiatric report was forwarded to the Nevada State Athletic Commission in early October 1998. On October 13th, the commission voted 4-to-1 to restore Tyson's boxing license.
On January 16, 1999, Tyson fought in Las Vegas and knocked out Frans Botha after trying to snap Botha's arm off at the elbow in a clinch. Nine months later, his bout against Orlin Norris was declared "no contest" after he knocked Norris down with a punch thrown after the bell ending round one. At that point, the Nevada commission told Tyson to take his act on the road, and he fought in the United Kingdom against Julius Francis and Lou Savarese. The latter bout was noteworthy for Iron Mike striking Savarese and referee John Coyle after Coyle stopped the fight; an act that led the British Boxing Board of Control to levy a $187,500 fine against him. On October 20, 2000, Tyson added another "no contest" to his record when he tested positive for illegal drugs after a fight in Michigan against Andrew Golota. That promotion was noteworthy for a Tyson tirade at the kick-off press conference.
"I don't care about living or dying," Tyson told the assembled media. "I'm a dysfunctional motherfucker. Bring on Golota; bring on Lewis. They can keep their titles. I don't want to strip them of their titles, I want to strip them of their fucking health. I'm in pain, so I want them to be in pain. I want their kids to see pain. You don't know me; you can't define me. I'm a convicted rapist, a hell-raiser, a father, a semi-good husband. I raise hell. I know it's going to get me in trouble or killed one day, but that's just who I am. I can't help it. Listen, I'm a nigger. No, really, really, listen to me. I'm a street person. I don't even want to be a street person; I don't like typical street people. But your grandchildren will know about me. They'll be like, 'Wow, wasn't that a bizarre individual?'"
The Golota debacle was followed by a seventh-round knockout of Brian Nielsen in Denmark. Then Tyson signed to fight Lennox Lewis. But at a January 22, 2002, press conference to announce the bout, there was a meltdown of historic proportions. Tyson assaulted Lewis; bit him on the thigh, let loose with an obscenity-laden rant, and masturbated on stage as television cameras recorded every moment. The self-proclaimed "baddest man on the planet" had become the maddest man on the planet.
Tyson's conduct at the press conference was the conduct of a man who wanted trouble. In some ways, it seemed deliberate; like a premeditated loss of control, if there is such a thing. After the initial assault on Lewis, he prowled the stage looking for more trouble. Metaphorically speaking, and with a bit of the physical thrown, he hadn't been fully satisfied yet. That didn't happen until he unleashed his verbal tirade and masturbated.
What would happen if an anonymous person with a history of violence (including convictions for rape and assault) assaulted someone, bit him, engaged in an obscene threatening rant, and masturbated in public?
In all likelihood, there would be a telephone call to 911 (the police emergency number). A police officer would be dispatched to the scene to arrest the perpetrator. If necessary, an emergency medical technician would physically restrain him with a pharmacological restraint. The perpetrator would then be brought to the local police station or a hospital emergency room. None of that happened with Tyson on January 22nd, but the incident did shed further light on his psyche.
Here a disclaimer is necessary. I'm not a psychiatrist, nor have I conducted a psychiatric examination of Mike Tyson. But I have talked extensively with psychiatrists who say that Tyson exhibits the characteristics of what is known as a "Cluster-B personality disorder."
People who fit into this category move back and forth between neurotic and psychotic behavior. Many were hyperactive and difficult to control as children and had difficulty focussing for sustained periods of time. They were neglected, beaten, sexually molested, or otherwise abused. From an early age, their basic needs were unmet. They threw things and had temper tantrums. Frequently, they suffered from learning disabilities. And they evolved into adults with little sense of morality, few boundaries, and limited impulse control. As adults, they suffer from feelings of persecution. There's no core; no organizing self or ego for another person to have a mature adult relationship with. Everything gets distorted. There's very little reality testing. And they don't understand that it's bad to be the way they are. The problem, as they see it, is all the awful things that other people do to them. Their self-esteem is terrible. They suffer from chronic humiliation. The only way they can excel is with their genitals and their fists. Aggression and sex become intertwined, and often they can't tell the difference. There's horrible rage. They're turned on by violence. They have obsessive thoughts about hurting other people. As they get older, they get even more depressed and deteriorate further. Some of them start hearing voices. And what you end up with is a person who is like a caged animal in pain.
People with a Cluster-B personality disorder function well in some situations. But they can, suddenly and without warning, collapse under stress. After the January 22nd incident, Tyson should have been put in a closely-monitored treatment program. After all; how many high-profile public figures masturbate in public? The world was witnessing the conduct of a man who was out of control and, in some ways, screaming for help. But if the criminal authorities don't force the issue (and in this instance, they didn't) it's very difficult to get someone into the mental-health-care system against his will. The people around him have to be willing to take him on. Someone who cares about the patient has to initiate an involuntary proceeding.
That, of course, didn't happen. Instead, plans for Lewis-Tyson proceeded apace. But first there was the matter of Tyson being relicensed to box by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. On January 29th, he appeared before the commission, stated that he was not on medication, hadn't been for six months, and that his psychiatric therapy had ended the previous spring. "I'm no longer in need of treatment," Tyson said in response to one of the questions put to him. The commission then voted 4-to-1 against granting him a license. Two of the four commissioners (John Bailey and Flip Homansky) stated that they viewed the situation as a medical issue, not a disciplinary one. They believed that Tyson was suffering from an inadequately-treated mental illness and represented a danger both to himself and others.
If there were uniform medical standards for boxers in the United States, Tyson would have been forced at that point to sit down with the medical professionals at the Nevada State Athletic Commission and deal directly with his emotional problems. But unfortunately, no such standards exist. If a state such as Nevada takes a stand on principle and loses a lucrative prizefight, another jurisdiction is always willing to step into the breach.
Thus, on June 8, 2002, Mike Tyson entered the ring in Memphis, Tennessee, and was annihilated by Lennox Lewis over eight brutal rounds. Afterward, Tyson acknowledged, "During the fight, I said, 'This is not a good night.' I could beat him if I was well, but I'm sick right now. I don't mean sick physically. I mean emotionally." Later, that admission gave way to the declaration, "I might have kissed him after our first fight, but I'll crush his head when we're next in the ring."
The following months were marked by further outbursts of rage and self-pity from a man who sounded very much like he hated himself and blamed everyone but himself for it. Perhaps the most telling of these outbursts came in a documentary taped by Fox Sports Net in late 2002.
"I'm a real angry and bitter man," Tyson said. "When I went to prison, it changed my whole outlook on life. It really screwed me up. My attitude became really ugly and nasty. I fell in love with hate in prison. It made pretty much an animal out of me. White society thinks I'm an animal; wild beast out of control, ready to rape their daughters or hurt them or do something drastic to them. I don't got a chance in this society. I understand this society that I live in hates me."
Then Tyson likened his heart to "ground beef," acknowledged, "when I'm unhappy, I'm very self-destructive," and declared, "I got some serious serious demons I'm fighting. I hate my life now. I've been abused and used any way a person can be abused and used. I've lost my soul as a human being. I've lost my self-respect. None of my friends have any respect for me. A lot of times, I hate myself. Maybe in my next life, I'll have a better life. That's why I'm just looking forward to going to the other world."
But there was no acceptance of responsibility; no recognition that, somewhere along the line, a person must learn that he's accountable for his own conduct no matter how disadvantaged he might have been; no acceptance of the truth that everyone has a right to be angry but not to be brutal or cruel; no understanding that it's wrong to bite people, that either you control your demons or they control you.
Instead, Tyson posed the query, "Why can't I have what I want? Why shouldn't I have it all?"
Then Tyson signed to fight Clifford Etienne on February 22, 2003, and the circus was on display again. On February 10th and 11th, he failed to go to the gym to train after rumored all-night parties. On February 12th, he arrived late, sporting a large tattoo -- what trainer Freddie Roach called "an African tribal thing" -- on the side of his face.
In the past, there had been times when people were able to forget the nature of Tyson's psyche. Now the tattoo was there to remind them. Its application was an act of self-mutilation. And its timing was a clear indication that Tyson didn't want to fight.
As Anne Laumann (a dermatologist and assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Chicago) explained, "When the tattooing instrument pricks the skin, blood is released. The area gets swollen and it gets crusty. You should leave it alone, except for washing it or putting on ointment, for a two-week period. During that healing period, there can be oozing and scabbing. I would put new tattooing in the same category as an open wound."
The following day (February 13th), bout promoter Gary Shaw claimed that Tyson was suffering from "vomiting and other flu-like symptoms." Advisor Shelly Finkel added, "Mike's not feeling well. He's had some bronchitis, some temperature stuff." Meanwhile, Roach told the media that a dramatic change in Tyson's demeanor the previous week had led him to wonder whether something had changed with regard to medication that Tyson was taking to control his behavior.
On February 14th, 15th, and 16th, Tyson's condition allegedly worsened. On February 17th, Tyson-Etienne was formally postponed. "I can understand if there's anger," Finkel said in reference to Showtime, which had invested millions of dollars in promoting and readying to televise the fight. "But I would hope we could mend it. In the crazy world of Mike Tyson, he'll always be in demand. He's a star. There's always going to be someone eager to have him, but I hope we can work things out with Showtime."
Finkel was right. There was a lot of anger. A lot of people, including Tyson, stood to lose a lot of money. There was screaming and yelling followed by threats of lawsuits. Then -- lo and behold -- on the morning of February 18th, Tyson woke up feeling fine.
The fight took place as planned. Etienne went down in the first round. And at the post-fight press conference, Tyson repeated the mantra that had become familiar to friend and foe alike. "I've been doing this for twenty-five years of my life," he said. "I haven't received any dignity from it. I've received a lot of pain from it. I'm in pain. It's made me not like Mike Tyson no more. I don't know if I'm ever going to love anybody. I definitely don't think anybody's going to love me."
"Mike Tyson doesn't need anyone to feel sorry for him," Ron Borges of the Boston Globe wrote afterward. "He's doing enough of that himself."
The next year brought more of the same. In May 2003, Tyson granted a television interview to Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. When asked about Desiree Washington, who he'd been convicted of raping a decade earlier, he declared, "I didn't rape that slimy bitch. She's a lying monstrous lady. I just hate her guts. She put me in that state where, I don't know; I really wish I did now. I really do want to rape her and fuck her mama."
One month later, on June 21, 2003, Tyson was arrested and charged with assault in conjunction with a brawl in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel in Brooklyn. Subsequently, he pled guilty to disorderly conduct. Then he stepped out of the spotlight before returning to public view to fight Danny Williams.
It was a "new mellower Mike Tyson" who spoke with the media during the build-up to Tyson-Williams. "When I want to make a fool out of myself, there's no changing my mind," he joked. Then he turned serious, saying, "I've come to the conclusion that I've had a bad psychological opinion of myself. I'm a maniac, but I'm a good guy. I'm just trying to manage my life properly. That's something I've never done before. I feel good when I'm training. I feel like I'm doing something with my life."
Then Mike Tyson got knocked out in four rounds. Great fighters don't get knocked out by Danny Williams.
What comes next?
Tyson's immediate future will unfold within the framework of his ongoing bankruptcy proceeding. Last year, he filed for protection from his creditors, listing $38,400,000 in debts. Among the sums owed were $13,400,000 to American tax authorities; $4,000,000 to their British counterparts; and $9,000,000 to his second wife, Monica Turner.
In June 2004, Tyson settled his lawsuit against Don King for $14,000,000 and announced a plan to pay the bulk of the $38,400,000 owed to creditors over a three-year period. A central component of that plan was a projected $19,500,000 contribution from seven fights to be held over the next three years. In other words, the people who are advising and "helping" Mike Tyson mapped out a plan that envisions his fighting until he's 41 years old.
Tyson is still capable of earning large amounts of money in the ring. His left knee, which was operated on for a ligament tear after the Williams fight, is healing well. Richard Emerson (the orthopedic surgeon who performed the surgery) estimated that Tyson will be able to resume training this month.
There's an insatiable public curiosity regarding Tyson, and he can be repackaged to take advantage of that phenomenon. Many countries would host a Tyson fight against a "grade D" opponent simply to have him within their borders. Las Vegas casinos, most notably the MGM Grand, would pay a substantial site fee for a Tyson bout should he be relicensed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
Then there's the possibility of a Tyson fight on "free" television in the United States for the first time since 1986. The story-line here would be, "Mike wants this bout on free TV. Mike wants the public to become acquainted with the new Mike Tyson. Mike wants to show his fans how much he appreciates their support."
A Tyson fight on free television, no matter how inept the opponent, could generate the largest domestic audience for any boxing match in history. It would create "Tysonmania" and pave the way for a stream of even more lucrative future contests.
But there's a larger question: "Should Mike Tyson fight again?"
Tracking Tyson's statements over the past two years makes it clear that his life remains unsettled. At the November 26, 2002, press conference announcing Tyson-Etienne, he told the media, "I feel good; I'm very happy. Things basically have come together as far as my personal life. I just feel so much good about my transformation and just forming to be a decent human being."
But then, two weeks before the fight, Tyson talked with Tim Smith of the New York Daily News about his ex-wife Monica Turner. "I have three kids with her," Tyson confided. "I believe she's a little bitter because she doesn't allow me to see my children. I have to come and have a supervised visit like I'm a child molester. She makes me feel less than a man a lot." And with regard to his 13-year-old daughter, Mikel (one of five children he has fathered), who was living with him at the time in Las Vegas, Tyson declared, "If I don't get my butt together as far as introspection as a father, I'm going to kill my daughter. She doesn't respect me. I'm being real honest. I don't let no one talk to me the way she talks to me. I want her to stay with me forever, but this is looking very difficult."
Finally, earlier this summer, Tyson acknowledged, "My life has been a total waste. My personal life stinks. I don't have anyone; I'm alone. I don't think I'll ever be able to trust again. In order to trust someone else, you have to trust yourself. I just wish that I was more of a loyal person with my girlfriend, my wife. I was never loyal. My infidelity got me in more trouble, because not having a strong relationship and partner environment allows other people to get involved in your life and poison your influence. I broke up with my girlfriend. It just devastated me. I don't even know why; it's just a woman. I'm so accustomed to being with her and talking with her. She was my friend as well as my girlfriend. She's pretty finished with me now because I'm a pig."
There is no "quick fix" for these problems. Doctors can medicate the depression that comes with them. Drugs like Zoloft and Neurontin might sedate Tyson a bit, but they won't change the overall way in which he relates to the people around him.
Tyson is a man who often deals with personal relationships and life in general in a dysfunctional manner. His judgment is impaired as a consequence of things that have been building and crystalizing in him since early childhood. Can he be successfully treated? The key is whether or not he suffers from misgivings and depression after his episodes. Once the high has faded away, does he feel bad about what happened? If so, that can be an entry-way for treatment. But unfortunately, Tyson is surrounded by enablers who tell him that everything he does is fine. He has fallen into a system run by people who use his illness to their advantage and cling to him with the loyalty and steadfastness of a leech. Whatever he does, no matter how bad it is, there are people who tell him that his conduct is acceptable. And even when he pays a price, like going to jail, the enablers tell him that it wasn't really his fault.
Still, many people (and many fighters) have social pathologies, and these difficulties can be overcome. Tyson doesn't have to enter a psychiatric facility; nor would prison and prison treatment solve the problem. But one thing is certain. In the field of mental health, a patient can't go to a different treating physician at every turn. Doing so deprives the care-giver of the overall view necessary for success and also precludes the development of trust between patient and doctor. There must be a longterm professional psychiatric relationship. Tyson has to talk, and someone has to listen, for a long time.
Also, it will be particularly difficult for Tyson to improve his life in a meaningful way as long as he's boxing. A fighter must be able to redirect, switch on and off, channel, and control normal human emotions. Tyson has enough trouble dealing with these emotions on an everyday basis without the added pressures that come with being in the ring.
And one must question the longterm effects of whatever medication Tyson has been taking to prolong his ring career. For example, it's known that, in the past, he was dependent upon Zoloft; an inhibitor that increases the availability of serotonin in the brain. Serontonin transmits impulses and regulates mood. Zoloft blocks the reuptake of serotonin so more is available in the brain.
How important is Zoloft to Tyson? On February 5, 1999, when he was sentenced for assaulting two motorists following their traffic accident, Tyson's lawyers told the court that he needed Zoloft as part of his therapy. Then, during his October 1999 hearing before the Nevada State Athletic Commission, doctors testifying on Tyson's behalf stated that he suffered from "deficits in executive function that make him prone to impulsive behavior." However, they voiced the view that his condition could be controlled through psychotherapy and medication.
For a while, Tyson was taken off Zoloft each time he fought. That led to demands that the people who were supposed to be looking out for his best interests reconsider their actions. "I think it's crazy," said Dr. William Hoffmann, a psychiatrist with experience in the athletic arena. "If you go on and off Zoloft, you're messing around with a patient's neuro-transmitters. To get the maximum benefit from Zoloft, you have go on it and stay on it longterm. To put a patient on Zoloft and take him off Zoloft and put him on and take him off is abusive."
The status of Tyson's current medication is not publicly known. But Dr. Margaret Goodman (medical director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission) declares, "A 'don't ask, don't tell policy' is unacceptable. Safety must come first when it relates to a boxer's emotional well-being. State athletic commissions must determine if a particular treatment is conducive to a boxer continuing in the sport."
And Goodman's predecessor, Dr. Flip Homansky, adds, "This is an ongoing issue for boxing, not just because of Mike Tyson but also because of a number of other fighters. My view is that, if someone needs a drug like Zoloft, then he shouldn't be taken off it to get him into the ring or make him better in the ring or make him more aggressive in the ring. That's simply not the right thing to do in terms of the welfare of the individual."
At the final press conference for Tyson-Williams, Tyson spoke of his problems and acknowledged, "I got addicted to the chaos."
So remove the chaos. Get him out of boxing. It's quite possible that, in his heart, Tyson himself doesn't even want to fight anymore.
HBO boxing commentator Jim Lampley was in Tyson's dressing room shortly after Tyson was knocked out by Lennox Lewis. "It was the happiest I'd seen Mike in twelve years," Lampley recalls. "And I honestly believe that's because he felt that it was finally over; that at last, he could walk away from it all."
"I just box to box," Tyson said last month. "I'm fighting basically for my respect, self-esteem; and of course, I have my situation with my creditors."
But as middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins observed recently, "It's a lonely feeling when a guy's confidence is built on guys who are hollering and shouting how great he is and then the bell rings and they're not there with him anymore."
One is hard-pressed to avoid the conclusion that boxing has become Mike Tyson's prison cell. Also, there's added urgency to the situation now because Tyson is at a point in his life where the neurological damage he sustains while fighting will add to his other problems.
Early in Tyson's career, he fought a journeyman named Jesse Ferguson. "Jesse takes a good beating," Tyson's co-manager Jim Jacobs said. "He'll last a few rounds."
Now it's Tyson who's taking the beatings. He has done it four times. And quite possible, it would have been five but for the fact that he bit off part of Evander Holyfield's ear.
Here, the thoughts of Dr. Margaret Goodman are instructive. In a recent article, she listed some of the psychiatric disorders that can be caused or aggravated by head injuries sustained in boxing. In Goodman's words, they are:
* "Psychosis -- When it occurs, individuals tend to be paranoid. An example would be feeling persecuted and believing that everyone is against you."
* "Mood disorders -- Frontal lobe damage is often associated with depression, while temporal lobe injury can produce periods of mania or hyperactivity. Drugs and alcohol can accentuate these symptoms."
* "Anxiety -- Characterized by excessive worry and phobic avoidance of the event, restlessness, fatigue, and irritability. Perhaps a boxer who cannot get back into the ring to resume his career."
* "Sexual disorders -- Changes in sexual interest/performance or the development of inappropriate/unusual sexual behaviors. Frontal lobe damage is often believed to be associated with inappropriate sexual behavior."
* "Personality Disorders -- Personality changes due to head trauma include symptoms of belligerence, anger, episodic violent behavior, impulsivity, loss of drive, loss of spontaneity, childishness, helplessness, lack of awareness, or need for active supervision."
When Mike Tyson was at his peak, what he did in the ring defined the sport of boxing. Now that his skills have eroded, his presence defines the sordid business end of the sport.
One can argue that Tyson doesn't have any identity other than boxing and that he needs to fight in order to pay his bills. But Tyson is capable of gathering acclaim and making $100,000 any weekend he chooses by signing autographs at a sports memorabilia show. That might not enable him to live in a mansion with life-sized statues of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and other conquerors as he once did. But as Freddy Roach asked rhetorically after Tyson was knocked out by Danny Williams, "What good is all the money in the world if you can't count it?"
"I'm stupid, foolish; that's one thing I am," Tyson told an interviewer last year. "I've always been foolish my whole life."
It's now time for Mike Tyson to wise up. There's life after boxing. And the further Tyson gets from the sport, the better able he'll be to evolve into a new persona.
Meanwhile, let it be said that some of what Tyson has done in boxing has been magnificent and some has been horrific. There was a time when he appeared to be headed for true greatness. What happened to him shows how thin the line is between ring immortality of legendary proportions and something less.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Pictures supplied by Tom Casino.
October 11, 2004.