When Mike Tyson knocked people out, crowds erupted. It wasn’t a clutch shot or impossible catch that ignited the audience. It was a man punching another man that made them jump out of human instinct, blood thirsty and raw, succumbing to the primitive need to watch physical violence. Football sugar coats it with Teflon helmets and politically correct jargon, but sports fans lick their chops just waiting for violent outbursts, and it’s been that way since gladiator battles in the Coliseum. We cheer and heckle loudest when tensions rise, not when civility reigns. It’s a vicious truth, we’re no better than the barbarians that would kill their athletes after a loss. We coddle our own self-loathing with rules and expectations of maturity in our athletes, but it’s such a fine line that there is always an outlier, raising controversy and scaring suburbia with the same intensity they demonstrate in the game.
Tyson certainly isn’t one of the great boxers in history. On a good day, he’s considered at the low end of the top 50. He was inconsistent and his downfall was like an Aristotle play. At the end of his career sat Tyson, head held low, straddling his stool sweating seemingly because of the crowd’s displeasure rather than the beating he took. It was an irony only a twisted mind like Tyson could appreciate. After years of polarizing audiences, dominating opponents and sparking riots in crowds, Tyson fell in front of the same opponent that made him a champion. The fans fought Tyson at times, and crowned him at others, but without an audience, Mike Tyson was just another fighter that had a very good career. Nowadays, Mike Tyson is still fighting crowds. His live, one-man show in Las Vegas is filled with stories and tales of debauchery perfect for the four-man crew on a bachelor party pretending they’re part of “The Hangover.” Who would think Tyson, the monster who genuinely brought out fear in viewers through a television screen, would be dancing and singing in a pathetic sequel? “Everyone has a plan till they get hit in the mouth,” Tyson once proclaimed, it was the perfect microcosm.
When Ron Artest threw an elbow at James Harden, I wanted to believe it was accidental and just a collision in the midst of a celebration, I’d be lying to myself if I believed that. He’d become so far removed from the image that defined him. Like Tyson, the world loved watching Artest’s comeback, embracing his quirky and eccentric personality like a manic Jack Russell Terrier. It’s funny juxtaposing a frightfully terrifying man with comic and childish scenarios. So as condescending as it was for Artest, I always thought it was good that people were focusing on making jokes about his strangeness rather than condemning him for his past inconsistencies. However no more fun for Ron, who will likely face a severe penalty for his unquestionably intentional elbow to Harden.
What Artest and Tyson didn’t get and still don’t is that that instilling fear is a temporary solution. Tyson’s quote shows just how skewed his perspective is. He refers to everybody having a plan then getting hit in the mouth, but the problem is that is his plan. Artest and Tyson see physical violence as a trump card in being the alpha male, and that might hold true on the streets, but look where it’s gotten them.
Tyson, a former heavyweight champion of the world, declared bankruptcy in 2003 and is now selling out worse than a Samuel L. Jackson movie. He’s another washed-up, hot-headed, broke former star working a show in Las Vegas. And Artest? Well who knows how long Ron will sit out, and even after he returns, his reputation as a thug is back. Artest and Tyson thrive off of our society’s obsession with violence, and they both probably went to sleep last night feeling like they were stronger, more successful, and more dominant than any of the opponents they’ve encountered in their days. Foolish pride is an obvious symptom of an over-violenced and uncivilized gladiator. I watched the video of the Malice at the Palace, enthralled and disgusted at the same time, like any spectator watching gladiators battle with fists. Then I closed my laptop, and went to sleep.