- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 14, 2004

Two former heavyweight champions made headlines this week. They are different people now, but once, when they were young, George Foreman and Mike Tyson were much alike.

Those who would say Tyson — who reportedly is nearly broke — is a victim of those who preyed on him should take a look at the life of Foreman, who at 55 is preparing for a one-fight comeback and consider that everyone has the opportunity to make the right choices in life.

Foreman, when faced with the prospect of his life bottoming out, made the right choices.

Tyson, when faced with the prospect of his life bottoming out, reached for a bigger shovel.

We all know Tyson had a hard life as a young boy, coming from a dysfunctional family and becoming a street thug in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Foreman’s life was no better. His father drank and eventually left home. His mother beat him, and his siblings blamed him for breaking up their parents. He grew up in the tough “Fifth Ward” of Houston, which was called the “Bloody Fifth.” Foreman wrote in “By George,” his autobiography:

“Every weekend someone got killed in a knife fight. And if your enemies didn’t get you, the police would.”

On those streets Foreman had the reputation of being a bad boy, a feared bully. “I used my size, my fists and my strength to take what I needed,” Foreman wrote. He talked about how he and his friends mugged and beat people.

Foreman wrote that for him, violence had become second nature. “Everyone knew my reputation, and they knew it was a reputation that I cultivated.” He wrote how one time he walked up to a kid he had never seen before and “busted his face” simply because a friend told him to do it.

That was once the George Foreman who we have come to know and love today.

He was saved from those streets by the Job Corps program and got into boxing. He won the gold medal in the 1968 Olympics and went on to demolish Joe Frazier to become heavyweight champion. But while he was functioning, he still had not changed fundamentally. He was still a bad guy, the bully who ruled the Fifth Ward, except now he had money and status.

It wasn’t until his status disappeared, first by losing to Muhammad Ali in Zaire in 1974 and to the unheralded Jimmy Young in 1977 that Foreman changed.

Foreman underwent an epiphany in his dressing room. It was where he made the decision to commit his life to his faith. “I had been given a second chance,” he wrote.

Foreman quit boxing and became a minister. He returned to fighting 10 years later, this time as the George Foreman who was friendly, gregarious, humorous, compassionate and very, very successful.

He won the heavyweight championship at 45, knocking out Michael Moorer. He became one of the most successful pitchmen in sports history. And he made nearly $140million simply by attaching his name to some grill being sold on late night infomercials.

He has become an American icon.

Mike Tyson had the same chances Foreman did. The loss to Buster Douglas in Tokyo was the kind of event that could have been life-changing. But nothing changed.

Then there was the deep, deep hole into which Tyson descended — the Indiana rape conviction followed by three years in prison. Supposedly, Tyson underwent some sort of epiphany in prison and converted to Islam. Then he walked out of jail and into the waiting arms of Don King — the promoter he is suing for more than $100million.

It seemed as if Tyson bottomed out when he lost control in the ring and bit Evander Holyfield’s ear in their June 1997 rematch — another moment that could have engendered change.

Instead, Tyson wallowed in the muck of the bottom of humanity to the point where he is now — supposedly broke. Let’s remember, however, there is broke and there is broke. If you or I were down to our last $5,000, we wouldn’t be living like Tyson is, with mansions and cars. Surely he still has the ability to put his hands on large sums of money.

Tyson has been given countless chances and failed to take advantage. Though he has claimed bankruptcy, no one doubts Tyson can make money anytime he wants by simply showing up any place in the world and fighting whatever stiff is put in front of him.

The best thing that could happen to Tyson now is for him truly to go bankrupt — no money and no means to allow him to keep wallowing. Then he would have to sink or swim.

If Mike Tyson chose to swim, he could become like George Foreman. Only this time, their common thread would be salvation, not sin.

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