How Did Mike Tyson Become More Popular Than Tiger Woods, Pete Rose, and LeBron?

Jason WorkmanCorrespondent IJune 14, 2011

CANASTOTA, NY - JUNE 12:  Mike Tyson gives his induction speech during the 2011 International Boxing Hall of Fame Inductions at the International Boxing Hall of Fame on June 12, 2011 in Canastota, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

This week, as I watched Mike Tyson enter boxing’s hall of fame, it occurred to me that the most stunning part of his career wasn’t how he knocked people down, but how he has finally picked himself back up. This is not an indictment of Tyson, nor is it a condemnation of those who support him. Rather, it is a look at our priorities as fans, and how it often times is more fun to hate than it is to forgive. 

Iron Mike Tyson began his career with an incredible 19 straight knockouts, 12 of which came in the first round. By the late 1980s, the meteoric Tyson held all the heavyweight titles and was considered the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. He was on his way to becoming one of the greatest boxers in history before the early '90s dealt Tyson a blow many thought he would never get up from. 

After losing his titles to long shot Buster Douglas in an incredible upset, Tyson spent much of the next year working his way back into the No. 1 contender spot. During that time, allegations were made by Desiree Washington that Tyson has raped the young woman in his hotel room.

During his time on the stand, Tyson was blunt and irritable, and many experts saw his attitude as a detriment to his case. The jury deliberated for 10 hours before delivering a guilty verdict and sending Tyson to prison. The “Baddest Man on the Planet” spent three years in jail before being released in 1995. 

After being released from jail, Tyson climbed back into the ring and seemingly picked up where he left off. He downed Frank Bruno to regain the WBC title, and then Bruce Sheldon to pick up the WBA title. These wins put Tyson on a collision course with retired champion Evander Holyfield. The pair would meet for two of the most famous boxing matches in history.

In their first matchup, Holyfield defeated Tyson by TKO in the 11th round. Tyson’s camp complained afterward about Holyfield’s repeated head butts that went unpunished. In the 1997 rematch, Tyson was disqualified in a stunning third round that saw him bite Holyfield on both ears in revenge; one bite was so savage it took a piece of Holyfield’s ear off. The arena erupted into chaos. Because of the incident, Tyson had his boxing license temporarily revoked.

In 1999, Tyson was sent back to prison for nine months after assaulting two motorists in a fit of road rage. The bout following his release saw him knock out Orlin Norris with a punch after the bell. A similar incident occurred the following year, as Tyson’s refusal to stop punching lead to the referee being knocked to the floor. Following that fight, it became clear just how far Mike Tyson had fallen.

He had this to say:

"I'm the best ever. I'm the most brutal and vicious, the most ruthless champion there has ever been. No one can stop me. Lennox is a conqueror? No! I'm Alexander! He's no Alexander! I'm the best ever. There’s never been anyone as ruthless as me. I'm Sonny Liston. I'm Jack Dempsey. There's no one like me. I'm from their cloth. There is no one who can match me. My style is impetuous, my defense is impregnable, and I'm just ferocious. I want his heart! I want to eat his children! Praise be to Allah!"

To close out his action in 2000, Tyson’s win over Golota was reversed to a no-contest after he tested positive for marijuana in a post-fight drug screen. In 2002, an aging Tyson finally got his opportunity against Lennox Lewis, but found himself knocked out in the eighth round. It would be his last marquee fight.

Since that time, Tyson has had several run-ins with the law. On December 29, 2006, Tyson was arrested in Scottsdale, Arizona, on suspicion of DUI and felony drug possession after he nearly crashed into a police SUV. According to police, Tyson admitted to using drugs and stated he was an addict. Tyson pleaded not guilty on January 22, 2007 and days later, he checked himself into an in-patient treatment program while awaiting trial.

Nine months after the incident in Arizona, Tyson pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine and driving under the influence. He was convicted and sentenced to 24 hours in jail. Most recently, Tyson was arrested in late 2009 for getting into a scuffle with a photographer at the Las Vegas airport. No charges were filed. 

Mike Tyson is no doubt, one of the greatest boxers of all time, but he is by no means a model citizen. The former undisputed champion was convicted of rape, assault, possession of cocaine and DUI. He tested positive for marijuana and bit a piece of another man’s ear off. He proclaimed he wanted to eat another boxer’s children; this all in a time where social media and technology weren’t nearly what they are today. 

And despite all that, he entered the Boxing Hall of Fame this week to respectable cheers. Over the last 20 years, this man has done some of the wildest things we’ve ever seen a professional athlete do. Even so, he’s found forgiveness from his sport and from the public as a whole that few are ever lucky enough to achieve. 

But what has Tyson done to deserve our respect? How are his mistakes more forgivable than those of Pete Rose, Tiger Woods or LeBron James?

Rose is baseball’s all-time leader in hits, games played, at-bats and outs. He was a three-time World Series Champion, an MVP, and a 17-time All-Star at an incredible five positions. He made some poor decisions, but I would say they pale in comparison to Tyson’s.

Even so, until last year, he remained in seclusion, shunned from the sport he loves. To this day, he is a long-shot to ever enter the Hall of Fame. It is apparent to me that players from the steroid era, who admitted to rewriting the record books by cheating, will enter the Hall of Fame before Rose does. 

A more recent example is Tiger Woods. Though still considered one of the greatest golfers in the history of the sport, he has seen himself fall from video game covers and milk ads to the front page of grocery market tabloids. His infidelities, though disappointing, are hardly illegal. And yet, he now finds himself on every “Most Disliked…” list in sports.

How can a man with 14 major championships and an unparalleled dedication to his craft be less popular than a convicted rapist? Woods has provided us all with unforgettable moments on the course, but they are becoming more difficult to recall each day.

And then there's public enemy No. 1, LeBron James. He's one of the most hated men in all of sports, and yet, he’s probably the least guilty of the bunch. A 3-time Mr. Basketball in high school, James was the No. 1 pick by the Cavaliers in the 2003 NBA Draft. That year, he was selected as the NBA's Rookie of the Year.

At just 26 years old, James is already a 2-time MVP, a gold-medalist in the Olympics and a 7-time All-Star. But even with all the accolades, James has found himself under a level of scrutiny few athletes have ever faced. So I ask, what exactly has this man done wrong?

Well, in 2007, he made a stir because he refused to sign a teammate’s petition linking the Chinese government to the tragedies in Darfur. Oh, ok, I got another one. In 2008, he became the first African American male on the cover of Vogue magazine. Some found the cover offensive, though, likening the pose to that of the old King Kong cinema posters. Outraged yet? Wait till you hear this: In 2008, he wore a Yankees hat to a Cleveland Indians’ game! 

And finally, yes, “The Decision.” At the time, I was very over LeBron-mania, and the whole thing turned me off as much as the next guy. But almost a year later, I don’t hold anything LeBron said or did against him. ESPN is just as responsible, if not more so, than is James.

For days, all I heard was speculation about meetings with the Bulls, the Knicks, the Nets, the Cavs, and every day, there was a new front runner. By the time the hour-long special rolled around, most men would’ve rather heard about Kate Gosselin than LeBron James. 

The hatred was spawned, and spurred on, by the media. Would Cleveland fans have burned their No. 23 jerseys if they weren’t on camera? Would owner Dan Gilbert have sent that letter if he knew LeBron would never see it? The answer is no. The NBA had it's new villain. These days everything has to be a spectacle, and with Twitter, Facebook, and 24-hour news, things can get boring really quick.

I’m OK with James being held to a higher standard because of his talent and potential, but it’s gotten to the point now where a good majority wants to see him fail. Instead of these finals being about Dirk and how he carried his team, they were about LeBron and how he let his team down. And ever the class act, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert sent his condolences to James via Twitter; 

“Congrats to Mark C.& entire Mavs org. Mavs NEVER stopped & now entire franchise gets rings. Old Lesson for all: There are NO SHORTCUTS. NONE."

Very subtle Dan.

Would things have been different for Tyson if he boxed in the present day; we can't be sure. What I am sure about, though, is the only thing James is guilty of is being immature. In my book, that’s no crime. 

What do you think, which of these athletes do you dislike the most and why?