Tyson Fury is as controversial a figure as they come in the world of boxing, but he’s also a troubled human being and someone worthy of as much support as he garners criticism.
The story of the Wythenshawe-born fighter ascent is a classic rags-to-riches story in the world of boxing. A victor in each of his 25 professional fights, Fury’s rise culminated in a superb victory over Wladimir Klitschko, a fighter who had gone 11 years unbeaten. But it didn’t last.
Stripped of his title after just 10 days, a series of delays to a Klitschko rematch culminated in Fury testing positive for cocaine in what was fast shaping up to be the classic story of too much, too soon, for a fighter who had already seen the tide of popular opinion turn against him.
Fury’s outspoken views on homosexuality, paedophilia and women, had already seen a petition calling for him to be removed from the BBC’s 2015 Sports Personality of the Year shortlist rack up 100,000 signatures and, at that stage, sympathy was pretty thin on the ground.
Abhorrent as the comments may have been, the not-so-media-savvy Fury was as much a victim of his upbringing as he was his views, which were borne out of his Irish Traveller heritage and his status as a born-again Christian – something the press were all too aware of.
Those traveller roots also saw Fury subjected to vile abuse on Twitter, which served to further isolate the fighter in his time of need.
“It’s been a witch-hunt ever since I won that world title,” he told Rolling Stone last October.
“Ever since I got a bit of fame for doing good there’s been a witch-hunt on me because of my background, because of who I am and what I do, there’s hatred for travellers and gypsies around the world.”
That frank discussion with Rolling Stone highlighted the severity of Fury’s problems, with the fighter readily admitting he was out of shape and had been using drugs like cocaine in a bid to battle both depression and bipolar disorder.
“I’ve not been in a gym for months. I’ve not been training. I’ve been going through depression,” he said. “I’ve had [sic] enough of it.”
“Never mind cocaine. I just didn’t care. I don’t want to live any more. So cocaine is a little minor thing compared to not wanting to live any more.”
“Ever since I got a bit of fame for doing good there’s been a witch-hunt on me because of my background”
Anyone who followed Fury on Twitter would have noted the extreme and often unnerving comments the fighter left on social media, something akin to a cry for help. Yet even then, some remained sceptical to his plight, highlighting a painful and all-too-familiar scenario among men dealing with mental health.
David Allen, a fellow heavyweight who stepped away from the sport to deal with depression highlighted the problem surrounding the issue of mental health among men in an interview with The Guardian, as well as pointing to the tell-tale signs that Fury was suffering.
“People in this country either don’t know enough about it or don’t take it seriously enough and you can see that in the way the media in particular have questioned if Tyson has even got mental health issues. It’s just not the type of thing a person would make up,” he said.
“Tyson shares some of the behavioural patterns that depression has caused in me – being happy one second and down in the dumps the next – but, whereas I can deal with my problems in private, Tyson is the world heavyweight champion so can’t escape the spotlight.”
To have reached such a low ebb, having risen to such a high position in any profession would be tough to take. To have the public turn against you as public enemy number one would have also been a bitter pill to swallow. Then there’s the online abuse which, when added altogether, makes Fury’s condition and the reaction to it, all the more alarming.
There can be no rewriting of history but there can be a changing of attitudes towards Fury. Having confirmed a potential return to the ring against Joshua in 2018, Fury is on the road to rehabilitation – but he needs our support, rather than judgement.
Figures produced by the Office for National Statistics in February 2016 showed that men account for over three times as many suicides as women with Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind, highlighting the problematic approach to mental health among men.
“Sadly too many men wrongly believe that admitting they are experiencing a mental health problem makes them weak, and this kind of self-stigma can prevent them from seeking help,” he said.
“Even when they do reach out, many men may not be diagnosed as having a mental health problem because more typically ‘male’ symptoms, such as aggression or self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, which may mean their problems are misdiagnosed or overlooked.”
Fury is different though. He’s spoken out about his issues, he’s been honest and now he’s taking real positive steps, as promoter Frank Warren attested to in an interview with The Sun.
“He’s been having treatment,” Warren said. “He’s lost a stone-and-a-half, he should lose weight very quickly provided he’s training.
“too many men wrongly believe that admitting they are experiencing a mental health problem makes them weak”
“I think he’s mentally there. He should be in a good place so hopefully we can get him moving. He needs a couple of quick warm-up fights, and I’ll make sure he gets them, then back into the swing of it.”
Fury is fighting his demons. He’s taking steps to tackle the weight gain the press seem so keen to highlight. He’s also addressing his mental health problems in a way that many could take inspiration from and he’s doing it all while in the public eye – that takes a lot of bravery.
It takes something else though – support. Fury may have the backing of friends and family as well as a loyal base of supporters but that’s not enough. More people need to acknowledge the difficulties he has had and the difficulties he could still face.
There’s no quick fix to mental health. It’s a day-by-day process. Some will be good, some will be bad but either way, Fury needs all of us in his corner.
This is about helping someone through something that’s almost impossible to imagine. It’s also about sending a clear and positive message about this important issue.
A return to the ring to face Joshua, win or lose, would therefore not only be a victory for Fury, but a victory for those addressing the stigma surrounding mental health issues among men and that’s a cause everyone can get behind.