Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson’s name has been circulating quite a bit in the animal rights world as of late. First Mike and the Animal Planet TV network came under fire from groups like PETA for a television show slated to air in 2011 in which Tyson will be racing pigeons.
But in an even more shocking turn of events, Mike Tyson has announced in an interview on Centerstage that he has recently converted to a vegan diet, giving up meat, dairy, and eggs. Not much shocks me anymore but when I read about this I was floored and when the initial shock wore off I had to sit down and think about what it means to have Tyson (kind of) on our team now.
I definitely appreciate when any celebrity brings up veganism or animal issues because the more attention that is brought to the plight of animals, the better. It is also an added bonus when someone like Tyson, or UFC fighter Mac Danzig embrace a vegan diet because it detracts from the “wimpy vegan” stereotype that we’re all sick of dealing with.
But as I read the story reposted on multiple websites and blogs, the most interesting part for me was just to read peoples’ reactions to the story. A very common theme among the comments from non-vegans was that this was another example of a celebrity trying to impose an abnormal lifestyle choice on normal people. It doesn’t help that Mike Tyson already has a reputation for aberrant behavior either.
We’ve already seen this reaction so many times when Vegan celebrities like Natalie Portman or Moby speak about animal rights. American culture sets celebrities so far apart from normal people that when famous people try to speak out on issues, there is often a backlash from the ‘Joe the Plumber’ crowd. They claim that celebrities in their ivory towers are too out of touch with normal people to understand how they should live.
Much like high-profile political endorsements — which make headline news but according to experts rarely make a real numerical difference at the polls — a person like Mike Tyson embracing a vegan diet helps to give much needed attention to the issue, and also invalidates some common misconceptions about a vegan physique, but it is debatable as to how many people will really go Vegan because of a Mike Tyson, a Natalie Portman, or a Moby.
Most of the vegans that I know personally weren’t persuaded to adopt a compassionate diet by the news media, or by a celebrity, they were influenced by their friends, by people around them in their everyday lives. We all enjoy a public victory when we get a celebrity on our “team”, but in the end the greatest movements are started at the grassroots level, so we can’t shift the burden of advocacy to people who have money and media attention because it’s our responsibility to speak out for the animals in our everyday lives. That’s how the world changes.
I hesitate to throw my support behind a man with Mike Tyson’s history especially given my disdain for animal sports of any kind, but it is a small victory and we in the AR movement have to internalize all the small victories we can to keep us optimistic about the road ahead.