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Tyson’s talk is Level 4

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Call me squeamish, but I've never been big on cannibalism. It's not that I'm not above trying something new. I've sampled quiche, tofu, sushi, squid, caviar and even fast food fish burgers.

But I draw the line at eating people.

When I first saw Mike Tyson's post-fight interview last week, in which he threatened to rip out Lennox Lewis' heart and feed it to him, then eat his children, my first impulse was to call for restrictions on what an athlete can say. Tyson had taken trash talking entirely too far.

But, I soon decided a ban on colorful post-event interviews would be a bad thing. If you take away the spontaneous remarks, what do you have? You have Howard Eisley's bland one-game-at-a-time responses, that's what.

I'm not sure which is the most offensive.

Tyson's remarks are just the latest step in the evolution of trash talking. A Level One trash talker, for instance, says he's going to beat the opponent. A Level Two personally attacks the opponent's physical characteristics (big nose, out-of-shape body, etc.). Level Three is when the athlete publicly threatens bodily harm.

Level Four is when you threaten to eat someone's family.

Actually, this isn't the first time trash talking got out of hand. Goliath, for instance, used a minimum Level Three against David, vowing to feed him to the fowls and beasts. David, in turn, said he would cut off Goliath's head.

So, maybe there's a precedent here.

Public trash talking took a leap forward in the 1960s when Muhammad Ali came along. He called Sonny Liston a bear, which confused Liston into losing. He called Joe Frazier a gorilla, which worked so well that Frazier almost ended Ali's career with his right hook.

It was all great theater.

When the NBA really got rolling with Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, etc., trash talking became an art form. Johnson and Bird limited their exchanges to the court. Charles Barkley, the other hand, didn't. Although some of his remarks were in poor taste, they were rarely disturbing.

But now you have a guy talking about eating bodies.

Rather than call for a complete ban on trash talking, I'm proposing some suggestions. Forthwith is my list of dos and don'ts when trash-talking during interviews:

THINGS YOU CAN DO

Admit you hate an opponent. There's nothing that says you always have to say, "We respect everyone but fear no one." It's perfectly all right to say you have no respect for an opponent, particularly if it happens to be Dennis Rodman or Bill Laimbeer.

Besides, their teammates didn't even like 'em.

Insult their intelligence. It's OK, really, to call an opponent dumb. Especially if the guy insults every minority person in New York, threatens a reporter from Sports Illustrated, says he can be a stock broker if he wants and then writes it off to competitiveness.

Blame opponents for all that's wrong in the world — poverty, crime, the hole in the ozone layer, the price of gasoline. It never hurts to build interest by making the other guys out to be the bad guys.

Hey, it works in politics.

Refer to another athlete's physical characteristics. For instance, it's OK to refer to Arvydas Sabonis' gigantic head, Reggie Miller's pencil neck, Oliver Miller's gut or Tyson's lisp. It serves the purpose of trash talking and isn't dangerous to anyone — unless Tyson hears about it.

Make wild predictions about what will happen in the next contest. One of the great weeks in sports history came when Joe Namath guaranteed a Super Bowl win, then backed it up. You think Joe Willie would still be doing commercials if he hadn't made his prediction?

THINGS YOU CAN'T DO

Make insensitive racial remarks. True story: I once interviewed a black athlete, who made racial remarks about an African-born athlete. Not cool. Not only was it bad form, but it also made no sense.

Include another player's wife and kids, even if the kids are brats and the wife is a witch. Family is off-limits — unless it happens to be the families Allen Iverson or Dominique Moceneau, which seem to have discovered the practical meaning of the phrase "gravy train."

And finally, don't say you are going to eat another person or his family, even for a snack. Especially don't make those threats if you're Mike Tyson. After all, he's already eaten an ear. We know he means it.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com