Harry Reid, Mike Tyson: In the Same Ring for Jack Johnson (Bell)

Photograph by Kevin Wolf/AP Photo

Sen. John McCain during a news conference supporting a pardon for boxer Jack Johnson, shown in stand up photo at right, in this file photo. Behind McCain are referee Richard Steele, left, a member of the World Boxing Hall of Fame, and Iran Barkley, a former WBB boxing champion.

Harry Reid was a boxer in his time (amateur lightweight).

Mike Tyson was a boxer in his days (heavyweight champion).

The late Jack Johnson remains a boxing legend.

Now the Senate majority leader from Searchlight, Nevada, and the tattooed darling of Las Vegas have something in common: Calling on President Barack Obama to posthumously pardon Johnson.

Tyson has started a petition at Change.org, “the world’s petition platform,” urging the president to pardon the late, great first black heavyweight boxing champion, who was imprisoned for crossing state lines with a white girlfriend.

(Small problem here: Obama doesn’t do posthumous pardons, or many contemporaneous ones, for that matter  – more on that later.)

Without any comment on Tyson’s own relationship with girlfriends, it’s said that Tyson launched his petition for the falsely convicted (in 1913) champ after a meeting with Democrat Reid,  leading a bipartisan effort with Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona to clear Johnson’s name. (The late Miles Davis might approve of all this.)

“Please help get a pardon for Jack Johnson, the first BLACK heavyweight champion of the world [who] was convicted by an all-white jury in June 1913, under the Mann Act,” the petition states. “He was sentenced to one year and a day for a consensual relationship he had with a Caucasian woman.”

Soul-mates, these two: Vegas-born Reid was chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission at one point, and Tyson has his own Vegas show about “undisputed truth-telling” now: “Mike Tyson is no angel. He’s done time in prison, openly admits to using drugs and paying prostitutes. And “Iron” Mike Tyson tells all in this sometimes shocking, sometimes hilarious, sometimes emotional show.”

So there might be some hope here for Johnson, if Obama weren’t so basically stingy about clemency in general — granting fewer pardons and commutations of sentence than any full-term-serving president since George Washington. (James Garfield issued fewer, but he was assassinated four months into office.)

The Office of the Pardon Attorney recently addressed this issue in response to a request for posthumous clemency for the author O. Henry, imprisoned for bank fraud during his illustrious writing career (He published from behind bars following that 1897 indictment.)

Ronald Rodgers, the pardon attorney at Justice, wrote to the petitioners for Henry that  “the well-settled policy of the Justice Department not to accept for processing applications for posthumous pardon is grounded in the belief that the time and efforts of clemency officials are better dedicated to the clemency requests of living persons, who can actually benefit from the President’s mercy.”

But hey, how often do we get to mention Harry Reid, John McCain, Mike Tyson, Miles Davis, Jack Johnson, O. Henry and Barack Obama in one breath?

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