By Ryan Songalia
Photo © Joe Bada/FightWireImages.com
One constant in American society is the tendency of the general public to put celebrities on a pedestal, only to tear down their icons at the first sign of fault. For Michael Gerard Tyson, this process has been the one consistent aspect of his public life.
The latest in a string of bad decisions and misadventures for the heavyweight icon occurred in the early morning hours of December 29, when a Scottsdale, AR DUI task force pulled him over when prompted to by Tyson's erratic driving. Upon search of his person and vehicle, officers recovered two bags containing a white substance that was later determined to be cocaine.
A drug test, method not immediately known, uncovered positive amounts of a depressant, a stimulant and marijuana. The former self-declared "Baddest Man on the Planet" is also prescribed Zoloft, an anti-depressant he claims helps to level him out.
Charged now with two counts of felony drug possession and misdemeanor driving under the influence, it looks now as if the shooting star saga of a man who seemed to personify the rawness of urban human nature is in a downward spiral that at the age of 40 may be very difficult to reverse.
Maricopa County Chief Prosecutor Andrew Thomas represented the iron fist of justice in a news conference addressing the latest mis-step of Mike Tyson. "He has run out of second chances, at least in my book, words that suggest the worst intentions, or perhaps the best intentions, in the prognosis of Tyson's rehabilitation in society.
The year 2000 brought the public it's first inkling of Tyson's substance abuse, when his fight with the equally-troubled Andrew Golata was switched from a second round stoppage to a no-contest when Tyson's urine sample showed signs of marijuana usage.
Lest you be misled, this is far from Tyson's first run-in with law enforcement. In 1992, as Tyson was attempting to rebuild his aura of invincibility following his upset loss to James "Buster" Douglas, he was convicted of raping Desiree Washington, a beauty pageant contestant whom Tyson was ruled to have engaged in inappropriate behavior with in an Indianapolis hotel room.
After serving three years in jail for the conviction, Tyson emerged from prison a convert to Islam and with a new persona, one that may have not been in his best interests. Presenting a new image of raw thug life and urban hostility, Tyson began to alienate a great deal of the public with his less-than-consumer-friendly approach and willingness to engage in behavior in public that was in general confrontational and scary.
But what really is "scary"? What is without taste? Are these things not open to interpretation, or is there just a general standard for what is acceptable and what isn't? Tyson's life began in Brownsville, Brooklyn, a place that can be juxtaposed with the Gaza strip with regards to the kind of unpredictable squalor that defines that type of environment. In such an environment as Brownsville, Tyson was undoubtedly exposed to nefarious elements that inevitably shaped his character and persona. You can take a man out of the hood, but you can't take the hood out of the man. That we are still talking about Mike Tyson, that "Iron Mike" still fascinates us with his every action suggests more about society than it does about him, truthfully.
The kind of super celebrity that he is, the same kind that Michael Jackson or Madonna or Mel Gibson is, it entails a great deal of pressure and responsibility, the kind that can break a human not ready to handle the scrutiny and specter that they are subjected to. Not that we aren't all adults and are culpable for all of our own actions, but there can be a sense of "Me against the World" when dealing with the voracious tabloids and generally bored public who needs someone to point the finger at and dissect to distract themselves from the mundane lives that many of us enjoy. Yes, that is the definition of celebrity. As much fun as it is to build up these monuments, American society takes as much enjoyment in the tearing them back down as to make an example of them for future generations and protege's. Yes, the world really is as mean as it is made out to be at times.
In that same light, Americans also love to preserve and forgive it's icons. Take for instance George Foreman. Once the most feared and misunderstood heavyweight of his era, Foreman underwent a complete metamorphosis following his withdrawal from the fight game to reinvent himself as the friendly and lovable "Big George" that we all embraced during the late 80's, 90's, and still to this day.
To put things in the proper perspective however, Foreman was never convicted of rape or been in trouble with substance abuse. In a world with capricious taste, the public is nonetheless still open to re-acquainting itself with Tyson and renewing it's love affair with a man who seems to be lost inside his own peril. The reality seems to be that he really isn't too interested in reprising his role, or any public role, for that matter.
Tyson's latest incarnation as a public figure came this past Fall as he participated in a four round exhibition with sparring partner Corey "T-Rex" Sanders. The performance was met with disappointment from the fans, not willing to accept a calmer Tyson that was unwilling to behave like a merciless beast trying to destroy his opponent. Of course, in exhibitions there are no winners and losers, which would explain why Tyson would ease up after scoring a first round knockdown on the helmeted-Sanders.
With the public generally disinterested in this docile Tyson, a man seemingly eager to put his past behind him, Tyson still subconsciously seems to want to be accepted. However genuine his regrets of his past, with the public seemingly unwilling to forget Tyson's past misdeeds, it seems like a lost cause for Tyson to attempt to turn over a new leaf.
Although reaching a 37-0 record as the youngest undisputed champion in heavyweight history, many fans feel a sense of un-fulfillment with the anticlimactic trajection of his rising star existence. Bursting onto the scene in 1985 at 18-years-old as the final project of Cus D'Amato, Tyson appeared to have the potential to become the greatest heavyweight champion in history. Shortcomings against Douglas, Holyfield and several others left a bad taste in the mouths of an audience looking to see the unique theater of reality, in which the heel triumphs over the good guy.
With the cloud that hovers over his head, referencing mankind's inability to truly escape it's own past, it is no wonder that he has found himself unable to redeem his faults in society and move forward with his life in a productive and fulfilling way. The fans feel they are still owed something from Tyson, that his inability to be what they wanted him to be was somehow a personal affront. Tyson owes nothing to nobody except his direct debtors. He has enough creditors on him to be in debt to a captive audience no longer.
Tyson's tone following the Sanders fight suggested a sense of hopelessness in his future even after all he has accomplished. "If I don't get out of this financial quagmire there's a possibility I may have to be a punching bag for somebody," remarked Tyson at the post-fight conference. Even if he is able to move past his substance abuse issues, the pressure of his insurmountable debt will continue to linger as a thorn in his side with which he remains to deal with.
Should not a heavyweight who, for however brief, attained greatness in the ring be able to rest on his laurels and bask in the afterglow of a Hall of Fame career? Or is Tyson and his public image public domain, property of a world who holds Tyson in contempt while still idolizing him as a King Kong side show spectacle. The social contract of celebrity is both a ticket out of the hopelessness of poverty and a Deal with the Devil.
Enlisting the services of a veritable legal dream team, Tyson hopes to circumvent another stint in prison. Among the four lawyers whose counsel Tyson has retained is David Chesnoff, the celebrity defense attorney whose clientele includes domestic diva Martha Stewart, pop star Britney Spears and hip hop mogul Suge Knight. In their first public appearance in cahoots, Chesnoff accompanied Tyson as he entered a "not guilty" plea in Maricopa County Superior Court this past Monday. A pretrial conference is scheduled for February 26, in Mesa, Arizona, in which Tyson and team will appear before Judge Sherry Stephens. Should Tyson be convicted and receive the maximum penalty, a seven-and-a-half year prison sentence looms over his person.
Tyson's main focus should be on him and working to resolve the issues that trouble him so he can be a happy person, without drugs or any negative influences. Truth is, unless you're willing to play the game, you're always going to lose. And Tyson doesn't even own the right dice.
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