Volume 2, Number 7 -- July, 1997
By Dave Lind
First, a tip of the cap to all you fight fans who predicted Mike Tyson would eat Evander Holyfield alive.
But seriously folks ... the ongoing saga that is the career of Mike Tyson took a dramatic, albeit ugly, turn for the bizarre the other night as "Iron Mike" turned into "Hannibal Mike" and helped himself to a slice of Holyfield's ear. (NOTE: For those of you who wondered, Mike doesn't swallow, he spits). Tyson's impromptu snack break led to his disqualification which led to a brief melee in the ring which led to a near-riot in the stands. All of which led Don King to wax eloquently on the glory that is professional boxing.
"This is why boxing is so great," said the high-haired one, "You never know what's gonna happen."
Perhaps we should change that last part to, "No matter what happens, Don King will walk away with a pile of money."
But I digress.
The real issue to be discussed here is Mike Tyson and what should happen to him. Currently, the popular vote would be to withhold his purse, fine him heavily, ban him from boxing for life, and beat the crap out of him publicly.
For whatever reason, Tyson's actions seem to have struck a nerve this time. Judging from the moral indication being expressed on the airwaves and in the papers one would think Tyson had blown up the Alfred P. Murrah building AND framed O.J. Not since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor has the citizenry of the country been so unified in its contempt for an act of aggression. If I didn't know better, I'd think Tyson had gone door to door and bitten the ears off of every man, woman, and child in the United States ... and parts of Canada.
Well I, for one, would like to take this time to ask you all to please try to keep this thing in perspective. Let's take a look at what it is, exactly, that Mike Tyson is guilty of.
He bit Evander Holyfield.
During a sanctioned heavyweight bout.
That's it. OK, so he came away with a chunk of Holyfield's ear in his mouth, that makes it a bit more dramatic, but it was still simply a bite. In fact, the bite that everyone seems so concerned with, the one that removed the chunk of ear in question, did not even result in a disqualification. It was the second bite, on the left ear, which ended the fight. Therefore, it could be effectively argued that it was not the severity of the bite, but the act of biting in itself which drew the disqualification.
Having established that, and understanding that biting is clearly an infraction of the rules of boxing, we now must determine the severity of Tyson's infraction. As I stated, biting is against the rules, as is head-butting, low blows, rabbit punching, choking, elbowing, and an assortment of other "dirty" tactics. All of which are employed ROUTINELY by virtually every fighter who ever steps into the ring at one point or another. This is not to say that all fighters bite, but biting does frequently take place, as do all of the infractions listed above. Even Evander Holyfield has admitted to biting an opponent in the past, and there is no disputing that it was Holyfield's head and not his fist that opened the gash over Tyson's eye. Therefore, the debate suddenly becomes not about the infraction, which itself is no worse than any of the others previously listed, but about the severity of the wound itself.
So let's take a look at that, shall we? First and foremost, did Mike Tyson's actions, in any way, jeopardize Evander Holyfield's career or his life? The answer is, of course, "no" In fact, the wound inflicted by Tyson on Holyfield was so minor that the ringside physician pronounced Holyfield fit to continue the bout.
Yes, that's right, I said "minor". And no, I would not like to have my ear bitten off, but I will tell you this: If given a choice between losing a small chunk of my right ear and losing an eye or a finger or having my spine broken or my knee blown out, I say, "Take the ear, Baby! Take it all!"
Every week in the NFL an offensive lineman will dive into the knees of a defensive lineman, each time with the potential of inflicting a career-ending injury. Every day in Major League Baseball a 90-mile-per-hour fastball is thrown under the chin of a batter, each one with the potential of inflicting career- or even life-threatening injury. Hockey players will trip and spear each other with their sticks, basketball players will throw elbows and undercut each other on lay-ups, each time with full knowledge that they run the risk of permanently disabling the other guy.
So why such a fuss over a bite? Is it because, as many have pointed out, Holyfield actually lost a part, small though it may be, of his body? What about the defensive lineman who has his knee destroyed by an illegal crack-back block? When he has to have that cartilage or ligament removed from his knee, does he not "lose a part of his body"? Or does it not count if you can't see it? And what about the baseball player who's cheekbone is crushed by a fastball or the hockey player who's teeth are knocked out by a hockey stick? Are teeth and bone less important than an ear?
What about the risk of HIV infection, you ask? Fighters, more than any other athlete, willingly accept that risk. if Holyfield were exposed to any risk of infection at all it was when he opened a gash over Tyson's eye with a head butt, unintentional though it may have been.
Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to minimize what Tyson did. I only seek to put his infraction in its proper context. Tyson broke a rule of boxing and he was disqualified from the bout. He will likely pay a hefty fine, both for his infraction and for his conduct following the bout. But that is it. To suggest that his actions warrant more extreme punishment is silly. He BIT a man, that's it! There was less public outrage when he raped Desiree Washington! For Pete's sake, if the man wasn't banned for raping an 18-year-old Sunday school teacher, how can we possibly be talking about banning him for biting a 220-pound heavyweight boxing champion!
And for the love of Aunt Ethel, please do not embarrass yourself by saying that he's bad for boxing. On that criteria Don King would have been fed to the hounds a long time ago. Mike Tyson, in defeat, in disgrace, in prison, in exile, in any state you care to discuss him, is still the top draw in boxing today. Bar none. You think Evander Holyfield could pull in $30 mil+ by fighting George Foreman again? Riddick Bowe? Anyone? You know Holyfield doesn't think so, which is why, tattered ear and all, he kept the door to a rematch open. Disgrace to boxing? Hardly. He's been boxing's biggest meal ticket for ten years and will continue to be until something better comes along.
Yes, Mike Tyson is troubled and yes, he is headed for a massive meltdown, but there is nothing you or I or anyone other than Mike Tyson can do to prevent it. Banning him from the sport would certainly do nothing to change him and would not be at all proportional to the offense he committed.
Unless, that is, you want to banish him simply for being Mike Tyson, in which case you have my vote.