Mike Tyson Overflow

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Thank you everyone for your comments and support in regard to the Mike Tyson piece published last month. Some have asked about some other sections that didn’t make the cut or some other interactions with some fighters. Sometimes, to keep the narrative churning, you have make some tough cuts.

I spoke with Chuck Wepner and Ray Mercer. Unfortunately, I did not get to speak to Bernard Hopkins. I actually had no idea he was at the event until he got on the microphone.

So for those that didn’t get enough of Tyson in their diet…

Chuck Wepner is holding court in front of a dozen onlookers at the Venetian ballroom near the honored guest table. The 6’5 bruiser can’t take two steps without someone reaching for his paw and pleading for a photo. With every request, he offers a quick-witted compliment while the wives of his admirers struggle with the camera zoom.

A fan introduces himself and grabs the Bayonne Bleeder’s right hand, the same one that crunched Muhammed Ali’s ribs and forced him to canvas nearly 40 years ago. He whispers in his ear, “You sparred with my brother, Chuck.”

“Hell of a fighter, your brother,” Chuck answers quickly to the unidentifiable face. “I hope he didn’t hurt me too bad.”

I approach. He is huge. I have been around 6’5 athletes before, but I’m in awe of how imposing he is and how big his hands are.

“Give me a buzz. We’ll put something together,” Chuck says as he tosses me his business card for his liquor distribution business. His fight with Ali in 1975 was the inspiration for the movie Rocky. He sounds intrigued in my history of New Jersey boxing book. The flipside of the card is a picture of Chuck, standing over a crumpled Ali. Few men ever have a photo taken of themselves toppling Goliath.

***

“Hey Merce, you need to meet Mike,” his former trainer shouts as my eyes find a mountain known as Ray Mercer. Now in his early fifties, the former WBO champion is still imposing. Mercer was bull in the ring. Fierce. Mean. Everything a crowd craves of a heavyweight. A scene of scavenging zombies feasting in the Walking Dead is more pleasant than watching Mercer’s savage knockout of the recently deceased Tommy Morrison.

The last time he was in a ring, he was actually competing in mixed martial arts. He was fighting former UFC heavyweight giant Tim Sylvia for the Adrenaline MMA promotion. Sylvia was another ominous monster who could be outwrestled in an MMA ring, but not knocked out. Never knocked out.

It took “Merce” a mere nine seconds to nearly behead him.

He approaches me with a warming grin. He is a gentleman and I wish I had more time with him. I want to discuss his controversial title losses to Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. Many people think he won those fights. He’s clearly in a different place, and his friends tell me they are not sure if those losses even matter to him anymore, or if they even ever did. He talks about his charity, findadream.org, and reminds me that being a success in life is about helping children and providing positive influences in their lives. His sincerity is genuine, yet I can’t stop grinning, thinking about Sylvia’s head flying into the stands.

***

When I think of Mike Tyson, I think of June 27, 1988, and the Convention Hall in Atlantic City. I think of the scowl he wore to the ring against Michael Spinks. I think of being a young boy frightened by the monster.

Spinks chose the ever-intimidating “This is it” – a collaboration from Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. It is if the lamb could not pick a better theme for his slaughter.

Tyson’s music was not actual music. It was just pulsating noises and crashes. He wasn’t wearing a robe. He didn’t look at the crowd. His eyesight was on only what was in front of him as he stormed down the aisle. The WBA, WBC or IBF belts were nowhere near him. Plain black shorts and plain black socks. He was all business.

The destruction took ninety-one seconds. After a few uppercuts, Spinks never fought again, and the title was unified. This is the epitome of Tyson’s career in New Jersey, as far as I’m concerned.

Tyson continues to stare at me. I can’t move. I debate telling him that I’m not crazy about Ali. I’m actually a Joe Frazier kind-of-guy. I’ve always been in Smokin’ Joe’s corner. Then I remember there are consequences for spitting in a pit bull’s eye.

Mike Tyson Story Goes Live Today

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Today my Mike Tyson feature/essay was published in Sports On Earth.

When I had the pleasure of interviewing “Iron” Mike two years ago, it was for the sole purpose of  writing a chapter on him for my yet to be finished book, The History of New Jersey Boxing by The History Press.

So as teaching swamped me, and my wife kept magically producing children, and documents became harder to harder to find, the work is still in progress. Yet I always knew I could put a shorter piece together on my night with Tyson, because I got more from him in an hour than I could have ever imaged. And what a story he told me.

For starters, he was an absolute gentleman. He didn’t try to hide when he was bored of one topic or shy of another.  He is a tough interview to prepare for, believe it not. Only for the fact that he has been interviewed a billion times, and asked the same questions over and over. What do you ask the most interviewed athlete of our generation?

Over a steak and a beer, I had an hour to put some questions together from when I first realized he was there. (I had prepared for Marvin Hagler!)

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No, that is not me next to Iron Mike. Of course the one picture someone took of us talking didn’t come out.

This story went through a few different phases and magazines. This was the right magazine for it. Editorially, I’m very proud of the work Sports On Earth has produced over the past few years, and it is an honor to be a part of the team.

Call “Iron” Mike whatever you want. Don’t ever accuse him of not being forthright and honest.

Thanks for reading.

That Time “Iron” Mike Told Me A Secret

The Harvest Of Shame, 55 Years Later

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For those of you that feel awful about yourselves due to your lavish Thanksgiving Day dinner, then here is one more for you to do so.

While we all scoffed and tossed out all the extra food because we just had to have a piece of every dish, we often forget about how that food gets to our tables, and who are the people that pick them.

Fifty five years ago, CBS and Edward R. Murrow ran The Harvest Of Shame segment the day after Thanksgiving. Americans were horrified at the conditions of migrant work.

At some points, it’s not like watching a world from 55 years ago. It almost seems that this story is centuries old by the survival methods these families have to endure.

It was one of those “feel guilty” pieces that the media can put together oh so cleverly. Yet sometimes, it is absolutely necessary. It was also so truthful and so impactful, that the prime time broadcast of a serious news story such as this took a backseat to sitcoms and game shows because, the public just hates to feel bad about itself.

My students often asked me what has happened to this cause – did wages get fixed? How come we rarely hear about it? Is everything OK now?

For the fiftieth anniversary, the story was briefly updated.

It’s a quiet issue usually these days. The faces are different – no longer white and black – as it is not more of an immigrant issue. Now the faces are Hispanic and Filipino. A 2000 National Agricultural Workers survey state that 93 percent are immigrants, and 65 percent are illegal.

There is no lobby for these people, as Murrow states. Not much has changed.

That study states that the average migrant worker has a sixth grade education and the median income is less than $10,000. The outdoor labor, constant travel and pesticide exposure has made the Department of Labor rank it as one of the most dangerous jobs in America. Cesar Chavez’s successes in the 1970’s seem to be disappearing.

What can you personally do about it? Likely not much. But you can make one contribution. You can watch the video and appreciate the great journalism, and accept some harsh information in your life without having to flip to a reality show about rich/stupid people doing rich/stupid things.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

Robert Redford and the ‘Truth’ About Dan Rather

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While Dan Rather is probably one of the most influential journalists in recent history, I have a hard time putting him in my list of my all time greats. In fact, to me, he’s not near the top of the list at all.

Maybe it all started when Walter Cronkite clearly didn’t endorse Dan. Not embracing Connie Chung didn’t help either. Although being an inspiration for the R.E.M. song “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” is certainly points in his favor.

It was Bernard Goldberg, one of my favorite journalists in the world, who opened my eyes in his book, Bias: An CBS Insider’s Look at how the media distort the news. There you saw a new side of Dan – a dangerous side. An arrogant, paranoid side. A side that should not be the most important journalistic voice of a network.

But in reality, it was his role in the “Memogate” scandal that turned me forever sour. Before this incident, it was all innuendo and hearsay. But the Memogate scandal was real, and it was extremely disappointing to see an American icon at the forefront due to just what Bernard Goldberg accused him of – having a political agenda. What he knew, what he didn’t know – well, we don’t know. But verification is key. Two sources are needed. Robert Redford, in his interview below, knows this. Why shouldn’t Dan Rather know this?

Oh, he knows. But a juicy story can make us skip ahead of schedule. Redford mentioned that as well.

Which leads us to this post about journalism movies by Robert Redford aka my favorite baseball player, Roy Hobbs. Redford has made multiple journalism movies in the past and he usually does them so well. He is a tremendous actor, his first foray into the field as Bob Woodward in All the President’s Men is one of the best performances of his career.

His new movie, Truth, finally details the Memogate scandal. I have yet to see it, but I look forward to doing so. In this blog post by Adweek, the site discusses whether each movie he made had a positive or negative influence on the field of journalism. I disagree with their declaration about Truth, because in my eyes, it doesn’t give the industry a black eye to discuss when an icon made a terrible mistake. Don’t hide from it. Instead, accept that it happened and realize that it is unacceptable to happen again.

His last few movies about journalism haven’t done well. But never count the Sundance Kid out.

Are Robert Redford’s Movies About the Media Good for Journalism?

Immersion Journalism

The moment you write the word “I” in your story, your relationship with your reader changes. Because now you are a character just like everyone else. Your observations have to become even more prevalent. Your opinions now have to be known.

You have to ask yourself – is my involvement important enough to be in this story? Am I active enough for the reader to care about me?

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I also use the following examples for my students to understand the role of the narrator while reporting on scene. The first is by Martha Gellhorn, one of the greatest female journalists of all time (any woman who can wrap Ernest Hemingway around her finger is highly desirable in my book). She was one of the first American reporters at Dachau, filling in the rest of the world about the realities of Nazi concentration camps. Her advantage is her brutal honest. I’m glad she didn’t mask her anger. That’s not the point of a first person piece.

Her reporting for Collier’s in 1945: Dachau: Experimental Murder

killer eliteI also show my students a modern take on war, where the baffling management of war is scrutinized. The American invasion of Iraq was chronicled for nearly two months by Evan Wright of Rolling Stone. His story proved that drawing game plans in the mud during a paint ball game may not be so far off from some of the U.S. military strategists. Fortunately, the raw reality of our Recon Marines makes this one of the most appealing war stories you will ever read. Wright also displays an honesty – because he tells us that what the rest of the Marines are telling him is absolutely true – war is exhilarating. And comical. Students could not believe what these men were discussing while facing death, but that is what makes this story all the more enjoyable (and frightening.)

The Killer Elite by Evan Wright For Rolling Stone

Check out the HBO miniseries based on the story titled Generation Kill.