By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Former heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson says he is so bullish on Republican Michael S. Steele's campaign for the U.S. Senate, he would return to the ring if Steele thought it might help him.
"I would do anything to help Michael," Tyson said in a telephone interview Monday night after holding a news conference in Ohio wearing a Steele T-shirt. "I would box an exhibition for him. I would even fight again to help Mike. I would do anything."
Iron Mike's little-known but long-standing devotion to Steele dates to the boxer's former marriage to Steele's half-sister, Monica Turner.
Tyson and Turner met in 1990 at a party at comedian Eddie Murphy's house and married in 1998, after the boxer's rape conviction. Turner flew to Indianapolis almost every two weeks to visit him in jail. Tyson and Steele remained close even after the couple's divorce.
"I always considered him a brother," Tyson, 40, said. "He's a remarkable human being."
The ringing endorsement, coming in a heated race between Steele and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D), arrived uninvited and wasn't exactly cherished.
Steele's campaign refused to make the candidate available to discuss his friendship with the boxer. Asked to comment yesterday, Steele spokesman Doug Heye responded by e-mail, "Mike Tyson is the father of the Lt. Gov's niece and nephew and therefore a member of his family."
A Tyson endorsement brings some of the heavy baggage from the boxer's checkered public life, including the rape conviction and that small matter of his biting off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear.
Not all of Tyson's controversies are in the past. Yesterday, while clad in the Steele shirt, he proclaimed his desire to fight women for money.
"This is not an endorsement you'd put up on the Web site," University of Maryland politics professor James G. Gimpel said, laughing.
But Steele has said nothing to belittle his friend. In an interview with the New York Times, Steele said he would "welcome in a heartbeat" the boxer's help, although Tyson has not done anything official for the campaign.
"He may be divorced from my sister, but I can't cast him aside," Steele told the Times. "You embrace. You love. . . . I've never sat in judgment of him, and I never would."
Steele was ringside in June 2005 when Tyson -- once the most feared boxer in the world, winning his first 37 bouts -- left the MCI Center after losing the third of four fights in a comeback attempt.
Tyson was booed by many in the crowd of 15,732 for quitting, and one fan threw a cup of soda at him as he left the arena, published reports said. Tyson responded by using his middle finger to express an obscenity.
Although Steele has never talked much about his relationship with Tyson, the boxer's fame has ensured that the public record has plenty about it. Steele received some unwanted attention after trying to help his sister settle her divorce with Tyson without, in his words, having "the lawyers muddle everything."
While Steele was running for lieutenant governor four years ago, the state Democratic Party accused him of practicing law without a license, a matter that was eventually dropped.
And in 1998, when Steele was a candidate for state comptroller, he was on hand to lend support when Tyson pleaded no contest to assault charges. As Tyson was marched from a Montgomery County courtroom, he had only one thing to say to the waiting clutch of reporters: "Vote for Michael Steele."
Tyson said this week that he was "overwhelmed" by Steele's support for him at the time.
"I don't want him to jeopardize his career for me," he said. "He's just such a moral person. Boxing attracts scum. Being around him was a breath of fresh air."
Also this week, the lieutenant governor secured the support of another controversial boxing figure, promoter Don King, who offered this endorsement: "I must have an indictment list longer than his awards list."
Asked what to make of Steele's eclectic backers -- who include White House aide Karl Rove and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons -- Matthew A. Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political science professor, sighed deeply. "This guy has a very strange collection of friends," he replied.
Staffer writer David Fahrenthold and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.