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Tyson-Rooney Trial Goes to Jury

September 26, 1996

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ Ex-trainer Kevin Rooney’s claim that boxer Mike Tyson breached a career-long contract and owes him $49 million was put in the hands of a jury Thursday.

In long closing arguments, the heavyweight champion was portrayed by Rooney’s attorney as an ``arrogant ingrate″ for firing Rooney, while Tyson’s lawyer suggested the alleged contract that bound them was made up.

Rooney trained Tyson for his first 35 fights but was fired in 1988 after Tyson became angry about the trainer’s public comments about his marriage and contract dispute with ex-manager Bill Cayton.

Rooney claims Tyson’s mentor, Cus D’Amato, and the boxer himself had promised he would be Tyson’s trainer for life, getting 10 percent of his income.

But Robert Hirth, Tyson’s lawyer, said the alleged agreement was never put on paper and Tyson was never aware of it. The only people who supposedly knew about it were D’Amato and former Tyson manager Jim Jacobs, who are both dead.

The lawsuit is similar to a parent or teacher claiming part of a child’s lifetime earnings if they grow up to be successful, he said.

``Your decision in this case will go way beyond Mike Tyson, Kevin Rooney and this courthouse,″ Hirth told the eight-member jury. ``This case is about individual rights ... and individual dignity.″

Rooney was paid more than $4 million for his work with Tyson, but is not entitled to be paid for work that he didn’t do, he said.

``There is no evidence that Mr. Tyson knew about this alleged contract,″ Hirth said. ``Mr. Rooney certainly didn’t tell him.″

Hirth spoke for 1 hour, 42 minutes in his summation. Not to be outdone, Rooney lawyer Michael Coyle talked 11 minutes longer. Much of their time, in effect, was spent calling their opponent’s clients liars.

Coyle said Tyson had a ``total lack of gratitude″ for Rooney’s work as his trainer. He said Tyson betrayed Rooney _ and suggested he’s paid for that betrayal with diminished skills as a boxer evident in Tyson’s 1990 loss to Buster Douglas.

``You saw what happened to Mike Tyson when he got rid of Kevin Rooney,″ he said. ``He took the beating of his life in Tokyo, Japan and ruined the dream of Cus D’Amato to make him champion.″

Tyson should not be allowed to fire Rooney without good reason and walk away from his obligations, Coyle said.

``Kevin Rooney is not stealing from Mike Tyson,″ he said. ``You should wipe that thought from your minds. A deal is a deal. Kevin Rooney should get what he deserves.″

Rooney had his petition for bankruptcy protection approved in 1992. He owed more than $1 million to the Internal Revenue Service and to casinos owned by Donald Trump, and listed his lawsuit against Tyson as a potential asset.