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When Icons Fall (1)

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

The second half of the Twentieth Century saw another category added to the nouveau riche, the celebrity sportsman, and to a lesser extent, sportswoman. This category includes games such as snooker – which cannot properly be called a sport – and even chess. True, the first million dollar gate for a boxing match was way back in 1921 when Jack Dempsey knocked out Georges Carpentier in the fourth round. But in 1927, when the legendary Joe Davis won the first of his fifteen World Professional Snooker titles, he was awarded a trophy and the princely sum of £6.10s, about five weeks’ pay for the average male worker. When Mark Selby won the same title last year, he picked up a cool £500,000.

For decades, other sportsmen won little more than medals and praise, but today, tennis players, all kinds of football players and even athletes can become very wealthy if they have the talent and the dedication. Some of them have it all. Alas, for the man who has everything there is only one thing left to do: lose everything.

Robert J. Fischer is regarded by many good judges as the greatest chess player who ever lived, but after he won the world chess championship he lost his mind. He took the 1972 title in Reykjavík after a series of prima donna like demands while his Russian opponent Boris Spassky was the consummate gentleman.

Failing to defend the title in 1975, he played Spassky again in 1992, winning again, and due to the bizarre circumstances of the match was branded a war criminal. He spent the rest of his life in exile, railing against America and especially Jews, even though he was a Jew himself. The nadir of his madness came when he praised the 9/11 attacks. Robert Fischer died in Reykjavík, where he is buried, on January 17, 2008.

Like Fischer, Mike Tyson was regarded by many good judges as the greatest of all time in his field. A force to be reckoned with, after winning the WBC world title in November 1986, the youngest man ever to do so, he became the undisputed champion of the world in June 1988 with a stunning (some would say disgraceful) 91 second knockout of Michael Spinks. Then came the fall. In February 1990, he was sensationally knocked out by the unheralded James Douglas, a 42-1 underdog. Then came his most shameful loss when he was knocked out by a six stone teenager. In July 1991, he lured the unsuspecting beauty contestant to his Indianapolis hotel room, and raped her.

Many regarded his conviction with suspicion, but Tyson had already shown himself in his true colours before that fateful night. The same year he knocked out Michael Spinks he married the actress Robin Givens. Although she was more two years older than him, she was a trophy wife in every sense of the word. Givens claimed Tyson was physically abusive to her before their marriage, and he would later admit, nay boast, about punching her. They were divorced in 1989.

After his release from prison, Tyson resumed his boxing career but the defeat by Douglas had shattered his veneer of invincibility. He was beaten soundly by Evander Holyfield, twice, and by Lennox Lewis. He also saw the inside of a prison cell again after he assaulted two motorists in a road rage incident.

Violence aside, the most shameful thing about Tyson is his profligate spending; in August 2003, he filed for bankruptcy. However was that possible? Tyson is still around and still in demand, but nowhere near as much as before,

If a rapist, wife-beater and thug is bad, how much worse is a double murderer? In his own field, O.J. Simpson was as big a star as Mike Tyson. After retiring from professional football in 1979, he moved smoothly into showbiz, indeed he acted in quite a few TV series and films before the end of his sporting career. The Juice was a household name. What could possibly go wrong? In June 1994, he murdered his second wife and Ron Goldman in a frenzied knife attack, that’s what could go wrong. Bar the actual double murder, everything about this sordid case was played out in real time, from the slow motion car chase to the outrageous not guilty verdicts in a California courtroom.

Although Simpson was now a free man, the Goldman family were determined to extract what justice they could, pursuing him through the civil courts where he was found responsible for both murders, but of course there was no prison time at the end, so they continued their pursuit, determined to reduce him to penury.

In November 2006, it was announced that Simpson was to publish a (ghost written) book about the crime called If I Did It...Again, the Goldmans were on his case; they were soon joined by decent people everywhere, and the book was cancelled. Sort of.  You can read what happened next here. You can also read the book as published; it can be found at the Internet Archive, but you will have to sign up for a free account and “borrow” it, renewable hourly.

Apart from his time on remand awaiting trial for the double murder, Simpson would eventually spend significant time behind bars. In September 2007, a group of men hired by or otherwise assembled by him carried out an absurd robbery of O.J. Simpson memorabilia at a Las Vegas hotel. As with the previous criminal trial, this was played out before the world. The authorities were not the slightest bit interested in his co-conspirators, and everyone knew it. One was given immunity, three got probation, and Simpson was given a majestic 9 to 33 years. The father and sister of Ron Goldman were in the courtroom to see him sentenced.

Simpson was paroled on October 1, 2017. He still makes the news occasionally. In January this year, his net wealth was estimated at around $3 million. It remains to be seen how accurate is that figure, but he has a comfortable pension which is ring fenced against bankruptcy and other judgments. While he is better off than many Americans in his old age, he will never again be in the limelight, and will die notorious.

One last thing that should be mentioned, although his acquittal was regarded by many as payback for the brutalisation of Rodney King by Los Angeles police, it is possible the jury was bamboozled by his legal team’s antics, or just dumb. At the time, the media portrayed the country as divided by the verdict along racial lines with blacks believing him innocent and whites believing him guilty. It remains to be seen if this was the case, but of those Americans old enough to remember the trial, few if any will now believe he is anything but a cold-blooded killer.

To Part 2.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

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When Icons Fall (2)