- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2002

The District's active pursuit of a Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis heavyweight title fight, contrary to popular belief, is not foremost about money. It is certainly not about advancing the sport of boxing in the city. And it's not really about giving D.C. hotels, restaurants and limo companies a timely shot in the arm.
To be certain, all those elements are firmly on the minds of Mayor Anthony Williams and the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission as they swim against a heavy anti-Tyson tide and push for a June 8 bout at MCI Center. But at the core, their actions speak most to ego and Washington's all-out desire to play host to every Big Event possible.
Consider the Williams track record in sports since his early 1999 entry into office. Washington has played host to the 2001 NBA All-Star Game, the 2000 MLS Cup, the debut of the Women's United Soccer Association, the 1999 NBA Draft and will see an East subregional of the NCAA men's basketball tournament at MCI Center next month. The District is now pushing hard for a major league baseball franchise, the 2012 Summer Olympics and a high-end, soccer-specific stadium for the Washington Freedom and D.C. United.
The city is even eyeing a return of the Washington Redskins, perhaps well before the team's covenants with the state of Maryland expire in 2027.
While the Redskins remain at FedEx Field, District officials also have heartily welcomed the NFL's new consideration of the Landover stadium as a potential Super Bowl site.
Baseball in D.C. has been a hot-button issue for 30 years, and the NCAA's basketball party is always well received here. But in several other cases, there has been no meaningful groundswell of citizen outcry to seek out the events.
The 2000 MLS Cup drew 18,000 fewer fans than the '97 Cup held at RFK, the crowd for the NBA Draft didn't come close to filling MCI Center and ticketing problems marred the WUSA debut. And even the U.S. Olympic Committee, despite still holding Washington in consideration for the 2012 Games, is not sure how the Olympics will mesh with the area's already choked transportation resources.
When questioned about pursuing these events, Williams and other D.C. officials respond almost exactly the same each time: We're the capital of the free world. We're the center of democracy. Why shouldn't we have these events? The argument is then supplemented when considering the sporting successes of second-tier cities such as Tampa, Fla., Atlanta, New Orleans and Minneapolis, each of which has played host to a Super Bowl and a Final Four.
"We're convinced we have what it takes here to receive the [International Olympic Committee] bid to host the [Olympic] Games," said Williams last year. "The long and short of it is that a day doesn't go by where we don't greet visitors from all around the world. We do this as a normal course of business."
The prospect of a Tyson fight, however, represents the first real challenge to Williams' notion of manifest destiny when it comes to big-time sports, and that in turn likely lies at the heart of recent attempts to lower his profile on the issue. The NBA All-Star Game here sadly became connected with a homicide, and several of the players present here and selected at the NBA Draft came with checkered pasts. None of that, though, was a lightning rod like Tyson, a convicted rapist who remains disturbingly prone to public fits of rage.
Plenty of organizations, such as the National Organization for Women, are challenging the boxing commission's forthcoming licensing of Tyson simply on the basis of his notorious rap sheet. But what is most intriguing is the reversing of Williams' logic by Rep. Michael Oxley, Ohio Republican, and others. Instead of seeking the Big Events because everybody else is, some Tyson opponents including Oxley want the District to back off simply because Nevada, the unofficial capital of U.S. boxing, did so and the Association of Boxing Commissions urged the rest of the country to follow suit.
"I urge you to follow the wisdom of Nevada, Texas, and other states that have rejected license applications for Mr. Tyson," Oxley, an outspoken advocate for boxing reform, wrote to Williams. "If such a fight is allowed to go forward, the District of Columbia will sacrifice far more in its loss of prestige and reputation than any amount of money that could be gained."
Therein lies the key question with Mike Tyson in Washington. Williams and the boxing commission want this fight, like any other big-time event, because of its ability to place Washington on a global stage, and advance its stature in matters beyond government. But if the anti-Tyson protests continue en masse and Williams is perceived as defying the will of the people, the NCAA, Major League Baseball and others may think twice before making their way again through D.C.
"Right now, no other league or organizer is going to view this as a black eye as they make decisions on where to hold an event," said Dean Bonham, a Denver-based sports marketing executive. "But if this keeps going and turns into a real brouhaha, then that's a different matter."


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