A staple of American entertainment suffered a blow on Thursday when it was announced that ESPN has pulled Hank Williams Jr.’s iconic intro song for Monday Night Football. That would be the case, of course, if a theme song for a football game was relevant in any way.
The permanent decision came three days after ESPN axed the song from the Oct. 3 broadcast. That move followed Williams’ comments on Fox News comparing Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler and calling the current administration “the enemy.” Both parties claimed to instigate the break up, with Williams delivering this statement to the Associated Press: “After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made MY decision. By pulling my opening Oct 3rd, You (ESPN) stepped on the Toes of The First Amendment Freedom of Speech, so therefore Me, My Song, and All My Rowdy Friends are OUT OF HERE. It’s been a great run.”
ESPN, meanwhile, offered this: “We have decided to part ways with Hank Williams Jr. We appreciate his contributions over the past years. The success of Monday Night Football has always been about the games and that will continue.”
As usual when I need to gauge the general public reaction to hot button sports issues, I took to Internet message boards. Also as usual, in no way did I achieve my goal. For some reason, I just can’t avoid reading the ramblings of an ignorant, vocal minority. While I give Northern Virginians much more credit, I’d like to vent/dissect the ridiculous opinions regarding this decision.
Most importantly, there is the issue of free speech as defined by the First Amendment of the Constitution. As a journalist, I suppose I may be better educated on the First Amendment than some, but essentially, anything I learned in media law classes was just a refresher to what I was taught in the sixth grade. It comes down to this: Williams wasn’t arrested, imprisoned or executed for what he said. Therefore, his First Amendment rights have not had their toes stepped on.
He was, however, fired from a private company that has millions and millions of dollars in advertising revenue on the line. Who could possibly be surprised that a network trying to reach as many viewers as possible wouldn’t want a very visible representative sharing incredibly radical and offensive political views? While it’s perfectly fine, albeit despicable, to spew bigoted rhetoric with friends at a backyard barbecue (though I’m not claiming Williams’ comments were necessarily racially motivated), you have to expect consequences when you’re a public figure and your words are broadcast on air.
Even if you’re not a famous musician, you can’t say things like what Williams said while you’re representing a company. If you’re a cashier at Target, and every time you ring someone up you say “yep, that’ll be $84.37. By the way, Obama and Hitler are pretty similar in my book,” don’t you think eventually enough people will complain, and management will decide that your skills as a cashier are not worth the loss of business caused by your comments?
I understand that in context, Williams was not actually claiming Obama and Hitler were similar in terms of political ideology. In fact, when he compared the golf pairing of Obama and John Boehner to Hitler and Benjamin Netanyahu, maybe he had the roles reversed in his mind. I doubt it though, because if he actually wanted to avoid problems, he could have drawn a comparison with other famous feuds that don’t include someone who is most famous for nearly exterminating the entire Jewish race. What about Hatfields and McCoys? Capulets and Montagues? Corleones and Tattaglias? What Williams said would be like telling someone who just ordered a pizza “hey, you know who else likes pizza? Charles Manson. You two must be pretty similar.” Yeah, it may be true that Charles Manson likes pizza, but maybe a better analogy would have been The Ninja Turtles.
At the end of the day, I don’t think anyone is going to boycott MNF, and if they do, it’ll be about as effective as the Facebook events directing people to not buy gas on a certain day. Williams can take all the rowdy friends he wants with him. I’m sure ESPN can throw a couple million dollars at an artist who has songs people younger than 40 have heard and be ready for some football before you can say Bocephus.