We’ve been made well aware of the heavyweight champion’s abhorrent views but no one questions why he holds them and why we should expect or demand any different, writes Ewan MacKenna.
When Sonny Liston was a child his father would pummel him so badly that, decades later, the marks on his skin and bones were still visible. “The only thing my old man ever gave me was a beating.” he’d say.
Mike Tyson had a single mother that raised him in barbed poverty, only seeing a kid being bad on the streets rather than simply seeing her kid. “I never saw my mother happy with me and proud of me for doing something,” he recalled. “It’s crushing emotionally and personally.”
As a boy, when Roy Jones’ Dad wasn’t bringing him to watch roosters rip each other apart, he’d take his son to fight guys five years older. “Whenever I made a mistake or got dog-tired, he’d whup me with a plastic pipe,” he remembered. “He’d make me get up, telling me to fight back, asking, ‘Well, boy, you a kingpin or a participant?’”
Still in school, Floyd Mayweather would come home to find needles dotting his garden as he carefully headed for the front door. At first they belonged to his aunt who’d die of aids; later they were courtesy of his equally addicted mother. “People don’t know the hell I’ve been through,” he admitted.
Away from the swag and suits of fight night, boxing is a dark place. Consider what a pugilist does, how they do it, why they do it? We often admire the physiology, only to overlook the psychology but so many great and no-so-great boxers are driven by anger and hatred created out of their horror. Whatever about his talent, in that regard Tyson Fury is no different to so many. Thus, while you may not like what he says, there’s a reason for it and that cause should be remembered as we suddenly go on about the effect of his words now he’s champion of the world.
As a man, Fury often comes across as hideous homophobe. He abused Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko by referring to them as 100 per cent homosexuals. He had to apologise to David Price after saying, “I’m going to put you in intensive care, that’s for sure mate. And you know your gay lover Tony Bellew?” before adding that “gays should all be shot dead”. Recently, the born-again Christian even warned of the impending end of the world when paedophilia is legalised, adding it to the holy trinity of abortion and homosexuality. But such is the nature of his profession, there’s a necessity to separate the boxer from the man, our hero from his reality.
Sure, we can judge the man too, but we won’t remember that man when he retires, for we chew up boxers for their glory and spit them back out when they can no longer fight for our entertainment. Remember that not long ago Fury noted, “Without boxing, I’m f***ed” and that’s the reason Paul Simon picked Fury’s profession when penning, “In the clearing stands a boxer/And a fighter by his trade/And he carries the remainders/Of every glove that laid him down/And cut him till he cried out/In his anger and his shame/’I am leaving, I am leaving’/But the fighter still remains”.
Quite why sportspeople are meant to be role models, we aren’t be sure. Yet within that, the idea of a boxer having to be a role model is as outrageous as it is arrogant. It’s the ultimate Trojan horse for, while there are of course exceptions, so many boxers are dealt an awful hand by society, growing in an existence that forces them to fight and into a profession that’s their only method of escape. Yet then we expect them to teach our society some sort of moral lesson that suits our values. It’s why before his fight last weekend, the Daily Mail ran a headline asking, “Is Tyson Fury fit to fight Wladimir Klitschko?” Meanwhile after his win a column in The Guardian talked about his need to be this role model. It was written by Alice Arnold, a partner of Claire Balding, but while she’s every right to dislike him, she and so many other fail to understand what created the attitude many are rightly repulsed by.
Some things you should know about Tyson Fury. When he was a child he’d hear the screaming as his parents fought before fists would fly. Sometimes it was because his old man wasn’t faithful, in fact he had kids to another woman just down the road. His mother meanwhile was pregnant 14 times but only he and four others survived while one of those was a little sister who lasted just a few days. As an adult Fury has battled drink and more so depression. Indeed until earlier this year his own role model – his father – was in jail for gouging out a man’s eye during a scrap.
“There is a name for what I have,” Fury said a handful of years back, “where, one minute I’m happy, and the next minute I’m sad, like commit-suicide-sad. And for no reason – nothing’s changed. One minute I’m over the moon and the next minute I feel like getting in my car and running it into a wall at a hundred miles an hour. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m messed up… I think I need a psychiatrist because I do believe I am mentally disturbed in some way. Maybe it was the fact that when I was a kid we didn’t have a family life. My three brothers are the same as me.
“But with us everyone is a tough guy. They don’t talk like you and me are talking. But we all cry instantly. Look at me: 6’9, and if someone said this to me in my family I would just cry. All of us would. But we just push other aside, or give each other a punch. After that it’s back to the reality and feeling angry – just with life. I’m looking for something different that’s just not out there. But when I get in the ring I don’t have this feeling I’ve got now. Right now, I really feel like smashing this place up.”
Such anger and hate are a big part of the reason Fury is the fighter he is and the fighter we are celebrating. But now that he’s crawled past what most will never experience, we expect a good human to suddenly emerge. For many boxers their lives mean that’s simply impossible. Like so many before him in the sweat science, Fury is no different as, in and out of the ring, he’s simply a product of his environment.
Sunday Business Post
6 December, 2015