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NOW vs. Mike Tyson

Why is the National Organization for Women worrying about the former heavyweight champ?

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In one corner, we have former heavyweight champion of the world Iron Mike Tyson, standing 5'9" tall and weighing about 220. In the other corner, we have the National Organization for Women (NOW), weighing in with more than 1 million members and counting.

This "mother" of all bouts is taking place in Washington, D.C., and it could halt a potential June 8th heavyweight title fight between Tyson and heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis in that city.

NOW wants to take on Tyson after the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission voted 3-0 to move forward with a March 12th hearing that could grant Tyson a boxing license.

"The first step has been taken," said commission vice chairman Michael Brown.

Commissioners in D.C. agreed to consider a Tyson fight after the Nevada State Athletic Commission refused to renew Tyson's boxing license. This happened in late January, shortly after Tyson and Lewis squared off at a news conference in New York.

Brown, along with D.C. mayor Anthony Williams, expressed support for a Tyson/Lewis fight, saying it could bring in millions of dollars in revenue to the nation's capital and boost the city's tourism industry, which has taken a plunge since the September 11th terrorist attacks.

"September 11th has changed a lot of things," said Brown. "A lot of hotel and restaurant people are out of work and this fight would be helpful to the city."

But NOW leaders oppose the fight, saying they believe it will give the district and the sport of boxing a black eye.

Terry O'Neill, NOW's membership vice president, said in a press release that "allowing a convicted rapist -- someone charged with numerous counts of abuse and other violence -- to headline an event in the nation's capital is an insult to women everywhere."

She added: "You don't [by allowing the fight] want to indicate that violence against women can be tolerated."

While Tyson is no angel and has a record of violence, he is a boxer who makes his living pulverizing others in the ring. He has also paid his debt to society by serving time for his 1992 rape conviction. Nevada authorities just recently dismissed allegations of two sexual assaults. Since his release from prison in 1995, Tyson has fought 12 times.

Some of the nation's leading black intellectuals and activists view NOW's opposition to the boxer as hypocritical. They believe NOW jumps on sideline issues instead of focusing on more crucial things.

"If NOW spent as much time on welfare reform and against Proposition 209 in California as they are taking on Mike Tyson, women would be further along," said Ishmael Reed, author and cultural critic, who supports the Tyson fight.

"I am not a fan of Mike Tyson, but for an organization that is supposed to be fighting for the rights of women, NOW is misguided in the issues they pick to get involved in," said Denene Millner, author of The Sistah's Rules. She added: "There are so many issues that women are suffering from, things that NOW can take up the mantle for. And they're wasting their time chasing after Mike Tyson."

So, why is NOW speaking up now?

It may indeed have something to do with picking easy targets, like Tyson, to increase NOW's media profile. I experienced this in 1995, when the southern Nevada branch of NOW led a tepid protest against Tyson's first fight after his release from jail, in which he took on Peter McNeely in Las Vegas.

I was in front of the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas when 10 protesters held banners and chanted slogans as cameras and TV crews descended on them. About five minutes later, just after the camera and television crews left, the protesters left as well.

While NOW may truly have an ax to grind, their actions, at least to me, look like a cheap way for them to knock out Tyson, who is on the ropes of a high-profile boxing career.

Lee Hubbard writes on national and urban affairs for AlterNet, where this column first appeared.

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