Liam Neeson deserves a medal: Liverpool icon John Barnes says hordes 'jumping on bandwagon' over 'black man' comments
The former Liverpool footballer John Barnes has made an impassioned defence of Liam Neeson, saying the Ballymena man and Hollywood star "deserves a medal".
The England international - who faced racist monkey chants from the football stands as a player - said there was a "witch hunt" against the actor and that the backlash would discourage more people speaking out about how they once felt.
"The story has been spun. What he's done is tell the truth" - Former England footballer @officialbarnesy defends Liam Neeson after the actor said he had thoughts about killing a black person after a friend was raped.— Sky News (@SkyNews) February 5, 2019
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He blamed society saying everyone was "unconsciously racist" given how impressions were formed through cultures and in the media over hundreds of years.
Neeson sparked controversy after he said he had walked the streets armed with a cosh, hoping he would be approached by “a black b*****d” so that he could kill him.
"It's been spun," Barnes told Sky News, "[Neeson] is saying he is horrified and ashamed about how he felt. That is exactly what he said and after a week he said to himself 'what am I doing' - that is the reality.
"As much as people are jumping on the bandwagon of how terrible it is. What he has done is tell the truth.
"The big problem we have is when people are afraid to admit the way they feel. I have more respect for him now than if he came out and said he viewed all black people as equal.
"For a week because of the stress he was under when his friend was raped by a black person and because of the narrative around black people - and this was many years ago - surrounding the perception we have of them he then wanted to kill every black person."
Neeson said it was a "horrible" time and he was ashamed of his behaviour.
He explained that coming from Northern Ireland and experiencing the troubles he "understood the need for revenge".
"But it just leads to more revenge, to more killing and more killing, and Northern Ireland's proof of that," he said.
"All this stuff that's happening in the world, the violence, is proof of that, you know. But that primal need, I understand."
Since the comments appeared - as part of a publicity drive for his new film Cold Pursuit - the actor has faced torrent of criticism with some calling for his films to be boycotted.
John Barnes said in contrast to Winston Churchill who was hailed a "hero" for his views on "gassing the lesser races" and never admitting he was wrong, yet Neeson has been heavily criticised.
He added: "He was horrified and ashamed for thinking that but that is not the story we are telling.
"We now want him to be pilloried and never work again. People are now going to be afraid to tell the truth on how they feel.
"I always say we are all unconscious racists and he said unconsciously for a week that's how he felt.
"We have people who have been doing it and don't admit it for 20 years but as long as we don't admit it we think everything is ok."
He outright dismissed a suggestion Neeson made the comments to generate publicity saying they were the widely held views of the time.
"This was 30 years ago... not last week," he added.
"People are talking about Liam Neeson not working again. You think he had done this to promote a film? Absolutely not."
"It's positive and he should be applauded. People will be afraid to admit it now because of what's happened to Liam Neeson."
Belfast Telegraph Digital