THE TYSON VERDICT; From Spark to Flame To a Roaring Blaze

THE TYSON VERDICT; From Spark to Flame To a Roaring Blaze

By ROBERT LIPSYTEFEB. 12, 1992 italian translation by Guido Carli

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February 12, 1992, Page 00013The New York Times Archives

Seven months before Mike Tyson was born, Cus D'Amato sat by the deserted, neon-splashed swimming pool of our Las Vegas hotel and reminisced about all the nights he had listened at the door of his gym on 14th Street for the footsteps of a boy who would be his next "contender."

This was the night before the heavyweight title fight between Muhammad Ali and Floyd Patterson, in November 1965. D'Amato, who had managed Patterson and Jose Torres to championships, was out of the loop, a "walk-around guy" with his hand out and his mouth open. He dreamed of another kid who would come up his gym's dark, narrow, twisting stairs at night, alone and running scared.

This kid, said Cus, would find himself through dedication and sacrifice. I will teach him about fear, said Cus. It is a fire. It can burn you or keep you warm, destroy you or be the fuel that takes you to the top.

"The guy comes to me with a spark," D'Amato said. "I fan the spark until it becomes a flame. I feed the flame until it becomes a fire. Then I feed the fire until it becomes a roaring blaze."

D'Amato was 57 then, although I thought he was an ancient shaman. His contender never came up those stairs, and Cus moved to Catskill, N.Y., to die. At least that's what he told me in 1984 when I went up to meet his "son."

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Cus and Mike were both filled with the romance of their story. They had given each other a future. Both had been tough, wily street kids, and Mike, robber and head-breaker, had been caught. He was 14 years old, tearing apart a nearby reformatory, when a counselor who had boxed for Cus brought them together. Cus was enthralled. He saw Mike as more than a contender, as his next, his greatest, champion.

Mike was suspicious of Cus for a long time, but Cus, focused, driven, paranoid, imposed his obsession and some of his morality on Mike. He legally adopted Mike.

"I don't succeed when I make a guy champion," Cus said. "I succeed when I make that fellow champion of the world and independent of me. When he doesn't need me anymore."

But Cus died before Mike won the heavyweight championship in 1986, the youngest such champion in history, and before Cus could make him whole and independent. What did he leave out, a superego and a soul, with batteries that would last? A way to control the fire? A sense of who he was?

Sentimental claptrap. Cus may have salvaged Mike, even loved him, but like Dr. Frankenstein, he had his master plan. He created a fiery monster of violence he believed he could contain. There were always portents of Mike unleashed, incidents around Catskill and Albany smothered by cash. The incidents just kept getting bigger and badder, with more money involved.

I am sorry for Mike, although I believe he must be punished and put away before he hurts more people. Rape doesn't stand. But I think of a wild boy who was saved for a while, an intelligent, disturbed young man who lost his way, who was allowed to believe -- who enjoyed believing -- that he was a junior Powerboy who could do what he wanted so long as he made money for influential people like Don King and Donald Trump.

For the next few days, Mike Tyson will be a symbolic character in various morality plays, a villain-victim of the Gender War, the Race War, the Class War and the Backlash against Celebrity Excess.

For sure, it will be said that Tyson was convicted to placate the Gender Warriors angry about Clarence Thomas, William Kennedy Smith and the St. John's lacrosse players. In all those cases, the Race Warriors will point out, the male was either white or under white Powerboy protection, and the female black or presented as somehow tarnished.

The Class Warriors will add that only in Tyson's case was the woman considerably above the male in social standing; in fact, much of the prosecution was based on refuting the defense contention that Tyson had crudely propositioned her early on. It would be impossible, according to the winner's counterpunch, that such a middle-class teen-ager, no matter how star-struck or naive, would hang out with such an obvious brute.

Much of what I believe those Warriors will say rings true to me. The implications are wide, but I don't think they are very deep. The issues of male entitlement, of the celebrity-jock sensibility about women, have yet to be dealt with in ways that young men need to understand.

There is no victory here. This case may prove that "you can't get away with rape," but it still doesn't tell us who "you" is, beyond someone who should have known better, who blew his chance, who was given fire, and was consumed by the roaring blaze.

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