- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

If you want to know the "real deal" about something, go to a master. In the case of D.C. boxing, that master is Cora Masters Barry.
No one knows boxing like Mrs. Barry, who was Cora Masters during the decade when her name was synonymous with the D.C. Boxing Commission.
For that matter, Mrs. Barry is the only person I know who's actually acquainted with boxer Mike Tyson, whom she first met at a black-tie dinner in New York City about the time he was turning pro.
If anybody has anything useful to say in all this heavyweight hullabaloo about the Bad Boy Boxer being granted a license to fight in the District, it's pugilist Cora.
Mrs. Barry's no lightweight. She has been in a few scraps, even some with the law, and fought like a champion. And she's still standing tall. But no need to dredge up old dirt. Besides, she issued a terse warning if I misrepresent her: "I'll come after you."
We've gone a few rounds before, but I ain't gonna mess with Cora today. I don't want to pick a fight with her. I just want to pick her brain.
"I'm not going to get drawn into any debate about whether Mike Tyson is good enough to fight in D.C.," she says. "I'm only talking to you because there's another voice that should be heard and I haven't heard it."
Oh? What's that?
"I'm not going to be a part of demonizing him. I think [Tyson] needs help more than he needs to fight," Mrs. Barry says. "This isn't a boxing issue. This is a humanitarian issue."
Huh? Help me out here.
"I always felt like he was a victim. He never had a chance," Mrs. Barry says. "People were more concerned with his ring skills than his social skills. Where's the humanity?"
For whom? You mean, where's his humanity?
Not at all. "Boxers are treated like a commodity until [the promoters] get the last drop of blood out of them," she says, adding that Tyson in particular is treated like "a pariah who did all these horrible things."
Mrs. Barry acknowledges Tyson's misdeeds, but says "nobody's looking at him … people want to freeze him in the moment."
She notes "this young man has had a troubled, painful upbringing," and has been exploited by people trying to make a buck instead of helping him.
She believes Tyson when he says he was told to create chaos at a New York press conference with Lennox Lewis to improve ticket sales. "But it backfired … somebody didn't follow the script."
Tyson is unpredictable and uncontrollable another reason not to take a chance on holding the fight here, I suggest.
He's been called a sexual predator. Most recently, two women in LasVegas charged him with sexual assault. Yesterday, prosecutors decided not to bring charges, "It was simply unclear whether the sexual interaction between each of the two alleged victims and Mr. Tyson was consensual or forced," they wrote.
What about the women who consider themselves his victims?
"He was a victim first," Mrs. Barry says. "A lot has been done to him." She points out that when she was on the D.C. boxing commission in the 1980s, "I dedicated my career to protect the fighters from themselves and stupid managers and promoters."
She worked with congressional lawmakers to institute national uniform safety regulations and set up pensions for boxers … to no avail. She firmly believes "boxing rules should be federalized to cut some of this out."
"Boxing exploits fighters; that's why I walked away from it," she says.
Mrs. Barry now concentrates on tennis and is trying to raise funds for the Recreation Wish List Committee, of which she is executive director.
Meanwhile, she questions whether the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight will take place even if the proper licenses are granted because "of what it really takes, the money and the expertise, to promote [a fight] and get your money back and then some … fights are in Las Vegas and Atlantic City for a reason."
That's because the money is made at the gaming tables, not on the tickets. She wonders, as I do, who did the math to come up with the figure of $200 million that the District is said to reap if the Tyson-Lewis fight takes place.
No promoter has stepped forward, and MCI Center owner Abe Pollin has said he's not putting up the fee. So does that mean the city would lose some of the purported proceeds by getting involved in promoting the bout in the name of generating tourist dollars? Isn't there a better way to generate long-term jobs?
"It takes a skilled, experienced person to take on a high-level championship fight without losing their shirt," Mrs. Barry says. "The [local] economy can't sustain that."
Amateur fighters do well in the District, but major contenders and fights have not fared well here, she explains. This is in part because the District has only 2,500 to 3,000 hard-core fight fans "that you can really count on to show up."
Besides the fact that I agree with Mrs. Barry that Mike Tyson needs help, my biggest problem with this fight is granting a license to a convicted rapist. We shouldn't allow him to make easy prey of the women in our town.
Of course, on this issue, I'm whistling in the wind with the National Organization for Women protesters because the critical issue of sexual harassment and assault against women just doesn't seem to matter in the grand scheme of things. We'd rather get bent out of shape about a boxing match than about women who are getting beaten or raped by men every day.
As for the Tyson-Lewis fight tarnishing the city's rebounding image, puh-leezze. Give me a break. We don't have to worry about Madman Mike giving this tarnished city a black eye. There's plenty of shame to share.
Adrienne Washington's e-mail address is [email protected]

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