MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Everybody assumes there are only two sides to Mike Tyson. Bad. And worse.
But what if there’s a sensitive side, too?
What if the man who’s done time in prison for rape, beat up two old guys after a fender-bender, taken a bite out of opponents and assaulted dancing partners, parking-lot attendants and referees has changed?
Rather than risk exposing a different side of Mike to reporters so close to the fight, his handlers canceled a scheduled news conference on Tuesday. But somebody in charge had a change of heart Wednesday, agreeing to let Tyson answer questions from a busload of schoolkids and radio-contest winners dropped off in the ballroom of a Tunica, Miss., casino.
For 20 minutes, while pausing occasionally to wipe away sweat from a just-completed workout, Tyson patiently fielded questions, including a few from several reporters who managed to infiltrate the crowd.
While the training session was short, it apparently lasted long enough for Iron Mike to unload that day’s physical and mental hostilities. As the queries flew, Tyson didn’t threaten even once to eat any of the children in attendance, stomp anybody’s private parts or perform frontal lobotomies free of charge.
Question: “Mike, any distractions this week?
Tyson: “No, unless you’re going to pop up with one.”
This was not the first time this week that Tyson made a conscious effort to upgrade his image. On Sunday, a trio of demonstrators carried signs outside the gym where he was training, protesting against a litany of homophobic remarks Tyson has made in the past.
As he was leaving the gym in an SUV, though Tyson ordered the car stopped and got out. Instead of slugging a demonstrator, he hugged one.
“I’m not a homophobe,” Tyson said, conveniently forgetting that after biting Lewis’ thigh during a news conference last January, he stood on the stage in front of a crowd and offered to initiate several onlookers to the joys of prison sex.
But that was the old Mike. When the new Mike drove to the gym the next day and found no demonstrators waiting outside, he remarked to pals, “Where are my homosexual friends?”