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Should Mike Tyson Have to Talk About His Rape Conviction Every Time He Meets the Press?

Television
by Sam Adams
July 26, 2013 5:14 PM
5 Comments
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For this week and next, several hundred of the nation's TV writers (including Indiewire's Alison Willmore) are holed up in Los Angeles for TCAs, which is where the TV networks show off the fall season's wares to the Television Critics of America. If you follow more than one of them on Twitter, you can tell its TCAs time because of the echo effect: One tweets something funny Steven Merchant said about his height, followed by another, slightly different rendition of the same joke, and then another. Some of them are slightly chagrined by the duplication; I take it with a smile (and having done much the same in other contexts, I'm in no position to judge). 

But as Linda Holmes writes at NPR today, sometimes the TCA presentations are defined less by what happens in the room than what doesn't. I don't have much experience with press conferences, but I've done roundtable interviews with other journalists, and there's a general sense that no one wants to spoil the vibe. Face to face, a good interviewer steers the mood, often laying a foundation that makes the subject feel you're on their side before getting into the questions they might not want to answer -- it's a natural conversational progression, as well as a strategy. But when there are others involved, you can't control the dynamic, and you definitely don't want to be the one to put the talent on edge. One bad question can ruin an entire session.

So it's not surprising that when Spike Lee and Mike Tyson took the stage to talk about Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, which will air on HBO in the fall, no one asked about Tyson's 1992 conviction for the rape of then-18-year-old Desiree Washington, who said that Tyson pinned her to a bed in his hotel room and sexually assaulted her. Tyson, who started off ribbing A.V. Club critic Todd VanDerWerff for his "very aggressive" questioning (VanDerWerff says he was just talking over another critic, which is almost impossible to avoid in group situations), can be charming: With his tiny voice and beaming smile, he still seems almost like a child. And it doubtless didn't help that Lee is known as a tough interview, voluble when he's in showman mode but tight-lipped and withdrawn when challenged. But as Holmes sat there, not asking about it, the clubbiness of the situation started to eat at her.

It's really, really uncomfortable the way people laugh, the way they call him "champ," it makes me uncomfortable.

But I'm not sure I have a question about it, exactly, and if I do, I'm not sure it's for either of these guys. Maybe it's for the HBO execs, who by this time have left the stage. Maybe it's for the writers in the room. Maybe all the questions are for myself: this conviction is more than 20 years old and he served his time long ago. Should it dominate every conversation about him forever? I'm not saying it shouldn't. Maybe it should. I don't know. I'm uncomfortable. And because I'm uncomfortable, I'm thinking a lot. 

Tyson served his prison time, and though it doesn't matter legally, it does make a moral difference that he still maintains he did nothing wrong. America believes in second chances, right? But allowing Tyson an opportunity to make something new out of his life doesn't mean forgetting what the legal system says he did.

I'll point out with less modesty what Holmes briefly alludes to: She is one of the most persistent and effective critics in the field on gender issues (and on lots that have nothing to do with gender). As a white dude who can write about sexism whenever I want without anyone rolling their eyes and thinking "There he goes again," I can only imagine how tiring it gets being that voice in the room, the one, as Holmes writes "asked ESPN about whether they're going to do more 30 for 30 documentaries about female athletes.... and HBO execs about their entirely male-skewing slate of dramas." Whoever it was to reached out to Holmes and said "Survivors see the license you extend perpetrators" isn't wrong, exactly, but unless that person wrote the same to every critic in the room, singling Holmes out doesn't seem fair.

Maybe Tyson doesn't need to be asked about a 20-year-old conviction every time he steps in front of a microphone. But in a one-man-show that calls itself "the unvarnished truth," the subject isn't just germane. It's mandatory.

Read more: 'Mike Tyson and the Questions Not Asked'

Television
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More: News, Spike Lee, Mike Tyson

5 Comments

  • Jeff | September 19, 2013 2:29 PMReply

    Tyson got his second chance when he was released from prison - there's no need for the meida or the general public to pay his any attention or consideration. He can do what a lot or convicted rapists released from prison do - get a regular job and stay out of trouble. Why is he too good to get a regular job like everyone else? It's also telling that Tyson not only won't admit to his crime, he badmouthed the victim in a TV interview several years ago. He can claim he's innocent all he wants, but his victim was bloody and bruised from his attack on her. So he's served his legal sentence, but he refuses to admit that he is a rapist and an abuser with violent tendencies. This guy isn't the champ of anything, just another washed up, doped up celebrity attempting to relive his glory days by getting his face anywhere in front of a camera that he can.

  • jedi77 | July 30, 2013 7:30 AMReply

    I gotta go with the prevailing sentiment here.
    He should disappear altogether from the public consciousness.

    That he was in The hangover pissed me off so much. Here is this guy, he's a convicted rapist - but we love him anyway... how sweet, and how utterly wrong that is.

    Does that mean that the justice system i broken?
    No, it means that there are acts so disgusting and so terrible that no amount of jailtime makes up for them. It isn't a question of justice and length of prison sentence. It is a question of who you want to be, and who you want others to be. The makers of "The Hangover" allready made their stand. I am making mine. And in my world a convicted rapist should not be "movie star" nor any other kind of star.

  • sedrick | July 28, 2013 6:13 PMReply

    Are we holding everyone to the same standard. Tyson said he was innocent.
    The jury disagreed. He served his time. If he has to answer forever then the judicial system is a failure.

  • Chris Cunningham | July 27, 2013 7:34 AMReply

    He makes my skin crawl, he should not be allowed on screen!

  • jim emerson | July 26, 2013 7:08 PMReply

    In answer to your headline: "Yes." It's a subject of his stage and screen monologue. It's not like he's a private individual; he's making money selling sordid tales about his life to the media and the public. He's been convicted of a violent felony, cocaine possession and DUI (he pled guilty to the latter two in 2007). He bit a man's ear on camera during an internationally telecast sporting event. He says he was high on coke on the set while shooting his cameo in "The Hangover." You are correct: If the press is going to give this guy the spotlight, they have a moral obligation to ask about his pattern of abhorrent behavior. Robin Harris said it all back in 1989 in "Do the Right Thing": "Fuck Mike Tyson! I remember when he mugged that woman right there on Lexington." If Mike Tyson even dreams about appearing in public he'd better wake up an apologize. I wish I never had to see or hear about him again.

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