When producers signed Mike Tyson to guest star on an upcoming episode of “Law & Order: SVU,” surely they knew it’d raise eyebrows, but they might not have realized they’d have to come out swinging this hard to defend the casting.
But hiring the controversial retired boxer, who’s set to play a death row murderer on the show in his first acting role (Tyson played himself in his “Hangover” cameo), has upset many people who question why a convicted rapist is appearing on a television series that focuses on cases about abuse victims.
At least one person started a campaign against the casting stunt, which is slated to air during February sweeps.
Marcie Kaveney, a rape survivor and rape crisis advocate from Fort Myers, Fla., started the petition at Change.org, asking NBC to drop Mike Tyson.
“I am sorry, but I see this as just another way to clean up his image,” Kaveney wrote in the petition, which had more than 4,800 signatures by Friday.
“A lot of survivors consider ‘SVU’ to be Their Show, because it’s about victims, about helping victims and getting justice for victims,” she said, according to The Washington Post. “We’ve taken to the show and consider it ours.”
Now, the petition has also caused an uproar online, and the “SVU” executive producer is embroiled in the controversy.
“SVU” showrunner Warren Leight has taken to Twitter to defend their decision to cast Tyson in a seven-part message.
“We understand the casting of Mike Tyson seems inappropriate to some SVU fans,” Leight wrote. “While in no way excusing his past actions, it’s worth noting MT was convicted over twenty years ago, and served his time. In recent years he has found sobriety, and started a foundation to meet the comprehensive needs of children from broken homes.”
“The episode itself deals with many issues, including the ongoing effects of childhood abuse, the possibility of rehabilitation,” he continued, “and the potential for disastrous results when individuals and/or the justice system pre-judge or fail to contextualize. Because of SVU’s subject matter, all of us have a profound sense of our responsibility. Our intent, as always, is to provoke discussion and awareness. We ask you to keep an open mind. Thanks.”
Tyson was convicted in 1991 of raping Desiree Washington, an 18-year-old Miss Black America pageant competitor. Tyson was sentenced to six years in prison and served three.
Two weeks ago, USA Today first reported that Tyson was set to guest star in the “SVU” episode portraying Reggie Rhodes, “a murderer on death row who is also the victim of a difficult childhood.”
It is scheduled to air Feb. 13.
Tyson, for his part, is thrilled.
“Can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched SVU marathons. This is my dream job. #gratitude,” Tyson Tweeted of landing the gig.