Mike Tyson, prominent boxer and ear-biter: "I cannot tell you why, exactly, I acted like I did. . . . I just snapped."
We're here to help, Mike, so on your behalf we consulted Dr. Justin Call of Newport Beach, one of the founders of child psychiatry, and asked for an opinion on your behavior Saturday, during the championship bout in which you bit off sections of your opponent's ears.
"It was so gross," Call said.
No, a medical opinion.
"It made me wonder if he was a biting child, and reverted to a very primitive method of controlling the situation."
Actually, Call said, Tyson pretty much explained it himself after the fight, during his televised four-minute apology. "I thought I might lose because of the severity of the cut above my eye," Tyson said. "I just snapped and I reacted."
Tyson's behavior hardly was different from that of children Call said he has studied. Very young children, unable to compete in other ways, often intimidate by biting, Call said.
Experts also say that in an aggressive situation such as a physical fight, humans, like other primates, bite. Just ask retired NFL linemen who went up against the legendary Conrad Dobler. The former St. Louis Cardinals offensive (with a capital O) lineman bit opponents regularly, admitted it and was proud of it. Opponents used to tape over the holes in their helmets so Dobler couldn't ream their ears with his fingernails.
Freddie Blassie, an old-time pro wrestling bad guy, made a big show of biting opponents. Boxer Ken Norton bit an opponent to death, although it was only in the movie "Mandingo." Rock star Ozzy Osbourne took the bite to new entertainment levels by biting the heads off a live bat and a dove on stage.
Real-life human bites can be devastating. Last March in a Riverside hospital, a man from San Clemente, believed to be under the influence of drugs, flew into a rage and bit the penis off a man in the next bed, police said. In 1991, a man infected with AIDS bit two nurses and was indicted in San Diego for attempted first-degree murder.
Only last May, sports broadcaster Marv Albert was charged with biting a woman repeatedly and forcing her to perform oral sex in his hotel room. An investigator described her back as "ripped."
Dog bites, human bites--there's really no difference to a physician, says Dr. Mark Langdorf, emergency room director at the UC Irvine Medical Center.
Both can transmit disease--although you're more likely to get hepatitis or even AIDS from a human than rabies from a dog, the doctor said. Both kinds of bites can cause severe infections, particularly on hands and, yes, ears.
But human bites very rarely are seen in emergency rooms, said Langdorf. Usually they involve psychiatric cases.
That's because by the time most of us are school age, we've learned other ways to negotiate, said Call. Those who haven't, however, sometimes resort to this most primal of attacks.
Call said it is part of an infant's normal behavior to experiment with biting--as almost any nursing mother can confirm. The infant bites literally to hold on to what it wants. When the child begins playing with other children, he or she may bite to hold on to a toy. It can become a habit "if the child hasn't learned to deal with taking turns or sharing. It becomes a means of control."
The bite is not haphazard. "They choose their targets," Call said. "Sometimes it's a parent, a sibling, a particular child in the nursery school with whom they feel competitive. It can be rather dangerous and it can certainly be a significant and disturbing concern for parents."
One approach to biting is obvious: Give the infant something to bite on. You know, a teething ring.
But dealing with the older biting child is not so easy, Call said.
The older child is biting when he or she is frustrated and aggressive "and thinks there is no other way." Counter with "immediate affection and attention, and then help negotiate sharing with the other child. Demonstrate that there's another way."
Deciding a heavyweight championship by biting, while shocking, is not inexplicable, said Call.
"Mike Tyson said his career was at stake. What I imagine was going through his mind was (that) he wanted to hold onto it. Something was being taken away from him, and it was a matter of showing who was in control."
Perhaps a teething ring and a little affection from the Nevada State Athletic Commission would have prevented all this fuss.