The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Posts Tagged ‘Antonio Henderson-Davis

ESPN, the worldwide leader in autism?

with one comment

50 Tyson photo courtesy of Hudson Records

If you’ve never heard of ESPN before, congratulations on escaping your cave. The network that launched SportsCenter and grew from its small Bristol, Conn. roots in 1979 to a cultural phenomenon can now claim they covered the first publicly-known autistic rapper: Minnesota native 50 Tyson.

You might say “What does 50 Tyson have to do with sports?” Although 50 Tyson, whose real name is Antonio Henderson-Davis, did play high school football for Minneapolis Edison High School, ESPN usually sticks with professional and NCAA Division I sports. That’s where Antonio’s record label comes in; his owner is former NBA player Troy Hudson, whose most productive years were with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Freelancer Kalani Simpson contributed a profile for ESPN’s page 2, a site for sports figures in the news but not necessarily for athletics. Because the article is geared toward a national audience, Simpson gives us a quick glance at how 50 Tyson landed a record deal, an accomplishment not all musicians get early in their lifetime (Antonio turned 18 recently). Hudson watched YouTube videos posted by Henderson-Davis when the rapper sneaked his sister’s camera and spit off a few freestyle rhymes in his bathroom. Now, Henderson-Davis has released his first album to coincide with Autism Awareness Month, aptly titled “50 Tyson Presents the Rhythm of Autism Vol. 1.” Simpson, who writes a weekly column for FoxSports.com, would have posted this story sooner, but his interview with Hudson and Henderson-Davis was delayed as both sought out a tuxedo for Henderson-Davis’ school prom.

Although concern lingers with how an autistic music artist will handle show business, Hudson believes the biggest name on his label will change the world, with Hudson still learning about what he calls his most important project he’s ever done. 50 Tyson has no trouble embracing his autistic roots; he headlined a concert during the Autism Society of Minnesota’s annual fundraising event.

In terms of young autistic celebrities, 50 Tyson has the most staying power. Jason McElwain flooded the airwaves five years ago with his famous 20-point performance in his first and only high school basketball game, but attention has faded. The owner and writer of this blog has morphed into an adult but is still looking for a big break in a profession with less glamor than music, although no less fulfilling. Meanwhile, 50 Tyson has grown to be a darling of the locals for the same reason McElwain and this writer developed followings of our own, regardless of the magnitude, we found a talent of some sort and that trait has captured the hearts of a public still investigating autism itself. 50 Tyson’s mainstream exposure has permeated for some time now, gaining fans who are notable names themselves and last fall’s Star Tribune profile piece that introduced the Twin Cities rapping sensation to his hometown media market. Even one of my friends paid a visit to get a photo with him following a recent Timberwolves game we attended. We have yet to hear of any fallout with 50 Tyson and his label, or with anyone else, which is a positive sign in the fast-paced business of music.

AsĀ I mentioned in my first discussion of 50 Tyson’s mainstream coverage, the community still holds genuine curiosity about his activity because he’s in a position no known autistic person has assumed before. It’s an interest that may not fade for years as 50 Tyson grows in age, wisdom, ability and possibly name recognition. Even though ESPN placed Simpson’s story on Page 2, the network owned by Disney isn’t shy to promote stories of this nature when there’s a sports tie-in, as Troy Hudson has with his NBA career.

Speaking of the story, Simpson’s may sound redundant if you’ve followed 50 Tyson to this point, but when you’re writing for a national audience about a personality who isn’t too famous outside of Minnesota, you have to consider the number of first-time readers when writing the story. Simpson also had to factor an audience whose source of news doesn’t explore autism as deeply as general news outlets. Considering those elements, Simpson was effective at briefly explaining Antonio’s differences compared to his peers because he also included a storyline to keep Antonio human. For parents who worry about their children ever going to a prom, seeing a rapper getting ready for one is a welcome line of reading.

With Antonio approaching high school graduation, watching his career evolution will reveal more to an inquiring public on how autism can adapt to the entertainment industry. You can follow 50 Tyson’s career path as well by visiting his website

Advertisements

They call him a “case study,” aka 50 Tyson

with 4 comments

Courtesy David Joles, Star Tribune

I wrote the headline because Minneapolis rapper 50 Tyson (who got the name when people suggested he was a physical cross between 50 Cent and Mike Tyson) may very well be a popular case study in how young autistic people see the world. He’s 17 and now an Internet sensation after posting clips of himself rapping freestyle on YouTube. Since then, he’s signed with Hudson Records, owned by former Wolves player Troy Hudson, and can be found at nightclubs and often at Brooklyn Center, where he does studio recordings. Even at Edison High School, where 50 Tyson attends school, classmates will use him as a point of pride in assignments and the hallway.

In that sense, 50, whose real name is Antonio Henderson-Davis, is no different than other music artists who made the scene at a very young age. What the Star Tribune and several others are thinking about is how he’ll adapt when he still has difficulties understanding social environments. Media production is well-known for large egos and people attempting to leech from potential stardom, and Henderson-Davis’ football coach at Edison and his case manager both worry if people will take advantage of an artist in a vulnerable position who’s more trusting than even music industry peers (I’ve noted many times in this blog that autistic people are less likely to lie or believe that others would lie to them, one reason why they often become bullying targets in a school setting). Hudson and Henderson-Davis’ parents have clashed a few times with Hudson and Nikki McComb, Henderson-Davis’ manager. Hudson and McComb suggested pulling “50 Tyson” out of school for weekday shows, offering to hire a tutor. Henderson-Davis’ mother declined.

Hudson’s also seeking to market “50 Tyson” as the face of autism, a decision whose effect on the autism community is very much unknown. In terms of mainstream media, the character of Charlie Babbitt assumed that role for many years following the release of Rain Man. In real-world stories, animal rights advocate and professor Temple Grandin is presented as the most successful autistic person. Even comparing those two, the face of autism varies equally to the face of a snowflake; no two are ever alike. Add the always-present stereotypes about rappers and their music, and “50 Tyson” could easily shake up what all of us know about autism, whether or not Antonio intends to.

Corey Mitchell, the article’s author, handled the task of covering the Twin Cities raging sensation well. If it’s not the first multi-faceted look at 50 Tyson’s world, it’s certainly an unfiltered one. Through Mitchell’s reporting, 50 Tyson’s story is similar to less famous autistic people, the simple of notion of understanding a social world while trying not to be played by those with selfish pursuits. Shady constituents are a sad norm, but a clear reality when your skill set makes you capable of delivering a powerful message. In 50 Tyson’s case, it’s music creation and performance. In my case, it’s creating media designed to inform, encourage and highlight the public.

As understanding autism remains an obstacle, Mitchell’s article illustrates autistic people seeking a career in media will likely find themselves in a social conundrum. Certainly, I’ve encountered people who only wanted to use me and didn’t give a damn about my well-being. The detachment process doesn’t take long, but the journey to get there can be frustrating because I often spend time feeling out new contacts or clients. There lies the dilemma: media creators won’t survive without placing some trust with their associates. Henderson-Davis wouldn’t be in his position without the help of others, and he’s been given a huge chance to debunk what people believe an autistic’s skill set is. However, he may also get a lesson on how strange people can be.

So far, most discussions on 50 Tyson are supportive, which is exactly what autism organizations want people on the spectrum to get, and not pity or scorn that we’ve sometimes seen in mainstream media. With his stock value rising, this won’t be the last time Antonio Henderson-Davis is featured in the newspaper and/or TV. Because 50 Tyson’s in a position that no known autistic person has experienced before, he’ll likely be the forefront of expectations with autistic people deciding to pursue any form of entertainment.

I included a link to 50 Tyson’s page on the Hudson Records website, which provides updates on his musical endeavors.

Written by TheSportsBrain

November 24, 2010 at 6:52 pm