When he was nine years old, Liam Neeson took up boxing. He discovered acting a few years later, and the rest is history. But Neeson is quite the boxing enthusiast. In fact, there’s a video on ESPN’s website in which he discusses his experiences with the sport for five minutes.
Compare that to his appearance on “SportsCenter” on Wednesday night. To suggest it was an awkward exchange would be an understatement.
Here’s where the network went wrong: the very first question Mike Hill threw Neeson’s way was not about boxing, but football – specifically, New York Jets football (they used the fact that Neeson resides in New York City as an excuse to ask him his thoughts on the Jets being blown out at home by the 49ers). After mumbling a request to “start again,” Neeson asks Hill, “Are we live?” Upon Hill’s confirmation, Neeson replies, “Oh, shit…”
Technically, he was honest – the Jets did play like crap on Sunday.
“I’ll be very honest with you,” Neeson continued. “It’s only the second football game I’ve ever been at in my life, I still don’t understand the rules… But on Sunday, yes, I know the Jets got trounced, but it is great to just celebrate great athleticism.”
“Speaking of athleticism,” said Hill moving on to the next question – and you can imagine what the subject matter of the next question would be – “they brought in Tim Tebow, a very athletic player… Should Rex Ryan, in your opinion, make that move to Tim Tebow?”
This is exactly what Dan Patrick and Doug Gottlieb were talking about the other day: ESPN is manufacturing the sports news cycle by putting actors on the spot for their comments on whether or not Tebow should be the Jets’ starting quarterback, when Neeson’s mostly on ESPN to promote his new movie, “Taken 2” (which, believe it or not, is being released by 20th Century Fox; I thought the studio behind the film would be Disney, which is ESPN’s parent company).
Mind you, ESPN is putting actors on the spot who are not very skilled in the NFL for their thoughts on one of the most polarizing NFL players in the league today.
“You see, you’re speaking ancient Arabic to me,” Neeson confirmed. “I swear to you. I just don’t understand the game.”
It isn’t until two minutes into the segment that Hill finally decides, “So, let’s talk a little boxing.”
Again, back to that example that Gottlieb used on “The Dan Patrick Show” regarding ESPN’s Tebow edict: “I would just, I would jokingly throw it into a segment… ‘I gotta find… fifteen seconds here to talk about Tebow. All right, let’s move on to Major League Baseball.’”
You’d think ESPN would have pre-screened him before wheeling him out on “SportsCenter.” Shouldn’t he have been told in advance that they were going to spring a Tebow question on him?
Brian Webber, co-host of NFL Network’s “NFL AM” morning show, attempted to defend Neeson being asked about Tebow and the Jets by ESPN, and his appearing on “SportsCenter” as a whole: “The assumption of many business leaders is that hardcore fans are already invested in sports shows, so the goal is to engage ‘casual fans’. A chat with a movie star is the way to potentially get that done. Where things went terribly wrong was perhaps not having a chat before, to feel out if Neeson knew anything about sports. Then the host has to ad-lib something comparing the pressure of acting to sports, etc.
“I’ve been in situations in the past where I was told to ask an entertainer promoting a project what I felt was an inane question. When we went live, I simply changed to something I thought had a chance of making a segment work. That train wreck could have been prevented. If you’re going to bomb on the air – and we all do it more than we’d like to – it’s better to bomb by yourself or at least on your own terms.”
While I suspect (as does Webber) that ESPN didn’t approach Neeson before his “SportsCenter” appearance, there is no word on whether or not that indeed took place.
But this is exactly what happens when you expect anybody and everybody to have an opinion on Tim Tebow – just because your news cycle relies heavily on Tim Tebow.
As Liam Neeson’s character in “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” once said: “Your focus determines your reality.”
Right now, Tim Tebow would be ESPN’s Honey Boo Boo to Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn.