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From the window shade to the doorknob, room 606 at the Canterbury Hotel in Indianapolis isn't much more than 15 feet long. Yet last week it seemed to contain the whole of boxing. What happened in that room between former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and an 18-year-old contestant in the Miss Black America pageant in the early-morning hours of July 19 has set boxing on its ear. On the afternoon of Sept. 9, a grand jury in Indianapolis decided that the testimony it heard from two dozen witnesses, including Tyson, relating to what had occurred in room 606 was sufficient to indict Tyson on four felony charges—one count of rape, two counts of criminal deviate conduct and one count of confinement.
That indictment, to say nothing of Tyson's history of abuse of women and the ruthless way in which Tyson and his promoter, Don King, handled a press conference two days after the indictment, prompted an intense debate over whether Tyson should be allowed to fight to regain his heavyweight title from Evander Holy-field as scheduled on Nov. 8 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
Legally, of course, the 25-year-old Tyson has every right to fight. An indictment is not a verdict. At the same time, contrary to pronouncements by those in favor of the fight, Tyson's rights would not necessarily be violated if other parties to the fight tried to delay it by, say, 90 days. Many people seem to think that the argument over the fate of the fight begins and ends with the undeniable fact that Tyson is innocent until proved guilty. Yet individuals accused of crimes are frequently suspended from their jobs. To suggest that the bout be delayed until after the trial, which is scheduled to begin on Jan. 27, is not to prejudge Tyson; it merely reflects the view that proceeding with the event under existing circumstances would be unseemly.
The question is, Should an accused rapist with a documented history of ferocity toward women be paid $20 million or more to display that ferocity in the ring? Should the corporate sponsors of that fight, notably Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), Southland (7-Eleven convenience stores) and Sharp Electronics, underwrite this tainted spectacle? Should TVKO, the pay-per-view service (whose parent company, Time Warner, owns SI), televise it to an estimated audience of 50 million people? For that matter, should anyone feel right about plunking down $40 to watch it?
Tyson's sexual aggressiveness has led him down some disturbing paths before. This is a man who two years ago, upon being awarded an honorary doctorate of humanities at Central State University, stood at the podium and said, "I don't know what kind of doctor I am but watching all these beautiful sisters here, I'm debating whether I should be a gynecologist"; who, according to published reports, was thrown out of a department store in 1986 for making "lewd and obscene" comments to female customers; who once told his biographer that "the best punch I ever threw" was one that connected with his former wife, Robin Givens; who two years ago allegedly tried to kiss a parking lot attendant against her will and then hit the man who came to the woman's aid; who settled a civil suit by paying damages to a woman who said he fondled her as she danced with another man; who was found by a New York jury to have committed battery on a woman who charged him with grabbing her buttocks and breasts at a nightclub; who in a pending suit has been accused by a former assistant to Givens of assault and sexual harassment; and who, Newsday's Wallace Matthews reported earlier this month, took off his pants at a party and began rubbing himself against women.
"Come on, you don't think Mike Tyson is a target?" says Tyson's undauntable public relations agent, John Solberg. "If Mike Tyson had a dollar for every time a girl grabbed his ass, he'd be a billionaire."
But in his biography of Tyson, Fire & Fear, José Torres, a former confidant, quotes Tyson as saying, "I like to hurt women when I make love to them. I like to hear them scream and see them bleed. It gives me pleasure." Tyson has denied those quotes, but Torres stands by them.
And last week Torres told SI that while he, Tyson and the fighter's friend and assistant, Rory Holloway, were discussing one of Tyson's sexual exploits, Holloway said to Tyson, "Oh, yeah, remember, Mike? Remember that girl, she was unconscious, you were [being so rough with her] in the bed against the wall that she was unconscious when I got there. She was knocked out!"
"And they were both laughing so hard," said Torres last week. (Says Holloway, "It's all a lie; I never said anything like that to José Torres.")
One of Tyson's first girlfriends, according to Torres, was a friend of Torres's wife, Ramona. But after two or three months with Tyson, says Torres, the young woman confided to Ramona that Tyson was forcing himself on her in a way that hurt her. "I think they broke off because of that," Torres says.