by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

ALBERTVILLE, France — Let’s put the Olympics on hold for today and talk about the Mike Tyson rape conviction, because even over here, on a snowcapped French mountain, some things are pretty obvious:

Did he do it? I think he did. If I’m on that jury, I vote guilty, too. Not because, as a sports writer, I know of at least a dozen incidents in which Tyson has fondled women, grabbed their buttocks, walked around a nightclub with his pants off and slid up against the women, groped them, talked dirty to them, tried to force-kiss them, threw tantrums when they turned him down, got charged with sexual assault twice in one disco, said to countless strangers, “I want to f— you,” and once told a writer, “When I make love to women I like to hurt them, I like to hear them scream.”

Forget all that. Even if I know nothing about Tyson going in, I still vote guilty coming out because, quite simply, Tyson and his lawyers all but tell me to do so. This was Tyson’s defense: I am lewd, crude, a sex fiend, and she knew it.

That’s a defense?

Nuh-uh. That’s suicide. Tyson, 25, sought to drag his accuser, a college freshman, into the mud with him. Even if she knew Tyson wanted to sleep with her, so what? No is no. Rape is rape. You’d figure, at $5,000 a day, Tyson’s lawyers would know that.

Instead, like the weakened boxer he had become in recent years, Tyson abandoned even the slightest jab in Indianapolis. He barreled in, headfirst, and said, “This is me. Deal with it.”

They did.

Guilty. Accuser’s actions no excuse

When the verdict was announced Monday night, Tyson blinked, then went blank. Like many young celebrities, he is not used to hearing “You’re wrong, Mike” — not without 20 bloodsuckers retorting, “Nah, you’re right.” It’s the Elvis syndrome: Surround yourself with hangers-on, swallow their empty praise and go down the tubes. A sad cycle. I see it over and over.

Not long ago, a Detroit athlete told me, with admiration, of how actor Eddie Murphy was so beyond cool, he didn’t even talk to the women he wanted. He looked at them, nodded to a bodyguard, and the bodyguard whispered in her ear, “Eddie wants to see you later.” It was just assumed she would show up. It was also assumed she would, as the expression goes these days, give it up
— especially if she were young and ambitious. The Murphy logic went this way: Do you want to sleep with Eddie and maybe have your life changed, or keep your values and go back to paying the rent?

No doubt, many women would choose the former. There are gold diggers out there, as Tyson’s lawyers suggested. It’s even possible this 18-year-old accuser who agreed to that limo ride and went to that hotel and let that door shut behind her, this woman who just put Mike Tyson away, may indeed have been impressed with the boxing star, liked his money, thought he could help her.

That only makes her dumb.

Not a criminal. Men will never know the feeling

And here is what we should all remember: The lesson of Room 606 in the Canterbury Hotel is not about being dumb, nor is it about being black — although I understand why some people think that. It is not William Kennedy Smith versus Mike Tyson, either. True, both men are well-known and both were charged with rape. But the cases were different, the stories were different, the victims were different and the accuseds’ histories were certainly different. Personally, I wasn’t very fond of the smug Mr. Smith, either.

But to get lost in that smoke is to miss the point entirely. The point is about men and women and respect. Here is one thing Tyson and I have in common, along with every other male on this planet: We do not know the fear of rape. We do not know the horror as a member of the opposite sex, realizing, suddenly, that you are outmuscled and outsized, you cannot make it to the door, you are about to be grabbed, pinned down, violated, humiliated, and all your strength will still not save you.

We do not know this because we are men. We are bigger and stronger.

It is why we have been raping for centuries.

It is also why it has to stop.

Maybe now it will, at least a little. Critics see this verdict and say it will encourage conniving women. Frankly, I worry less about a nation full of gold diggers than a nation full of men had Tyson been acquitted. What a message that would have been! Be as lewd as you can be; it’s their word against yours.

Not anymore. You feel sorry for Tyson, who could have been a wonderful story, youngest heavyweight champ in history. Instead he grabbed the crown, took the money, and figured, rather than change his old street ways, he could now justify them. When women rebuked his sexual advances, he reportedly told them, “Don’t you know who I am?”

Yes. A man that just got caught. Sooner or later, Tyson will go to prison for this. And when he sits in his cell, he may finally hear the voice that shocked jurors in the courtroom: his voice. For in the end, Mike Tyson became the moral of his own story. This was the moral: You can’t just take what you want, no matter who you are.

That’s pretty clear. Even from France.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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