Regardless of verdict, Tyson has no defense


There is so much to find offensive in the Mike Tyson trial that it is difficult to know where to begin.

We could start with the fans (fans?) who line up when Tyson approaches the Indianapolis courtroom to cheer him and ask for his autograph, as if he were about to enter the ring.

We must mention the church rally in Indianapolis at which people were asked to pray for "our brother." They're praying Tyson can get through the emotional strain of this trial. No one mentioned, from what I read, the emotional well-being of the young woman he is alleged to have raped.

But what may be most offensive, aside from the alleged crime itself, is the defense that is apparently being prepared for Tyson. It can be summed up in a few words: Tyson is a character of such low moral standing that anyone who chooses his company should expect the worst.

As those of you who have been able to keep up with the trial know, Tyson and the 18-year-old woman met at the Miss Black America pageant in Indianapolis last July. The woman, who was a contestant, said she accepted a date with Tyson after a 1:30 a.m. call to her room because she was excited by the prospect of a limousine ride and the chance for late-night celebrity partying.

The defense seems to be saying that she should have realized Tyson had something altogether different in mind. Why? Well, because of the way he conducted himself during the week of the pageant, which is to say, monstrously.

His conduct was such that he is being sued by the previous Miss Black America for manhandling her and was charged by the contest's director as being a "serial buttocks fondler." The defense -- yes, the defense -- wants you to know that during the contest, he openly pawed women and made suggestive comments to the point that his intentions were obvious.

The crux of this defense must be that after mauling women, when they told him to cut it out, Tyson did. Therefore, the logic goes, if the alleged victim had said no, Tyson would have quit then, too.

And so the defense attorney asked Stacy Murphy, a 19-year-old contestant, about Tyson's behavior. She said: "He was kind of like an octopus. He was touching one girl's breasts, then another girl's behind. He was pretty busy." Murphy also said that because of what she had seen, she decided to have nothing to do with Tyson.

Another contestant, Charisse Nelson, 19, said Tyson rubbed her leg when taking a picture with her. And then, when standing behind her, Tyson said, "Don't bend over like that," and "What I could do with you."

Nelson said she told Tyson not to talk to her that way. She also said that when, at an earlier meeting, Tyson had asked for her phone number, she had said, "W-E-6-1-2-1-2. That's the number for the weather where I live."

The defense may be asking: If these women knew to stay away from Tyson, why didn't the alleged victim?

Is that a defense?

I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know. I do know, however, what it says about Tyson -- that, innocent or guilty of this charge, he is guilty of abusing women.

I know, although the jury will not, that when Jose Torres wrote a biography of Tyson, he said Tyson told him that he enjoyed hurting women. I know that Robin Givens accused him of hitting her.

One woman I talked to said this trial was important because it represented what is often the male athlete's attitude toward women. It has been estimated that as many as one-third of campus sexual assaults involve athletes, which, if even nearly true, says little for the character-building qualities often attributed to sports.

But I think the real issue is Tyson himself. Heavyweight champions are not, historically, abusive outside the ring. Joe Louis was considered heroic and Floyd Patterson is good-hearted and Evander Holyfield is religious. George Foreman is a preacher. Muhammad Ali is a gentle man. Michael Spinks is as stable as his brother was not. If Sonny Liston was a thug, he was a thug not because he was a boxer, but because he was a thug.

Mike Tyson's story began with his sad and violent early life and remains sad and violent. That he is a celebrity today says more about us than about him. The young woman he is accused of raping said she was impressed with that celebrity. She was excited to meet him. She took her camera with her. And then, the young woman -- an honors student, a Sunday school teacher, a Big Sister to a foster child -- says Tyson raped her.

The prosecution has rested its case. Today, Tyson's lawyers will begin his defense. If he's found guilty, he will go to prison for a long time. If he's found innocent, then what? He wouldn't be a convicted rapist. But would he be someone you could ever cheer for again?

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