Review: 'Taking on Tyson' not just for birds

Mike TysonAnimal Planet (tv network)Evander HolyfieldHuman Interest

Three things surprised me about “Taking on Tyson":

  1. Former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson always has found “peace and comfort” in raising pigeons;
  2. Pigeon racing is a huge sport, and
  3. Tyson, who served three years in prison for rape, bit off part of Evander Holyfield's ear and kisses his pigeons, is not the oddest duck we meet in this show. (Wait until you meet his racing team members.)

When I first read about "Taking on Tyson" (9 p.m. Sunday, Animal Planet; ), in which Tyson takes part in the 6-month homing pigeon racing season, I laughed. Pigeons? Really?

"I don't know why...," he says of his love for the birds. "I feel ridiculous even trying to explain it."

I first thought it was another odd turn in Tyson's tumultuous life, maybe even a ploy to return to the spotlight. But through interviews with his friends, archive footage and Tyson's own words, he's convinced me that he's quite sincere. He has had a love of pigeons since he was a child growing up in Brooklyn. (His first fight ever, he says, occurred after a gang member snapped the neck of one of his birds.)

It's actually kind of beautiful to see this man we've come to know as something of a monster be so gentle with the birds. (Not to mention the absolutely gorgeous footage of the pigeons in flight.) I found his personal stories about his troubled past and his current aspirations fascinating.

The narration, spoken by Michael Kenneth Williams of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," gets a little over-dramatic as it tries to create tension: "Can he put his past behind him?" "These qualities once made Mike a champion; now he's looking to find them in himself again." "Can he pull his team together?"

The manufactured tension isn't needed. Often when you turn something you love into your job, you destroy that love. Tyson decided to race pigeons at the suggestion of the show's producers. I hope he doesn't lose his precious refuge, or his friends, by competing for a racing title.

For the Love of Pigeons

A New Challenge

A Bittersweet Homecoming

The Rules of Pigeon Racing

What Makes a Successful Flier?

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