On the Ropes

A stormy visit to an Indiana beauty pageant raises a disturbing question: Is Mike Tyson out of control?
September 08, 1991

In this corner, weighing 216 pounds, the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, a man once hailed as "the savior of boxing" and "Kid Dynamite" ...Iron Mike Tyson.

And in this corner, weighing 216 pounds, an undisputed menace to society, a man now called a "serial buttocks fondler" and "a ticking time bomb" ...Michael Gerald Tyson.

Last week a special Marion County, Ind., grand jury neared the end of its three-week-old investigation of allegations that Tyson raped an 18-year-old contestant in the Miss Black America Pageant in his Indianapolis hotel room during the early-morning hours of July 19. The six-member panel, three men and three women, was expected to decide whether to indict or clear Tyson sometime this week. Even if Tyson is not indicted—agreement by at least five of the jurors is necessary for indictment—his troubles won't be over. That's because his biggest opponent is not the 110-pound college freshman who accused him of rape. His biggest opponent is himself.

The accounts of half a dozen contestants in the Miss Black America pageant, as well as others who were in the company of Tyson during a tumultuous 37½-hour visit to Indianapolis, portray a man whose behavior is, at the least, an embarrassment to himself and to the sport he represents and, at worst, dangerous. What's more, the accusations against the former champion come as little surprise to those who have watched Tyson closely over the years, especially since the deaths of his two mentors, Cus D'Amato in 1985 and Jimmy Jacobs in 1988.

According to one source, one of those most concerned about Tyson's behavior is Don King, the promoter who effectively took charge of the fighter's career in 1988. The source says that King has come to realize that he should never permit Tyson to venture anywhere alone. Says this source, "King knows that by himself he can't chaperon Tyson [King was not at the pageant]. He doesn't have the energy or the wherewithal to do it. He uses relays so that there is always someone with Tyson." These King designees cannot control Tyson; their role, says the source, is simply "to help Tyson out and to contact King immediately if anything goes wrong."

That King's fears are well founded—and that Tyson is his own worst enemy—becomes clear in a recounting of the visit Tyson made to Indianapolis from July 17 to 19 in conjunction with the 21st Indiana Black Expo, a celebration of African-American culture, and one of its events, the Miss Black America Pageant. Not only was Tyson accused of having committed rape while in Indianapolis, but he is also a defendant in two civil lawsuits asking more than $100 million in damages and alleging that he fondled participants in the pageant. Black Expo will no doubt survive the damaging publicity that attended Tyson's visit, but the beauty pageant may not. Finally, in his seeming rush toward self-destruction, Tyson jeopardized his Nov. 8 fight with heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield as well as his future: Conviction for rape can carry a sentence of 20 to 50 years.

Tyson arrived at Indianapolis International Airport at 4:25 p.m. on Wednesday, July 17, to appear at Black Expo at the invitation of the Reverend Charles Williams, the president of Black Expo. Among the other VIPs attending the Expo were soul singer Johnny Gill, Army general Calvin Waller, actor Danny Glover, Chicago Bulls guard Craig Hodges and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who hoped the well-attended Black Expo would afford an opportunity to raise money for his financially strapped Operation PUSH. But Tyson turned out to be the biggest attraction.

Tyson, along with his bodyguard Dale Edwards and an Expo representative, spent most of that first evening in the company of B Angie B, a rap singer and friend of Tyson's. The four of them partied at three sites. At 2:15 a.m. on July 18, Tyson and B Angie B retired to his room at the Canterbury Hotel.

Because of downtown development, the Canterbury appears to be teetering over a 40-foot-deep hole the size of a city block. Tyson began to dig a hole for himself when he and Gill left the hotel around noon and headed for the nearby Omni Severin Hotel, where rehearsals for the pageant were being held and promotions for the event were being taped. One contestant, Noemi McKenzie, from Woburn, Mass., recalled the scene for SI: "We were rehearsing, and when Tyson walked in, everyone was so excited. I thought, Oooh, Mike Tyson. We all wanted to take pictures with him. While we were taking pictures, he started touching us and rubbing up against us. When he did it to me, I felt offended. I mean, you don't touch people like that, you know? I put him right in his place. [He] acted as if he had walked into a room full of sluts." McKenzie said that Gill, on the other hand, "[behaved like] a perfect gentleman."

Artavia Edwards, a contestant from Sacramento, says that in an attempt to discourage Tyson's advances, she told him that she had a boyfriend. When he persisted, she ignored him, but to no avail. "Why you want to do me like that?" he asked her. According to Edwards, Tyson stared at her and then said, in reference to her pants and loose-fitting blouse, "Why did you wear something like this? I can't see what [your figure] looks like."

Edwards says that shortly afterward, Tyson "grabbed my butt. From then on, I stood with my hands clasped behind my back to protect myself."

After posing for pictures and signing autographs, Tyson, who was wearing a button reading TOGETHER IN CHRIST, recorded a promotion spot for Miss Black America in which he performed these rap lyrics: "I'm in a dream/Day after day/I see beautiful women/In such an array."

A dream for Tyson, perhaps, but the pageant was fast becoming a nightmare for many of the entrants. It was, according to McKenzie, "one disappointment after another." The women had been living three to a room and were left to fend for themselves. The pageant provided them with neither adequate food nor chaperons. "If we had had chaperons," says McKenzie, "maybe none of this would be happening."

McKenzie says that when she told J. Morris Anderson, the organizer of the pageant, about Tyson's crude behavior, Anderson dismissed her complaints, telling her that Tyson was "just showing that he was in a good mood." Nevertheless, on Aug. 13 Anderson himself filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Tyson, Williams and Indiana Black Expo for "conspiracy to ravage, rape and despoil the Miss Black America Pageant." According to the suit, "Rev. Williams and the Black Expo hid behind the cloth of the ministry and brought Mike Tyson into the rehearsal hall to feast on the flesh of the Miss Black America Pageant Queens."

In a 60-page legal document filled with such nonlegal phrases as "glittering, dirty, rotten, monkey-faced lie," Anderson named 10 contestants who, he said, were either fondled or propositioned by Tyson. In the suit Anderson also coined the now famous description of Tyson as a "serial buttocks fondler." He liked the appellation so much he used it three times.

Most of Anderson's charges stem from the 90 minutes or so that Tyson spent with the contestants at the Omni Severin. Later that day Tyson attended the ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the Expo at the Hoosier Dome along with Jackson, Williams and Indianapolis mayor William Hudnut, who gave Tyson a key to the city. At these ceremonies Tyson encountered the reigning Miss Black America, Rosie Jones, who three weeks later filed a $100 million lawsuit against Tyson for sexual harassment. (Her lawyers made a Freudian slip in the suit, referring to the event as the "Indiana Black Expose.")

Jones told SI that at the ribbon-cutting ceremonies Tyson put his arm around her waist, after which "his hand went someplace I didn't expect it to. He said, 'You're so fine.' When I said stop, he said, 'What's wrong, you don't want to help a black man out?' I said, 'You don't need my help.' " Jones said her boyfriend approached, and Tyson said, "Oh, is this your woman? Are you going to beat me up?"

After the ribbon cutting, Tyson, Williams, Jackson and several others drove to the Black Orchid restaurant for dinner. In his lawsuit Anderson charges that Williams forced one of Williams's employees, a student intern from Butler University named Donna Thompson, to get into the limousine with Tyson on the way to the dinner. The suit alleges that Thompson tried in vain to leave the car, saying to Williams, "I work for you, but I'm not your prostitute."

In an interview with SI, however, Thompson disputed much of Anderson's account. She told SI, "In no way did anybody behave the way he [Anderson] said they did." But Thompson, who did attend the dinner with a large crowd that included Jackson and Tyson, acknowledges that she was frightened by Tyson. She says, "Jackson's bodyguards kept saying things like 'Don't worry, we'll look out for you,' and 'Mike Tyson is a dangerous person.' They put that idea into my head."

Thompson says that when Tyson followed her into the backseat of the limo after dinner, he noticed that she was nervous. According to Thompson, he said, "Are you afraid of me?" and she replied, "No, I'm afraid of the situation." Then Tyson said, "I got the wrong impression. You're a nice girl. We'll take you home." Tyson's driver dropped her off at her hotel, and the limo, with Tyson aboard, headed to the Hoosier Dome for a Johnny Gill concert.

In an Aug. 25 story, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Tyson went backstage and was greeted with a hug and a kiss by the contestant who would later accuse him of rape. According to the newspaper's account, which is described as "bull——" by one of the alleged victim's lawyers, Tyson had arranged to meet the woman at the Omni after the concert. The Journal-Constitution said that he picked her up at about 2 a.m. on July 19 and took her to his room at the Canterbury, number 606.

At about 4:45 a.m., a front-desk receptionist was told that Tyson would be checking out. Whether he was beating a hasty retreat is a matter for conjecture, but he had prepaid for another two nights and was supposed to have attended a few functions the next day, among them a visit with some local boxers and a trip to a local jail with Jackson. At 6 a.m., Tyson boarded a flight to Cleveland, where he has a home.

In the days after the alleged rape was reported in the press, two pageant contestants, Tonya Traylor and Norma Dolmo, provided what at first appeared to be an alibi for Tyson. The two women said that they were with him at the time of the alleged rape. However, a maître d' at the Canterbury told SI that several members of the staff who were on duty that night saw Tyson in the hotel at roughly the time he is said to have returned there with the alleged victim.

In a conversation with SI, Traylor, who lives in Miami, confirms only that she was with Tyson at the concert until 1:30 a.m. "I don't want to say anything else about it, because maybe she [Tyson's accuser] got her times mixed up," says Traylor. The beauty contest was held the night of the 19th, and Traylor says she perceived nothing out of the ordinary about the alleged victim's behavior during the competition. "But how she was then has no bearing on what might have happened the night before," says Traylor.

The alleged rape was not reported to police until 2:52 a.m. on Saturday, July 20, more than 24 hours after the attack is said to have occurred and shortly after Tyson's accuser went to the emergency room of Methodist Hospital. But such a delay is not uncommon in rape cases. In any event, because Tyson had left a DO NOT DISTURB sign on his door, the Canterbury's housekeeping staff had not made up his room, so the police were able to gather such potential pieces of evidence as the sheets, a comforter, a T-shirt, toothpaste, a toothbrush and mouthwash.

What really happened early on the morning of July 19 in room 606? The News of the World, a London tabloid, ran a purported account of the alleged rape. Reporter Liz Hodgson, quoting the contestant's father and her "best friend," wrote that Tyson charmed his accuser, who was identified by name in the tabloid, up to his room and forced himself on her as she came out of the bathroom. "She tried to fight off the attack," the friend is quoted as saying, "but it was no use. I'd have been terrified to try and fight Mike Tyson, but she was brave. She's hardly 110 pounds, a real lightweight. He said to her, 'Don't fight it. I'm the champ.' " The friend also says that Tyson tore her pants and pinned her on the floor.

According to The News of the World, the father of the alleged victim said that his daughter was excited about going on a date with Tyson because "he was my boxing hero." The father was also quoted as saying that after the attack Tyson told her to leave, and "she went downstairs and found the lady limousine driver, and she told my daughter, 'I think I know what you just went through.' "

Contacted by SI, the father said he had never spoken to The News of the World. One of the family's lawyers, Ed Gerstein, says that the "best friend" alluded to by the paper is not a close friend of the alleged victim and that the story as a whole is "close, but no cigar." The alleged victim and her family have repeatedly declined requests, including offers of money, to tell their side of the story, in part, they said, because they did not want to jeopardize the grand jury proceedings and in part because they do not want to appear to be after easy money.

"People say we only want money, but they're wrong," the father, a bookkeeper, told SI. "I could care less about money. He [Tyson] needs to be stopped. I won't have him getting away with something at the expense of my daughter."

Also keeping mum about that night is the "lady limousine driver," Virginia Foster, who testified before the grand jury and is regarded as a key witness. A guidance counselor at an Indianapolis junior high school, Foster ran the Solid Gold Limousine Service with her husband, Sidney. The company has since gone out of business, and on the advice of her lawyer, Robert Hammerle, she is not talking to the press. Hammerle told SI, "She was thrust into this thing against her will. She thought she was going to have a couple of exciting days in her limo. Instead, because of Mike Tyson, she has been thrust into the bowels of hell. She has been left on Dante's ninth ring. She has a story to tell, and it is a great story."

Foster is one of more than 20 witnesses who were called before the grand jury. Among those believed to have been subpoenaed were Williams, Tyson's bodyguard, several Canterbury employees, Methodist Hospital staff and forensic experts. The grand jury may have seen videotapes of the pageant rehearsal, including one in which Tyson is seen making a date with the alleged victim. Such a lengthy investigation is unusual in grand jury proceedings, but Marion County prosecutor Jeffrey Modisett is obviously determined to be both thorough and deliberate—overly so, in the view of the alleged victim's lawyers. Modisett has been on the job for less than a year, and his chief counsel, David Dreyer, has never had a case of this magnitude. They are up against Vincent Fuller, a Washington, D.C., defense attorney who is considered to be among the best in the business (his clients include would-be presidential assassin John Hinckley and King, for whom he won an acquittal on tax-evasion charges) and highly regarded Indiana defense counsel James Voyles.

One surprise in the case is that Tyson honored the grand jury's subpoena to testify. Targets of criminal investigations seldom risk going before grand juries, but Tyson testified last Friday for nearly three hours, immediately after an appearance by bodyguard Edwards, who was on the stand for almost four hours.

Fuller and Voyles took advantage of an Indiana law that allows the target of a grand jury probe to be accompanied by counsel. But they took a big chance that Tyson, if indicted on the rape charge, could also be indicted on additional charges stemming from his testimony, including perjury. Says one attorney familiar with the case, "They're trying the legal equivalent of the suicide squeeze. But maybe they feel Tyson can talk two out of the six jurors out of an indictment."

If there is no indictment, Tyson can't be charged again unless new evidence surfaces. The alleged victim can pursue a civil suit, although Gerstein is worried that "she'll be absolutely destroyed if there's no indictment."

All parties involved in the Nov. 8 fight (including the pay-per-view service, TVKO, which is part of Time Warner, SI's parent company) insist that even if Tyson is indicted, he would still be innocent until proved guilty in a trial and that his bout with Holyfield at Caesars Palace would take place as planned. There would, however, be a cloud over the promotion, which is called, simply, Tyson vs. Holyfield, a departure from the hyped-up billing of most recent big-ticket championship fights. If that cloud is dark enough, it is conceivable that one of the sanctioning bodies—the WBA, WBC or IBF—or Tyson himself might cancel the fight.

Whatever the grand jury's decision in the rape case, fears about Tyson's behavior won't be easily allayed. Who is to blame for the sordid events in Indianapolis? One could point a finger at the Reverend Mr. Williams, as Anderson does emphatically, for bringing the fox into the henhouse, so to speak. One could also blame Anderson for running such a haphazard pageant. Or one could cite King, who, for all his efforts to keep tabs on Tyson through intermediaries, should perhaps have been by his side during this event.

But, of course, it is Tyson himself who is ultimately responsible for his actions. Tyson, remember, is his own toughest opponent, and one boxing figure who knows him well fears that sooner or later Iron Mike will go down for the count. "Tyson will self-destruct," this observer says. "If this incident doesn't do it, another one will."

PHOTOEDMUND POWELL/OMEGAIn Indianapolis swimsuits gave way to lawsuits, including one that Jones (left) brought against Tyson. PHOTOPAUL JORDAN/OMEGA[See caption above.] PHOTOEDMUND POWELL/OMEGAOn July 18, Tyson prayed with Jackson and disported with Traylor, who provided him with what appeared to be an alibi in the rape case. PHOTOGREGORY SCOTT/OMEGA[See caption above.] PHOTOGREGORY SCOTT/OMEGATyson spent his first evening in Indy, and part of the next day, with rap singer B Angie B. TWO PHOTOSPAUL JORDAN/OMEGAAnderson (left) has sued Tyson and Williams, accusing them of "feast[ing] on the flesh of the Miss Black America Pageant Queens." PHOTOGREGORY SMITH/MOSAICTyson hired Fuller, another heavyweight, with instructions to help him out of his jam.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)