Same old District of Columbia?

Posted: Feb 25, 2002 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Things aren't like they used to be in our nation's capital. The change in leadership at the White House has ushered in a new era of responsibility. The president and his cabinet are respected. Tourists pass 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and see the executive mansion of the president rather than the nation's most expensive bed and breakfast. On the news and in the think tanks, legitimate public-policy discussions have replaced the instant analysis of Bill Clinton's sexual escapades. Gary Condit's pornographic peccadilloes with a Washington intern and a harem of hotties are finally out of the headlines. The District's mayor, Anthony Williams, has been working to refurbish the city's tarnished reputation after years under the thumb of his crack-smoking predecessor. The crime rate is down, school attendance is up, and some of the streets are being paved. The place no longer looks and sounds like Kabul. With Michael Jordan out of retirement, the Washington Wizards are no longer the laughing stock of the NBA. In the off season, the NHL's Capitals snagged the league's premiere player, Jaromir Jagr. The Washington Redskins have a new coach and will be back in the title hunt before long, even if owner Dan Snyder has to drain every piggy bank he's got. The capital has well-deserved hopes for a Super Bowl, the Army-Navy game and even the 2012 Summer Olympics. There is even serious talk of bringing major league baseball back to the city on the Potomac. Over all, Washington, D.C., is becoming as respectable as possible given that 535 members of Congress still roam the streets. That's what made this week's decision by the Washington, D.C., Boxing and Wrestling Commission so disappointing to those of us who care about what goes on in our nation's capital. On Tuesday, the commission, appointed by Mayor Williams, voted 3-0 to "invite" Mike Tyson to apply for a license to fight the reigning World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation Heavyweight Champion Lennox Lewis at the MCI Center on June 8. The possibility that the misogynistic, cannibalistic, convicted rapist might actually be free on bond to come to such an event garnered more ink and air time in Washington this week than Osama bin Laden. Why would an otherwise sensible, honest and hardworking mayor like Anthony Williams even consider allowing the city's image to be sullied by issuing a boxing license to Mike Tyson? Answer: The only memorable line from the movie "Jerry Maguire" springs to mind: "Show me the money!" Promoters estimate that a Lewis-Tyson bout could be worth $200 million -- the highest take in prize fight history -- with the pair of pugilists making "in excess of $20 million apiece." That undoubtedly sounds good to the political leadership of a city that has lost an estimated $1.2 billion in tourism revenues since Sept. 11. But, according to William Hanbury, president of the Washington Convention and Tourism Corporation, the city's share of a Lewis-Tyson matchup would only be a $6 million to $10 million onetime windfall. And even if the capital's restaurants, hotels, cabbies and tax collectors somehow managed to make that much or more, someone should have paused to wonder why California, Colorado, Michigan, Texas, Georgia, England, Denmark, the Netherlands and even Sin City itself -- Las Vegas, Nev. -- all decided against playing host to Mr. Tyson's unusual behavior. Last week, Georgia's Democrat governor, Roy Barnes, described Tyson, who served a three-year sentence in an Indiana prison for a 1992 rape conviction, as a "sexual predator." And Bill Kuntz, director of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation wrote, "I made my decision to deny Mr. Tyson a license based on his past behavior in the ring ... Mike Tyson is a repeat offender. I have no confidence that his future behavior would differ from his past behavior." For those with short memories, that "past behavior" includes disqualification for biting a chunk out of Evander Holyfield's ear during a title bout in 1997. Those aren't Mike Tyson's only problems. The former heavyweight champion (49 wins -- 42 by knockout and three losses) spent 108 days in jail in Maryland for a 1998 "road rage" assault against two motorists. In Nevada, police have asked that new rape charges be filed against him for an alleged sexual assault last September. And last month, at their chaotic pre-fight press conference/brawl in New York, eyewitnesses say that Tyson bit Lewis' thigh. These are some of the reasons Mike Tyson is having a harder time finding a venue than the nation's supply of nuclear waste. Mayor Williams' spokesman Tony Bullock told my radio audience that "the decision isn't up to the mayor," and that Hizzoner "isn't going to judge the character of every professional athlete who competes in this city." But the honorable mayor can't simply play Pontius Pilate and wash his hands of Mike Tyson. For the good of our nation's capital, Mayor Tony Williams needs to be tough enough to throw in the towel on this fight and give Tyson a TKO. EDITOR'S NOTE: Oliver North is the 1967 Naval Academy Welterweight Boxing Champion.