America's Jiminy Crickett: The Ted Turner Story

STEVEN R. SCHAEFER, AFP, Getty Images
STEVEN R. SCHAEFER, AFP, Getty Images
After my previous post mentioned Ted Turner's promotional antics as owner of the Atlanta Braves, a reader suggested I write more about the man who became known as "The Mouth of the South." In three decades of sports writing, I've never come across anyone quite so outrageous. So you don't have to twist my arm. Moscow, 1986: We are in a downtown conference room to interview Turner along with the Soviet press and a lineup of grim men in dark suits and sunglasses (KGB?) along the back wall of the room. Turner's inaugural Goodwill Games are about to begin. Cynics believe he has launched them purely as programming for his Atlanta superstation, WTBS. Turner claims a deeper purpose. After the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympic games in 1980 and the Soviet's right-back-at-you boycott of the L.A. Olympics in 1984, Turner believed bringing Soviets and Americans together would make for a good TV show, yes, but also that the Goodwill Games -- an event he trumpeted as "a major, major undertaking of colossal proportions" -- would in turn promote peace and understanding. Or as Ted reminded us, "Friends don't bomb friends." During the course of the next hour, it became clear the Soviets in particular wondered if Turner had arrived by plane or spaceship. He welcomed a Soviet comrade by saying, "Sitski here, Sovietski." And to a Polish reporter: "Hey, Poland. I like that Polish vodka. Here's my room number. Bring me some, Poland." I worked at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time. While some other American media outlets sent a reporter to chronicle Turner's Goodwill Games brainstorm, the AJC was there in force. Dave Kindred, our gifted columnist and future winner of the Red Smith Award, made an inventory of the people, places and things Turner mentioned in that single hour for a column the next day:
Hitler, Jiminy Crickett, Helmut Kohl, General George Patton, Robert E. Lee, Caspar Weinberger, Jacques Costeau, Carl Sagan, Gorbachev (naturally), JFK, Lester Maddox, Finland, the National League, Seattle, Cuba, Ceylon, the Middle Ages, F-111 Jets, Nigeria, Australia, oxen, nuclear weapons, mountain goats and elephants (that's not even Dave's complete list).
I remembered the main points of Turner's press conference. But Kindred saved it for posterity in a collection of his columns titled Heroes, Fools and Other Dreamers. The title wasn't specific to Turner but he certainly qualified on all counts. Turner ended the press conference with an appeal for nuclear disarmament and self-reflection:
"If there's a nuclear war between our countries, we're killing everybody. That's Bermuda, Bahamas, Jamaica, Switzerland, Sweden, Nigeria, India, Ceylon. Ceylon? They call it something else now. Perez de Cueller said it. By what right do the superpowers feel they have the right to decide the lives and fates of all mankind? "Carl Sagan said it in Breaking the Spell. We've been here millions of years, 10 million years, human existence, that we've slowly evolved, that our parents worked to make us better and send us to better schools and get better education and improve airplanes and communications. All the things we've done, our books, our art, our literature. And what have we done with our opportunity? Get ready to blow ourselves up. And not just ourselves. What about the elephants?"
"What about the elephants" became a catchphrase among the American press during the remainder of the Goodwill Games: "How did Carl Lewis do," one would ask another. "Won his heat easily," came the answer. "What about the elephants?" Turner hit Moscow like a cyclone. He walked the streets and sports arenas trailed by his future ex-wife, Jane (not Fonda, that Jane would come later). She was usually 20 paces behind. Every so often, he'd turn around and wave his arm like a third-base coach sending a runner home: "C'mon." At the spectacularly choreographed Opening Ceremonies, every spectator flipped their cards on cue, revealing an amazingly realistic portrait of Lenin. The Soviet press could not wait to hear what Ted thought. They crowded around him on his way out. Asked about the card display, Turner said, "It was great, great. This Lenin guy's a big deal...like Jesus Christ and George Washington all rolled into one." The following summer Ronald Reagan challenged Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." Ted Turner never claimed he helped change the world with the Goodwill Games, though he most certainly did as a pioneer of satellite TV and 24-hour news. But he did administer a spanking to the two biggest kids on the block with another of his gems from Moscow, 1986:
"I think (the U.S. and Soviet Union) ought to be taken out behind the woodshed and some Big Daddy take a board and give it to us. You know, bend down, and hold your ankles. That's what I think. Speaking figuratively, I think it's just time we grew up."
Twenty three years later, Turner is America's largest landowner with over two million acres and a herd of 50,000 bison. He's in the Business Hall of Fame, the America's Cup Hall of Fame and is a winner of the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award for his philanthropy. I can't watch the Dos Equis "Most Interesting Man in the World" ad campaign without thinking of Turner. The character is shown bench pressing Asian women, playing jai alai, freeing a bear from a trap, engaged in a sword fight and other eccentric activities. He signs off by admitting he doesn't always drink beer but when he does he makes it Dos Equis. Then he says, "Stay thirsty my friends." At age 70, Ted Turner's had his fill.

Ted Turner's Memorable Moments (in no particular order)

"¢ Born in Cincinnati Nov. 19, 1938. Attended Brown but was expelled for having a woman in his room. When he announced he was going to be a Classics major, his father wrote him a letter. The elder Turner said he was "horrified" at the news and that he "almost puked" upon hearing it. "¢ When 15 sailors died off the coast of England in the Fastnet Race won by Turner in 1979, Turner told the British Press: "It's no use crying. The King is dead. Long live the King. It had to happen sooner or later. You ought to be thankful there are storms like that or you'd all be speaking Spanish." (A reference to the troubled seas that foiled the Spanish Armada.) "¢ In an attempt to turn his woeful Atlanta Braves fortunes, he sent manager Dave Bristol on a "scouting trip," put on a uniform and managed the team from the dugout. The Braves lost. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn intervened, telling Turner that MLB managers could not by rule have a financial stake in the team. "¢ Told Sports Illustrated in 1986, "I want to be Jiminy Crickett for America. Remember how Jiminy always told Pinocchio to go to school, to do wise things? That's what I want to be for America." "¢ On male-run governments: "Men should be barred from public office for 100 years in every part of the world. The men have had millions of years where we've been running things. We've screwed it up hopelessly. Let's give it to the women." "¢ To SI, on his plan to curb overpopulation: "It would take only a billion dollars a year to furnish birth control devices to all the women in the world who would use them. That would cut the world population growth in half. That's about the cost of one Trident submarine."  "¢ Founded the first cable superstation (WTBS) and the first 24-hour news station (CNN). Kuhn told him to cease and desist after he put the name "Channel" on the back of Atlanta pitcher Andy Messersmith's uniform No. 17. "¢ Miss America 1983 said Ted Turner was the person she'd most like to meet. "¢ Before becoming Braves owner he said, "What do you have to know about baseball? Both teams have 10 guys?" Or, more accurately, nine. "¢ Turner took over Turner Outdoor Advertising at age 24 after his father's suicide. He grew a $1 million a year business into a media empire. "¢ Called Christianity a "religion for losers" and abortion opponents "bozos." Issued an apology and later worked with church groups to fight malaria. "¢ To Charlie Rose in April 2008, on the impact if we don't curb global warming: "Most of the people will have died and the rest of us are cannibals." "¢ Stan Kasten, his righthand man with the Braves and Hawks, on Turner: "He has a hundred ideas a day, and only two of them are good. But how many people have two good ideas a day?" "¢ After launching CNN, Turner said: "We won't be signing off until the world ends. We'll be on and we will cover the end of the world. That will be our last event. And when the end of the world comes we'll play 'Nearer, My God, To Thee' before we sign off."

10 of the Best Indoor and Outdoor Heaters on Amazon

Mr. Heater/Amazon
Mr. Heater/Amazon

With the colder months just around the corner, you might want to start thinking about investing in an indoor or outdoor heater. Indoor heaters not only provide a boost of heat for drafty spaces, but they can also be a money-saver, allowing you to actively control the heat based on the rooms you’re using. Outdoor heaters, meanwhile, can help you take advantage of cold-weather activities like camping or tailgating without having to call it quits because your extremities have gone numb. Check out this list of some of Amazon’s highest-rated indoor and outdoor heaters so you can spend less time shivering this winter and more time enjoying what the season has to offer.

Indoor Heaters

1. Lasko Ceramic Portable Heater; $20

Lasko/Amazon

This 1500-watt heater from Lasko may only be nine inches tall, but it can heat up to 300 square feet of space. With 11 temperature settings and three quiet settings—for high heat, low heat, and fan only—it’s a dynamic powerhouse that’ll keep you toasty all season long.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Alrocket Oscillating Space Heater; $25

Alrocket/Amazon

Alrocket’s oscillating space heater is an excellent addition to any desk or nightstand. Using energy-saving ceramic technology, this heater is made of fire-resistant material, and its special “tip-over” safety feature forces it to turn off if it falls over (making it a reliable choice for homes with kids or pets). It’s extremely quiet, too—at only 45 dB, it’s just a touch louder than a whisper. According to one reviewer, this an ideal option for a “very quiet but powerful” heater.

Buy it: Amazon

3. De’Longhi Oil-Filled Radiator Space Heather; $79

De’Longhi/Amazon

If you prefer a space heater with a more old-fashioned vibe, this radiator heater from De’Longhi gives you 2020 technology with a vintage feel. De’Longhi’s heater automatically turns itself on when the temperatures drops below 44°F, and it will also automatically turn itself off if it starts to overheat. Another smart safety feature? The oil system is permanently sealed, so you won’t have to worry about accidental spills.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Aikoper Ceramic Tower Heater; $70

Aikoper/Amazon

Whether your room needs a little extra warmth or its own heat source, Aikoper’s incredibly precise space heater has got you covered. With a range of 40-95°F, it adjusts by one-degree intervals, giving you the specific level of heat you want. It also has an option for running on an eight-hour timer, ensuring that it will only run when you need it.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Isiler Space Heater; $37

Isiler/Amazon

For a space heater that adds a fun pop of color to any room, check out this yellow unit from Isiler. Made from fire-resistant ceramic, Isiler’s heater can start warming up a space within seconds. It’s positioned on a triangular stand that creates an optimal angle for hot air to start circulating, rendering it so effective that, as one reviewer put it, “This heater needs to say ‘mighty’ in its description.”

Buy it: Amazon

Outdoor Heaters

6. Mr. Heater Portable Buddy; $104

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Make outdoor activities like camping and grilling last longer with Mr. Heater’s indoor/outdoor portable heater. This heater can connect to a propane tank or to a disposable cylinder, allowing you to keep it in one place or take it on the go. With such a versatile range of uses, this heater will—true to its name—become your best buddy when the temperature starts to drop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiland Pyramid Patio Propane Heater; Various

Hiland/Amazon

The cold’s got nothing on this powerful outdoor heater. Hiland’s patio heater has a whopping 40,000 BTU output, which runs for eight to 10 hours on high heat. Simply open the heater’s bottom door to insert a propane tank, power it on, and sit back to let it warm up your backyard. The bright, contained flame from the propane doubles as an outdoor light.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Solo Stove Bonfire Pit; $345

Solo Stove/Amazon

This one is a slight cheat since it’s a bonfire pit and not a traditional outdoor heater, but the Solo Stove has a 4.7-star rating on Amazon for a reason. Everything about this portable fire pit is meticulously crafted to maximize airflow while it's lit, from its double-wall construction to its bottom air vents. These features all work together to help the logs burn more completely while emitting far less smoke than other pits. It’s the best choice for anyone who wants both warmth and ambiance on their patio.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dr. Infrared Garage Shop Heater; $119

Dr. Infrared/Amazon

You’ll be able to use your garage or basement workshop all season long with this durable heater from Dr. Infrared. It’s unique in that it includes a built-in fan to keep warm air flowing—something that’s especially handy if you need to work without wearing gloves. The fan is overlaid with heat and finger-protectant grills, keeping you safe while it’s powered on.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Mr. Heater 540 Degree Tank Top; $86

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Mr. Heater’s clever propane tank top automatically connects to its fuel source, saving you from having to bring any extra attachments with you on the road. With three heat settings that can get up to 45,000 BTU, the top can rotate 360 degrees to give you the perfect angle of heat you need to stay cozy. According to a reviewer, for a no-fuss outdoor heater, “This baby is super easy to light, comes fully assembled … and man, does it put out the heat.”

Buy it: Amazon

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From Ear to Eternity: When Mike Tyson Bit Evander Holyfield

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

As the 16,000 spectators began filing out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, following a night of fights on June 28, 1997, MGM employee Mitch Libonati noticed something strange on the floor of the boxing ring. He later described it as being roughly the size of a fingernail, with the texture of a piece of hot dog or sausage.

It was no concession stand remnant. It was a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Wrapping the morsel of flesh in a latex glove, Libonati hurried backstage, where Holyfield was conferring with officials and doctors after his opponent, Mike Tyson, had been disqualified for biting him on the left ear. In all the commotion, Libonati wasn't allowed inside the room. But Michael Grant, one of Holyfield’s training partners, accepted the ear fragment on Holyfield’s behalf.

Libonati’s discovery was the climax to one of boxing’s most controversial and bizarre evenings, one in which "Iron" Mike Tyson—the most famous fighter of his era—meted out a savage reprimand for what he perceived was dirty fighting on the part of Holyfield. The ear-biting far exceeded the brutal underpinnings of boxing and added to Tyson's reputation as a frenzied combatant both in and out of the ring.

 

Mike Tyson’s collision with Evander Holyfield had started when the two were just teenagers. On the amateur circuit, they had sparred together—not quite knowing the heights each would achieve, but understanding the other would be a formidable obstacle if they were to ever meet as professionals.

Evander Holyfield (L) had success against Mike Tyson (R) early on.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Tyson was a prodigy, having won the heavyweight championship of the world in 1986 at the age of 19 and dominating the division up until an upset loss to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990. Holyfield was the lighter fighter at cruiserweight (190 pounds), moving up to the heavyweight division in 1988 and gaining respect for his trilogy with Riddick Bowe.

Long before that fateful night in 1997, Tyson's personal life had started to overshadow his accomplishments inside the ring: An allegedly abusive marriage to actress Robin Givens darkened his image in the media and ended in a very public divorce after just one year. In 1992, a rape conviction sidelined the fighter for more than three years while he served out his prison sentence.

When Tyson returned to the ring, he rattled off a string of wins against fighters not quite at his level, including Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno, and Bruce Seldon. Holyfield had stepped away from competition in 1994, but as Tyson knocked off inferior opponents, talk of a bout with Holyfield intensified. Finally, the two met in Las Vegas on November 9, 1996, with Tyson a 17-1 favorite over the semi-retired Holyfield.

Holyfield would prove his doubters wrong. Through 11 rounds of action, he outmaneuvered and outclassed Tyson by negating his opponent's power with movement and volume. Holyfield also landed headbutts that were declared unintentional, but to Tyson seemed deliberate. Before the fight could see a 12th round, Holyfield knocked Tyson down and earned a technical knockout victory.

 

While it was an undoubtedly disappointing moment for Tyson, an upset in boxing virtually guarantees a lucrative rematch deal. Both men agreed to meet a second time, with Holyfield earning $35 million and Tyson getting $30 million. Tyson’s camp, however, insisted that the referee from the first bout, Mitch Halpern, not be booked for the second, because Tyson felt he failed to call the illegal headbutts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission didn’t want to be seen capitulating to Tyson’s demands, but Halpern stepped aside voluntarily. So referee Mills Lane took his place.

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) first met as amateurs.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Before a huge crowd full of A-list celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and a then-record 1.99 million households that had purchased the event on pay-per-view, Tyson and Holyfield met for a second time at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 28, 1997. While Holyfield took the first round, Tyson appeared fit and adaptive, and came out blazing in round two. Then, just as Tyson had feared, Holyfield’s headbutt struck him again.

The clash of heads opened a cut over Tyson’s right eye, which threatened to obscure his vision as the fight went on. It also opened a reservoir of frustration in the fighter that would manifest in a spectacularly violent way.

Coming out for the third round, Tyson had forgotten his mouthpiece and had to go back and retrieve it—a foreshadowing of things to come. His aggression was working against Holyfield, but with 40 seconds left in the round, the two clinched up. Tyson moved his mouth so it was near Holyfield’s right ear. With his mouthpiece still in place, he clamped down on the ear, ripped the top off, and spat it along with his mouthguard onto the canvas.

Holyfield jumped up in the air in shock and pain. Referee Mills Lane was initially confused by what had happened until Holyfield’s trainers, Don Turner and Tommy Brooks, yelled out what Tyson had done. Lane called for a doctor then told Marc Ratner, the executive director of the athletic commission, that he was going to end the fight. Ratner asked if he was sure. Seeing Holyfield was bleeding from his ear but otherwise ready to fight, Lane waved the two men back into competition.

Incredibly, Tyson bit Holyfield a second time, this time on the left ear, before the round ended. This time, Lane was aware of what was happening and had seen enough. Before the start of the fourth round, he disqualified Tyson.

 

That was far from the end of it. Realizing he had lost the fight, Tyson grew incensed, shoving Holyfield from behind and pawing at the security guards who had stormed the ring in an attempt to restore order.

After the bout, Tyson didn’t appear to be overly contrite. He explained that he was frustrated at Holyfield headbutting him without being penalized, and said he had lost control.

An emotional Mike Tyson reacts to his disqualification loss to Evander Holyfield.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

“Listen,” Tyson said. “Holyfield is not the tough warrior everyone says he is. He got a nick on his ear and he quit.”

Tyson believed his retaliation was justified. “This is my career," he said. "I’ve got children to raise and this guy keeps butting me, trying to cut me and get me stopped on cuts. I’ve got to retaliate. What else could I do? He didn’t want to fight. I’m ready to fight right now. Regardless of what I did, he’s been butting me for two fights. I got one eye. He’s not impaired. He’s got ears. I’ve got to go home and my kids will be scared of me. Look at me, look at me, look at me!”

Two days later, Tyson issued a tempered apology in an effort to minimize the consequences, but it was too late. In addition to losing his boxing license in the state of Nevada, Tyson was fined 10 percent of his purse, or $3 million, which was thought to be the largest fine in sports at the time.

 

Tyson could never entirely shake the stigma of his actions. When a lucrative bout with Lennox Lewis was being planned in 2002, the fight ultimately ended up taking place in Memphis, Tennessee; Nevada refused to restore Tyson's license following a press conference brawl between the two men.

Tyson ultimately continued competing through 2005, when he lost his last bout to Kevin McBride. Holyfield retired in 2011. Earlier this year, the 54-year-old Tyson expressed a desire to return to the ring. The fighter once known as "The Baddest Man on the Planet" is scheduled to fight Roy Jones Jr. on November 28, 2020. Yet Holyfield, now 57 years old, remains a possible future opponent.

The two have occasionally interacted in public in interviews, with Tyson expressing remorse and Holyfield admitting he briefly thought about biting Tyson on his face right back. The pair even filmed a spot for Foot Locker in which Tyson “gave” Holyfield the missing piece of his ear.

In reality, Holyfield never did get his ear back. After Mitch Libonati handed it over to Michael Grant, the piece somehow fell out of the latex glove while being transported to the hospital.

Many fighters talk about leaving a little piece of themselves in the ring. It’s usually metaphorical. For Evander Holyfield, it was simply the truth.