Consider the case of two champions. Both are the best at what they do; both are black. And both are considered heroes to kids in communities that sorely lack them. Magic Johnson is the one who has taught young men to use condoms.
Mike Tyson is the one who has taught them to use women.
Tyson is on trial in Indianapolis, charged with raping a contestant in a black beauty pageant. People line up to shake his hand as he enters the courtroom, his atomic torso packed into a fine suit. He gets millions of dollars for doing within the perimeter of a ring what, in the real world, brings you an assault charge. This must be confusing.
People say his 18-year-old accuser is a gold digger, that a man so sought after by women need not force anyone. This not only confuses sex and rape; it ignores the central fact of Tyson's life: His profession is aggression. His trial is, inexplicably, being covered in the sports sections of many papers, as though it were just another bout. Perhaps that is how he saw the night in question: I got her on the ropes now.
The Tyson trial brings to mind the prosecution of William Kennedy Smith, who was acquitted of rape in Palm Beach. There is the same bedrock suggestion that a woman who goes to a private spot with a man in the early morning hours should know that sexual contact is inevitable and any story of force incredible.
Part of the Smith defense was that his behavior was perhaps caddish, but not criminal. Tyson's lawyers have taken this even further. They suggest that their client is such a notorious lech that any woman who goes near him knows the risks.
There isn't room to recount all reported Tyson maulings. There was the woman from Queens who said he grabbed and propositioned her in a nightclub, the ex-wife who said he beat her and the lawyer who was reportedly told during a deposition exactly what he wanted to do to her, complete with hand gestures.
At the Miss Black America event at which Tyson met the alleged victim, the organizer, J. Morris Anderson, became famous overnight for characterizing Tyson as "a serial buttocks fondler." But Anderson did not pursue a lawsuit against the fighter, saying he had "second thoughts about participating in the crucifixion of a black role model."
Why in the world should Mike Tyson, be a role model? Whether he raped anybody or not, it's clear he has disrespected black women from one end of this country to the other.
The cheerleader-cum-Sunday school teacher who says he raped her, so young that she refers to the way she felt afterward as "yucky," said she pleaded with him that she had a real future, that she was going to college. She says Tyson replied, "So, we have a baby" and then raped her without using a condom.
In that alleged exchange you have the choices in the lives of thousands of poor kids in this country. College. Baby. Condom. Future. The role model is supposed to be the person who points you toward the right one.
Every day those kids can watch Mike Tyson stride into the courtroom on the evening news, and they can see the middle-aged white women touch his hand, as though he were Wayne Newton or Elvis come back from the dead. And the message of Magic, the message that you have to make something of yourself, be responsible, face your mistakes, be a gentleman, will fade.
The kids in poor neighborhoods, like the one in Brooklyn where Mike Tyson was once a street punk, have already learned from the drug dealer on the corner what Tyson has to teach: that if you're rich and dress well, you can do what you want. At least until you go to jail. Or until you're washed up.
Here is the difference: Magic will never be washed up. In all the ways that truly matter, Mike Tyson already is.
New York Times News Service