ESPN Coordinating Producer Tom McNeeley III, who will oversee the network’s coverage of the College World Series for the third consecutive year, knows a little bit about boxing.
At least, “a little” is what he would say if asked. In all actuality, he comes from a family with a steep history in the sport.
His father, also named Tom, was a Sports Illustrated cover subject who fought Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight championship in 1961.
His brother is Peter McNeeley, who retired with a 47-7 record and was Mike Tyson’s first post-prison opponent in 1995.
Even his grandfather, Tom, Sr., was a successful boxer, representing the United States on the 1928 U.S. Olympic team.
While his life will be consumed by all aspects of the College World Series for 11 straight days beginning Saturday, his family memories and influences are never far from the front of his mind.
As the oldest of four boys, Tom was the first to try his hand at following in the steps of his paternal lineage. But it wasn’t a business his father pushed — and one he wasn’t passionate about taking up.
“I was in seventh grade at an AAU boxing event which happened to be at the same time as junior high basketball tryouts,” said Tom.
“I really wanted to try out for the team but was nervous how my dad might react. But when I told him, he just said ‘I don’t care what you’re doing as long as you’re not sitting on the couch all winter.’ I never went back in the ring again, playing basketball and pond hockey every winter throughout school.
“My dad felt it was important for us to learn to defend ourselves, so all of the boys boxed in the amateur ranks as kids. But he didn’t want any of us to go into professional boxing. He actually tried to talk Peter out of choosing it as a career and made him finish college before he could pursue his dream.”
As a producer for more than 25 years, Tom has been around hundreds of star athletes so he’s rarely rattled around famous people.
But he’s still amazed at the amount of celebrities at his brother’s fight against Tyson. It also gave him a reminder about how far-reaching his dad’s celebrity can go.
“My dad was pretty modest about his boxing career and football days at Michigan State,” said Tom.
“He rarely talked about what he achieved. Growing up, we didn’t see any of the newspaper clippings or magazine covers of him on the walls or lying around the house.
“So I’m standing in a VIP room with my dad a few hours before Peter’s fight when actor James Caan entered the room. He came right at my dad and jumped into his arms.
“They’re joking around, jabbing at each other and talking. I just stood there, amazed, because my dad never told me he knew him. After Caan left, I asked him, ‘Dad, how do you know Sonny from The Godfather?’
“And he casually answers ‘Oh, Jimmy was a little running back on the freshman football team at Michigan State, but he transferred to some acting school after a year.’ The next day, I open the USA Today and read James Caan talking about how great it was to see Tom McNeeley. I was in awe.”
That might be the most awe-inspiring moment for Tom, but the weekend’s head-scratcher came courtesy of an actor he assumed would have had much more pull than he.
“I was trying to get into a club to meet some friends, but the line of people had to be 300 deep. I figured I was being confused for Peter all weekend, so I’d use it to my advantage and finally say I was Peter to get in.
“The bouncer recognized me right away as Peter’s brother. He asked me if this guy mulling around me was with me. I had no idea who it was but figured I’d help the guy out, so I said he was and he let us both in. Turned out it was Nicolas Cage, who had been in a ton of good movies already. We walked in, he thanked me and we went our separate ways. I wish he would’ve at least bought me a beer.”
Being in the business, Tom understands the need to report news and the talk a juicy story can generate.
But his family dynamic gives him a perspective most producers don’t have. Through his father and brother, Tom has had a front row seat to how less than positive press and the scrutiny that accompanies it can affect a person.
“There are times I get a pang when I read a story or hear strong criticism of an athlete or a coach. It takes me back to seeing my dad and Peter at those moments,” Tom said.
“It’s definitely given me a different perspective and is something I try to bring to the job every day when producing an event.”
It’s perspective he has taken into his Emmy-winning career with ESPN across the FIFA World Cup, NHL, Little League World Series, NBA, BassMaster Classic, College World Series and more.
College World Series
ESPN’s extensive coverage of the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship will culminate with all 17 possible College World Series games Saturday, June 18, through Wednesday, June 29. The network’s 32nd consecutive year of coverage will feature the entire event on ESPN or ESPN2 with simulcasts on ESPN3.com and ESPN Mobile TV. Every telecast will be offered in high definition on ESPN HD and ESPN2 HD. Telecasts of the event will include the use of K Zone, new graphics, music from country artist Jason Aldean, vignettes and more.
For a printable schedule and coverage details: http://es.pn/mSdRLp