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Head Games
Richard Hoffer
October 26, 1998
To regain his license in Nevada, Iron Mike had to give up his mind
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October 26, 1998

Head Games

To regain his license in Nevada, Iron Mike had to give up his mind

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Now what was it Mike Tyson was applying for? An airline pilot's license? An Amway distributorship? Scuba certification? It must have been a position extremely critical to public safety or the Nevada State Athletic Commission wouldn't have set these degrading events into motion. You don't release a guy's psychological profile to the Web—he has problems spelling? he don't read so good? he has "executive control" deficits?—unless you absolutely have to.

Surely you wouldn't humiliate a man, lay him out for all the boys at SportsCenter to jeer, just for a boxing license. You wouldn't demand the most sensitive of medical records, knowing that they would become public, just to reassure fight fans he would never bite another ear (but would break a nose). It's one thing to make a fighter drop trou at a weigh-in, another to expose every cranial cranny.

Something else must have made necessary the psychological strip search that culminated in the commission's 4-1 vote on Monday to let Tyson back in the game. It's not like we'd been tossing and turning nights, worrying over the "constellation of neurobehavioral deficits" (the report's term) that plunged Tyson into his globally televised temper tantrum. Most of us felt the suspension of his license had been curative enough.

So why was it that the commission packed Tyson off to Massachusetts General Hospital for five days of testing before he was allowed to reapply? True, those commissioners can be a squeamish bunch when it comes to fighters' well-being (though they weren't squeamish enough to protect Tyson from Don King's jailhouse contract, which left Tyson with just 50 cents on the dollar from his $30 million bite-night take-home). But the commission's mental mining expedition wasn't about protecting Tyson or his future opponents. It was about protecting the commission from embarrassment.

We now know that Tyson has difficulties with "impulse control, inhibition of behavior." (Aren't these the very neurobehavioral deficits that qualify him to perform in the ring?) What good is the public dissemination of this news except to insulate boxing authorities from the outcry that would follow another Tyson breakdown? It's hard to imagine some other more popular figure than Tyson being forced to undergo this inquisition with less public outrage. Of course Tyson cultivates villainy and has himself to thank for the lack of support. But even men who appropriate Sonny Liston for a role model deserve their psychic privacy. Maybe especially those men.

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