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The Socioeconomic Times of Mike Tyson

Could there be social justice for Mike Tyson? James Toback, tries to address this question in his soon to be released film “Tyson,” a documentary that provides insight into the legendary boxer's emotional and psychological inner world.


In the documentary, Tyson's upbringing in the mean streets of Brooklyn, New York, and his later stint as a drug dealer provide the backdrop to a story that is narrated by Tyson. This difficult beginning forms the foundation of his life—the life of a young man who was to become Iron Mike, one of the most fearsome opponents ever to enter the ring. But far from the glory and fame of his adulthood, his early years were spent desperately trying to make a better way with little to no resources.

Hearing Tyson’s voice as the narrator deepens the credibility of the piece. Tyson tells of leaving an upstate New York juvenile center and boxing training, only to return to Brooklyn where he had nothing and resorts to robbing people.

He hadn’t yet embraced the vision of achieving anything worthwhile. He was too consumed with the struggle to survive. Visions of a future as the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion were beyond his imagination.

The 13-year-old Michael Gerard Tyson represents the underprivileged youth of the past and present. In the film Tyson mentions that he had a goal in mind—a goal that gave him the power and initiative to fight. Whether the goal is to get a family out of poverty or achieve a dream, the youth of today have goals as well, but all too many are trapped in socioeconomic conditions that thwart their chances of every achieving those goals.

The height of Tyson's drug dealing career coincided with the end of the Great Inflation, 1979-1980. Reagan had defeated Carter in an economic-centered presidential campaign. The effect of the troubled economy was heavily felt in urban centers such as the Brooklyn borough. Those under the age of 40 may be unaware of the hardships endured during the early eighties because that period rarely gets media attention, but soaring inflation had a devastating impact on the inner city.

Like the economy of the U.S., Tyson had his own financial highs and lows. The costs associated with running a boxing franchise, “conquest of women,” and an extravagant lifestyle all of these things required more funds than he had. In 2003, Tyson declared bankruptcy. He was millions of dollars in debt. Tyson stated in a post-fight interview, after fighting Kevin McBride in 2005, that his motivation for accepting that fight was to pay his bills.

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In December 2008, it was reported that the United States was in a “recession”. CNN, MSNBC, and FOX raced to sound the alarm as The National Bureau of Economic Research confirmed what everyone had been living for at least a year.

According to the Bureau, the U.S. recession began in December of 2007. Economist Diane Swonk said the current economic climate more closely resembles the 1980s than the Great Depression. Although racial tensions in urban centers have lessened since 1980, the criminal response to the economic downturn has not.

Street-wise outcasts, hoodlums, and thugs rob, steal, and even kill to have an unmet need met. Their socioeconomic outlook is grim and they are angry. And, they are not afraid to take vengeance for their poverty by taking others' possessions and lives. Mike Tyson's participation with criminal rehabilitation and drug recovery after many run ins with law enforcement may have led to this realization of the consequences of his past mistakes.

In today's criminal justice system, we must hope and wait for delinquent youth to become fully rehabilitated in the juvenile or prison system so that they come to a self-realization that they, like Mike Tyson, have been fighting a psychological and emotional battle which they are not prepared to fight without proper education and counseling. This is a battle in which they must use their minds and not their fists and, God forbid, not guns!

If the current economic trends resemble the early eighties, we can learn from the past economy's affect on young Tyson's decisions. Tyson's documentary reminds us that our children's decisions shape their future as well as the quality of our futures. Tyson's childhood warns us that our children's decisions are shaped by our economy.

'Tyson' the documentary opens in theaters on Friday, April 24. Check your local listing for times and locations.

Tina Phillips

Tina Phillips has eight years experience in television and film production as well as talent booking and management. In addition, she writes scripts for political, non-profit, and corporate events, and treatments and articles for producers, publicists, and industry professionals. She currently resides in Los Angeles.