Take This Job and Shove It: ESPN, Hank Williams Jr., and Whose Right is It Anyway?

Usually, I do not get political on here, but given the attention it is garnering it seems worth the minute to write about it.

ESPN has decided to drop the long-running “theme” to their Monday Night Football program.  And thank god for that.  The theme, performed by Hank Williams, Jr., was incredibly tired and played out.  In fact, I have hated it pretty much since its introduction over 20 years ago.  Part of the hatred stemmed from the fact that I do not like country music, but another side was because as a kid I, for some reason, hated ABC — the original carrier of MNF games — and thus hated Monday Night Football.

But ESPN did not choose to pull the intro because it was antiquated.  That would have been too logical.  No, it had to do with this:

Now, it is a painful clip to watch because Williams struggles to put together coherent sentences.  But the part that has everyone in an uproar is when he references the golf “game” between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner as being like “Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu” [i am trusting that you know who those two individuals are, but maybe i am expecting too much].

Now, certainly Williams did not directly say that Obama is like Hitler — maybe Obama was Netanyahu in that analogy — but the odd comparison started an uproar.  ESPN chose to pull the intro and “reassess” its relationship with Williams.  On Thursday, ESPN opted to sever that relationship permanently.

Now, let me get two quick things out of the way.  First, I think ESPN overreacted.  Given the shit that they have received for reprimanding Paul Azinger for his tweet concerning President Obama, this move to cut ties with Hank Williams, Jr. only adds to the groaning that ESPN is “liberal.”  So, ESPN’s decision to remove the intro was a knee-jerk reaction, even if they should have dropped the god-awful song for good over a decade ago.

Second, Williams’ comments were moronic.  He came across as an incoherent ass that seemed to embarrass the ensemble of hosts for Fox’s morning program.  I am not going to claim that Williams was drunk, but his demeanor was certainly bizarre.  However, to his credit, he did appear to “calm down” and realize pretty quickly how silly of an analogy it was, even though he apparently thinks there are only two stooges in the Three Stooges…and is upset at both the attempts to bring U.S.ians together and that the U.S. is polarized.

Now, all of that out of the way, who fucking cares!?  People get all bent out of shape when companies do what they are allowed to do — create and disconnect relationships with people.  But it is driven primary by the media portrayal of the incident.  And it is not driven solely by some bogus, “mainstream” media jargon that sheep herders like to pretend is out there.  In fact, those sheep herders are just as much part of the “mainstream” media as is the “liberal” media.

According to ESPN, both Adam Schefter and Kenny Mayne received the same slap-on-the-wrist punishment as Azinger.  In other words, they were told “don’t do that.”  That was it!  BUT, notice that their statements were not made into a big deal.  Do you know why?  Because no one in the media — liberal or conservative — thought it was newsworthy.  And good on them!  It was not newsworthy; it was simply a company reminding its employees of its rules.  Companies have the right to set “standards,” including those involving dress, character, and now social networking.  Ergo, not news.

But after Azinger posted his quite witty tweet, some putz who initially reported the tweet decides to shoot off about how Azinger was reprimanded.  Again, who cares?  But it was carried on and on by some conservatives about how it was hypocritical of ESPN, ignoring that the alleged “social media code of conduct” was only updated/released recently.  Unlike in the prior two cases, some noisy individual decides to publicize a non-issue, then certain conservative circles decide to make a mountain out of the Great Plains [not even a mole hill].  It is ESPN’s business to take care of its own house however it sees fit.  That is the “free market,” yeah?  If Azinger is unhappy with his alleged censorship, try the Golf Channel.

By the way, Kenny Mayne’s use of “Obama!” in highlights is NOT a political statement.  His tweet on the Sarah Palin bumper sticker was minor (she is no longer a politician, yeah?) and if anything the same people who are rushing to “save” the freedoms of speech for Azinger and Williams should have supported Mayne’s right to expression rather than wondering why he too was not censored.  I mean, if they are all punished for stating their opinions, does that somehow make it better?

Anyway, back to Williams.  There are some, including Williams himself, that are trying to claim that this is an infringement on his First Amendment rights.  No it is not!  No one said that he could not make those statements.  ESPN did not coach him on what to say and what not to say when Williams went on Fox & Friends.  Hank Williams, Jr. did not have his First Amendment rights “stepped on” and violated; he still was able to say what he wanted to say.

And ESPN exercised its own rights by terminating their partnership with Williams.  It does not necessarily fall into the realm of “right to work,” but there is some irony that those who are bitching over the injustice in the severing of the relationship are likely the same that are anti-union and believe in the concept of “right to work” (or, “right to fire” depending on with whom you speak).  But, ESPN is within its rights to terminate their relationship with Hank Williams, Jr. because of any reason they want, including his comments.  Remember, Williams was NOT an employee of ESPN and they likely have even more leeway went canceling such a partnership than if he was actually an employee.

Remember what the First Amendment protects.  It is primarily what the government cannot stop, protecting the citizens of the United States from government censorship.  But companies can have policies that limit what can be said by its employees.  An individual can still express her/his opinion, but a company can also at will terminate that person’s position.  Think of how Facebook can also get you in trouble!

Williams was still able to practice his First Amendment rights; and ESPN was still able to practice their right to run their business.  Remember, ESPN is still a business.

The situation between ESPN and Hank Williams, Jr. has been blown out of proportion.  The proof of that is in the fact that I am taking time to write about the damn thing.  I mean, we have one person expressing their opinion  (their right), and a company deciding to cut ties with said person.  Where is the news in that?  It is like devoting an entire day to kids deciding to go to school (i.e., it is a non-story).  This shit happens all of the time.

And whether ESPN severed the ties or Williams took his ball and went home is also meaningless; personally I think it was a situation where Williams knew he was about to be kicked off of the ledge and decided to jump himself.  However, I am sure curious where is NOW in all of this, considering Williams’ lewd comments about wanting to be able to see Fox hostess Gretchen Carlson or his awkward “Boy, was I” remark about his support of Sarah Palin.  Actually, I do not care about NOW, either!!!

If anyone over the past few months has a complaint about being “censored,” it should be Bruce Feldman.  Remember, he assisted former Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach in writing a book — with permission from ESPN — only to be suspended for such an involvement.  What did Feldman do?  He resigned and went to CBS.  There was a minor uproar, but it was exactly what it was — a non-story.  Still, if ever there should have been an uproar, it should have been over the treatment Feldman received rather than what happened to Hank Williams, Jr.

In the end, football will survive with Williams’ god-awful song.  Something tells me that this interesting sport called football will do just fine without Hank and all of his rowdy friends.

Besides, if they need a replacement, maybe ESPN should look towards a more talented Hank Williams.

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