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This week, the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission will vote on whether to grant Mike Tyson a license. Perhaps there are rational arguments to prevent Tyson from fighting here. In the days leading up to the decision, they haven’t been made.
One could contend, for example, that the public safety risks of hosting Tyson outweigh the potential fiscal benefits—remember, if Tupac Shakur had stayed away from the Tyson-Bruce Seldon fight, he’d still be alive. A case could also be made that boxing itself should be banned. The sport poses a clear health risk to participants: Heard Muhammad Ali mumble lately? What’s more, if the fairest of street fights is patently illegal in this town, why license the same behavior just because it’s in a ring?
Security, humanity, and legal consistency aren’t forcing this debate, however. Tyson’s mental and moral fitness are. He may have to take a psychiatric exam before being licensed to fight here. The idea of being judged psychologically fit to box for a living seems the epitome of a Catch-22: If one’s career choice involves pounding somebody in the head and getting pounded in the head, that itself seems proof of imbalance. So is this imbalance a prerequisite or a deal-breaker? As for those painting Tyson as too immoral to fight: What sin makes a guy’s soul too dark to rattle another man’s brain for pay?
It’s a good thing the folks now judging whether Tyson should fight here aren’t subject to the same sort of psychological and moral exams. Here’s a quick look at some of those throwing stones at either the pro- or anti-fight camp.
Oliver North In a syndicated column last week (which appeared locally in the Washington Times), the onetime perfect candidate wrote that the possibility that Tyson might fight here was “so disappointing to those of us who care about what goes on in our nation’s capital.” North further lamented that the bout would dredge up memories of local scandals, citing those of Bill Clinton, Gary Condit, and Marion Barry. He left out mention of the biggest scandal to hit “our nation’s capital” in the mid-’80s, the last time the White House set up a shadow government. That’s when Lt. Col. Oliver North secretly sold American-made weapons to Iran, a country among the triumvirate that now makes up the administration’s “axis of evil.”
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The Rev. H. Beecher Hicks Jr. The senior minister of the Metropolitan Baptist Church has told Mayor Williams that letting Tyson fight “is probably not a good thing to do.” Some other things that should make the Right Rev. Hicks’ list of probably not good things to do: Calling homosexuals sinners and referring to gay women as “dykes” from the pulpit, as Hicks did last spring, according to the Washington Blade. Hicks quickly apologized for his slurs, but in a later interview with the Washington Post, he seemed to distance himself from the apology. “It was more a mistake of words,” Hicks said. The mistake, if that’s what it was, didn’t keep the mayor from seating Hicks on his Faith Advisory Council.
Rock Newman The former boxing manager, who supports allowing Tyson to fight here, is consulting with Mayor Williams on the issue. Newman became a player in D.C. politics only when one of his fighters, Riddick Bowe, won the world title. He has had a hand in several brouhahas similar to the one in New York in January that instigated Tyson’s latest mess. In a match at the D.C. Convention Center in 1991, Newman reached over the ropes and grabbed an opponent of Bowe’s around the neck, flipping the fighter clean out of the ring. The ensuing melee spilled into the crowd. Three people were shot leaving the building, and the windows at the Convention Center were left bullet-riddled. Newman also pleaded guilty to battery for helping another member of Bowe’s entourage beat a defenseless Associated Press photographer into unconsciousness after a title fight in Las Vegas in 1992. Newman brawled again following the Bowe-Andrew Golota fight in New York in July 1996, earning his company, Spencer Promotions, a $200,000 fine.
The D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission Pound for pound, no agency in the city has a more scandal-plagued history. Michael Brown, the vice chair of the commission and the point man on the city’s Get Tyson team, is the son of former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. His most obvious qualification for a position on the Commission is his familiarity with scandal. In 1997, the younger Brown pleaded guilty to violations of federal election law for setting up a fundraising scheme to illegally funnel money to Sen. Ted Kennedy’s 1994 re-election campaign. Brown’s seat on the commission was formerly filled by Paul Artisst, who left after D.C. Auditor Russell A. Smith found him printing up his own tickets to boxing events sanctioned by the commission. According to a report in the Washington Post, Artisst told the auditor that his ticket-printing operation was approved by fellow commissioners Mable Boatwright and Arnold McKnight, who are still on the commission.
McKnight also serves as director of the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center under the civil servant now known as Cora Masters Barry. In the mid-’80s, she presided over the darkest period in the commission’s history after being appointed by her then-future husband, former Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr.
In 1985, the man the commission contracted to serve as “chief doctor” at all city boxing events admitted he had neither a medical degree nor a license to practice medicine in D.C. There wasn’t a single title fight here during her tenure, but a 1987 Post piece accused Cora Barry of taking 25 trips to watch title fights in places such as Venice, Bangkok, and Aruba—at a cost to taxpayers of $23,567. For comparison, the entire Illinois commission had a travel budget of $500 for all of 1986. Barry always flew first class because of her “back problem.” She resigned from the commission once her methods were exposed, and in 1988 pleaded guilty to theft for double-billing the city and private boxing organizations for these junkets.
And this is the body that will decide on Tuesday if Tyson passes muster. —Dave McKenna