June7, 2002

Letter To ‘Iron Mike’ – Check Yourself, Brother

By Askia Muhammad


My Dear Brother Mike.

I wish I could call you by your Muslim name because I want to say something to the “True Believer,” to the man, the pigeon-breeder even, who I believe is living inside of you, inside, along with the self-confessed “vilest man on the planet.”

Your kindly ex-manager and trainer Cus D’Amato is unfortunately long gone and you can whip, or buy and sell everybody else around you. But somebody’s got to talk to you brother to brother.

Check yourself, man.

Please. Check yourself.

That cellblock language that you’ve been talking lately about prostitutes and strippers, and what you ought to do to reporters until they love you, is way out of line.

I like you, Mike, but I’m not with that stuff about killing your opponents and threatening to cannibalize their children.

I know you’ve had a lot to deal with. You probably should have never been sent to that Indiana prison, but you’re out here with us now and you’ve got to let go of that jailhouse mess.

Between the time you went upstate and came back, prison has become like a new rite of passage for too many urban boys and more and more girls. I don’t think you’d even want to live in a society where every one of them started acting just like you do.

You are such a powerful symbol, Mike. A man who fights like hell with those who fight with you. But in the ring, I want to see you as a champion, not just as a fighter with no limit to your brutality. And because of your behavior outside the ring, I’m not trying to see you at all. You can’t be weak like all the other dudes in this society who don’t manage their anger. You should show young people by example how to be a strong man who’s got full control of himself.

Of all sports, I like boxing — the “Sweet Science” — best of all because, as you must know better than I do, when you step into that ring it’s no longer about how many sit-ups you did, how many hours you hit the heavy bag, how many miles of roadwork you put in. It’s about heart. It’s about being face-to-face, mano-a-mano with another man who’s done the same number of sit-ups, who’s gotten calluses on his knuckles just like you from the heavy bag and the speed bag. It’s about which one of you will master the other using wits and courage to subdue those physical limitations, at the same time the other guy is trying just as hard to knock you out.

Brother Mike, I want you to win, but I want you to win fair and square. No low blows. No punches after the bell. No bites. Don’t hit the referee. Don’t break Lennox Lewis’s arm. Don’t splatter his brain with your bare knuckles. Just whip his behind in the ring...if you can.

Then instead of getting your “freak-nic” on with the dozens of loose women you must have on your speed-dial, take some money and get a shrink, brother, and say your prayers.

A psychiatrist like Dr. Frances Cress-Welsing in Washington, who has much to say about the role Black sports figures play in white America. Or maybe Dr. Nathan Hare, the Bay Area psychologist. He was a boxer at the same time he was a professor at Howard University, until the school’s president found out and was embarrassed that one of his teachers was a prizefighter.

I believe that one or both of them can help you, along with prayer and some serious soul searching. But you need to check yourself, brother. Please.

Askia Muhammad (askia@pressroom.com) is foreign editor of Final Call, the newspaper of the Nation of Islam.

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