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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It’s Just a Damn Tree?: Roll Tiding Toomer’s Corner

By now, a big deal has been made about a tree in Auburn dying.  It litters the sports radio shows in Alabama as they talk ad nauseum about the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner.  NBC Nightly News (with Brian Williams) even had a cute little report on it.  Just, blahblahblah about a damn tree!

For those who do not know, an alleged Alabama fan poisoned the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn.  The trees, apparently 130 years old, were emblematic of Auburn football for after every victory by the University, fans would use toilet paper to roll the oaks.  Apparently, 62-year old Harvey Updyke decided to “Roll Tide” the trees that were more than double his age.  Updyke allegedly used Spike 80DF, a tree killer, to poison the trees.  This was supposedly in response to Auburn fans rolling the trees following former Alabama head coach Bear Bryant’s death…28 years ago!!!!!!

The genius then decides to call a well-listened-to local radio program and brag about it.  He claims to have done it out of revenge, but it also seemed like he wanted to gain martyr status.  Well, once it was discovered that the trees were indeed poisoned, the “hero” was arrested.  And for the most part, both Auburn and Alabama fans condemned this idiot’s actions.

Now, of course Updyke might not be the shooter from the book depository as it is possible he “claimed” to have done and did not really do it…then someone goes off and pulls the deed.  Maybe there is someone on the grassy knoll.  But that is beside the point.  The point here is this: these are just damn trees!!!  That’s all!  Trees die!  We all die!  It is a simple equation.  All trees die.  The Toomer’s Corner oaks are trees.  Hence, those trees will die!  Updyke just decided to speed up the process.  At least the trees got to see a BCS championship.  Like other Auburn “fans,” the trees can now die in peace knowing that fact.  So, move on…there is nothing to see here.  Besides, Auburn fans have been throwing “dead tree” byproducts (i.e., toilet paper) onto those trees for generations.  Isn’t that ironic……don’t you think?

But are they really “just trees”?  Those that study iconography and symbolism will state that those trees do in fact represent something — Auburn University.  Flags, national anthems, monuments, sports teams…these are all “representations.”  And those trees serve(d) as a representation of Auburn University.

Despite this, there is an odd paradox.  Uncle Popov favorite Bo Jackson was on a local radio station in Alabama talking about the poisoning of those trees.  He compared Toomer’s Corner to Mount Rushmore and that a defacing of the latter would receive heavy backlash.  However, he would later go on to claim that football “is just a game” and seemed flabbergasted that someone would take football so seriously that they would do something like poison trees.

Well…you cannot have it both ways Mr. Jackson.  If football is just a game, then those oaks are just trees.  There should be little to no outcry over the poisoning of said trees, with perhaps only environmentalists becoming upset.  But if the trees are important to the identity of the Auburn “family” (keep your incest jokes to yourselves), then football is also important.  Without football, those trees would have no importance; those oaks would represent nothing but a nice shady spot on the corner of Magnolia and College.

Bo Jackson’s misinterpretation of sport is common amongst many people.  But the fact remains that sports do create an identity that can stir emotions and connections not unlike patriotism and nationalism.  Auburn’s football team, like the Toomer’s Corner oaks, represent a “family” of individuals who associate with Auburn University.  Likewise, Alabama’s football team also serves as a representation of a “nation” of fans.  Football might be a “game,” but its representation goes beyond the playing field.

To blow off the identity that people have with sports is a mistake.  People do crazy things in the name of their country (or religion) and no one claims that “it is just a country” or “it is only a religion.”  Why do the same with sports?  Every group — be it a country, religion, ethnicity or sports team — has its fringe.  This is no different.  The fringe radicals usually do not speak for the fan base and Updyke’s actions are his alone and not representative of the Alabama “nation.”  The University of Alabama is no more culpable than Paul Finebaum (which is to state, not at all).  Only “Al from Dadeville” is guilty here…not Alabama; not Finebaum; and certainly not the “game” of college football.

Still, football (in particular) and sport (in general) do in fact create identity and “pride.”  Hence, football is just as important as those trees.  If we are to blow off football as simply a “sport” because of what some radical did, then those trees are just trees.  And their dying is a non-issue.

Irony! (big ups to the AP; via DayLife)

Austin Scott Looking for a Handout

Austin Scott is a running back.  And he is looking to get paid!

But he is not attempting to get on an NFL team, or a CFL team, or a UFL team, or even in one of the many European leagues.

No, Austin Scott is trying to get Penn State to pay him!

SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!

SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!

Do not worry, he is not currently a player for Penn State.  But he is suing the university, along with a host of others, for “mental pain and suffering” and a loss of “earning capacity.”  Hmm.

This all stems from rape allegations that were slapped on Austin in 2007.  The accuser filed the claims on 12 October claiming that she was raped on 5 October, the day before Penn State’s game with Iowa.  Scott was suspended from the team on 5 October.

Charges were eventually dropped after the Superior Court in Pennsylvania permitted the cross-examination about a previous 2003 sexual assault case brought forth by the accuser.  In that case, the accuser claimed she was sexually assaulted by a student from another university.  Charges in that case were later dropped.

So the case against Scott was dropped.  With his career at Penn State over (no more eligibility after the 2007 season), he signed with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent.  After rushing for two total yards on two carries, Scott was cut by the Browns, allegedly for not being able to pick up the offense.

With no “professional” job, and likely no career-worthy degree, he did what anyone would do in that situation — sue!  And the lawsuit seems to be casting a wide net — Centre County prosecutors, PSU law enforcement, the university itself, and the accuser.  Why not throw in El Nino for good measure?

He is seeking $150 million in both compensatory and punitive damages!!!

His attorney John Karoly tries to throw down some sympathy and bring on some tears.

When you think of the blood, sweat and tears he put in from 5 years of age until now just to get that one shot and have it destroyed by someone like this is unconscionable.  He’s distraught. That was his entire life.

Well, that makes sense.  Poor kid has worked so hard.  Karoly goes on to claim that Scott “had enjoyed a highly successful career as both a high school and college athlete.  He was slated to be a third or fourth round draft pick for the National Football League.”

Yeah, of course.  It seems that Karoly is an NFL scout during his downtime.  A recreational Mel Kiper.

Good luck with that case, Mr. Frivolous Lawsuit Attorney!  Let’s look at his illustrious career.

First, Scott was a kick-ass running back in high school.  He set the Pennsylvania state record for single-season rushing yards and touchdowns.  That’s impressive.

But his collegiate career was mediocre at best.  He had a nice freshman season, leading the team with 436 yards.  But he followed that up with 176 yards and 273 yards as a back up.

Scott prepares to do what he does best...fumble the football!

Scott prepares to do what he does best...fumble the football!

After redshirting in 2006, he was named the starter for 2007.  However, his numbers through the five games before the suspension were pedestrian — 302 yards and six touchdowns.  In fact, back-up running back Rodney Kinlaw’s numbers were better (379 yards with two TDs and a better YPC average).  Scott also fumbled the ball four times, losing all four.

In all, Scott ran for 1188 yards while at Penn State.  He was hampered by minor injuries and had minor off the field issues dealing with the coaches and team meetings.

Given his lackluster performance at Penn State, what makes Scott and Karoly believe the former would have been a third or fourth rounder?  Who is to say he would have made an NFL even without the rape charges?

While back-up players are sometimes drafted based on potential (see Matt Cassel, Ronnie Brown, Felix Jones), it is still a rare occurrence.  What does Karoly think the NFL should do — ignore his on-field performance at Penn State and consider Scott’s high school numbers?

Karoly claims that Scott carries a “scarlet letter” and that is why both NFL and CFL teams have stayed away from his client.  But there are many players with off the field problems — from Michael Vick to Ray Lewis — who are given second chances.  If you have the talent, then a team is willing to provide another opportunity.

An NFL team gave Scott a chance, but apparently he did not grasp the offense or show any determination to improve.  I would think that the NFL and team scouts are able to judge talent coming into the league.  And apparently, he was not deemed good enough.

In the end, this seems like an attempted cash grab.  I am not stating that this case will be thrown out and that Karoly and Scott have no case.  The legal system is a tricky landmine field and if navigated carefully almost any lawsuit can be ruled favorably (see the McDonald’s hot coffee case).

But it just seems frivolous, especially going after 12 different individuals.

Maybe there should be 13 people named in the lawsuit — Austin Scott.  After all, it seems that his inability to hold on to the football caused him to lose carries prior to his suspension.  I am sure that had something to do with the his diminishing “earning capacity.”

I guess all the blood, sweat and tears that Scott put in since he was five did not solve his fumble-itis.

Just blame it on the hands!

Karoly just thought of someone else that he could sue!

Karoly just thought of someone else that he could sue!

Jeff Passan, Sports Media, and the Loss of Power

Jeff Passan is a writer for Yahoo! Sports and formerly of The Kansas City Star.  A newspaper, for those who did not know (yes, newspapers do still exist).  And apparently he is a bitter man.

Passan recently wrote a column for Yahoo! Sports ridiculing Tony Faust’s assessment that the Minnesota Twins, in particular soon-to-be MVP Joe Mauer, were stealing signals from the Detroit Tigers.  Passan is quick to discredit Faust’s analysis by claiming quickly that the latter “does not play baseball, nor is he a scout.”  He later continues to attack Faust by insinuating that it is completely made up.  That Faust “manufactured” it.

Joe Mauer: catcher!  MVP!  batting champ!  sign stealer?!?!

Joe Mauer: catcher! MVP! batting champ! sign stealer?!?!

In another column, Passan takes another shot at Faust by playing off the conspiracy theory aspect a la “the grassy knoll.”  In this shot, Passan attempts to paint Faust as a bit loopy.

Is Faust accurate?  Well, I am not sold that Mauer was stealing signs to relay to Jason Kubel.  The video and Kubel’s reactions did not seem to fit the theory.  But it is interesting how quickly Passan tries to de-legitimate the claim by stressing how players would be more subtle; “an exaggerated lean that looks natural, or a hand tap that is familiar between only two players.”

But grabbing the earhole of one’s helmet, something that the Twins claim that Mauer does “all the time,” seems subtle enough to me.  Or wiping the face.

Plus, I seriously doubt that Mauer or any of the Twins would claim, “Hell yeah we were stealing signs.  That Gerald Laird is easy to read!”  So their negative reaction to that is only natural.  As is the Tigers reaction that Twins are known for stealing signs.

But I am not here to debate whether or not Mauer stole signs.  As I noted above, I do not completely buy that the video Faust provided proves it.  (But I do believe that it does happen).

However, my concern here is Passan’s attack and reaction towards the “28-year old graphic designer from Maple Grove, Minnesota.”

In general, there seems to be a fear of the overall power of the Internet.  Remember the days of stealing, ERRRR I mean downloading music for free.  Record companies and Metallica had a conniption fit!  Lawsuits abound and soon “free” Internet downloads went the way of New Coke and iTunes and other pay sites filled the gaps.

What was the motivating factor in the shutdown of free Internet music downloading?  Greed?  Copyright infringement?  Perhaps.  I mean, the artists were having their work passes around for free.

But consider this.  People had been recording cassette tapes for years.  Cassette tapes…you DO remember those things, yeah?  Whether it was tape to tape recording or straight from the FM, people had copied music.  And people recorded television shows or movies onto VHS tapes.  Okay, I am aging myself.  But the use of tapes to record your favorite music or sitcom has been in play for awhile.

The technology existed to record CDs.  And certainly people did that.  Borrow a buddy’s ABBA CD so you could make a copy for yourself.  The technology was there then and the record execs said little to nothing.

They are angry because you found their cover of My Heart Will Go On on Napster!

They are angry because you found their cover of "My Heart Will Go On" on Napster!

But things changed with Napster and peer-to-peer sharing.  Suddenly sharing files accelerated and it was a whole new ballgame.  It was a great way to discover new music, or get that Britney Spears song.  Record companies should have embraced it!

Well, they certainly did embrace it.  A giant bearhug called “lawsuit.”  And they went hard after people, from 13-year old Marilyn Manson fans to 89-year old Marilyn Manson fans.  “Don’t take our music without paying for it!” was their reply.

But what were the record execs and artists really upset about?  Was it the sharing of music, something that had occurred for a long period of time?  Or was it simply that the record companies did not capitalize on the technology first?  Many argue that it is the latter that upsets the music industry.  I tend to side with the latter, but the former plays a role as well.

Point is, the music industry was upset that someone beat them to the punch.  And they did whatever they could to discredit those involved until they had control of it.

What does this have to do with Passan?  Well, it is more directed at the attempts of reporters to discredit blogs and bloggers in general than it is a shot at Passan specifically.

Go back to June.  Jerod Morris, a blogger for Midwest Sports Fan, wrote a piece concerning Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez.  In the piece, Morris wondered in print what could be the cause of Ibanez’s seemingly dramatic increase in power numbers.  Morris does examine many explanatory factors, but also references the use of steroids.  The piece is careful not to outright call Ibanez a cheater or claim he was definitely taking any type of “performance-enhancer.”

…any aging hitter who puts up numbers this much better than his career averages is going to immediately generate suspicion that the numbers are not natural, that perhaps he is under the influence of some sort of performance enhancer. And since I was not able to draw any absolute parallels between his prodigously improved HR rate and his new ballpark’s hitter-friendliness, it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility that “other” performance enhancers could be part of the equation (emphasis added).

Speculation arose in June of Ibanez possible using enhancers.  Ironically, his power numbers decreased

Speculation arose in June of Ibanez possible using "enhancers." Ironically, his power numbers decreased

The key words are really suspicion and possibility.  This did not stop The Philadelphia Inquirer columnist John Gonzalez from blasting Morris’s blog.  Although, to Gonzalez’s credit, he did seem to at least understand where Morris was writing from and did not slight the power of blogs.  Ken Rosenthal, on the other hand, spent a great deal of time belittling Morris, as can be seen on this Outside the Lines segment.

Hmm.  Barry Bonds’ increase in power numbers (and head size) have driven speculation.  Game of Shadows helped solidify those speculations.  There was much made of Alex Rodriguez and the use of steroids as well.  Reporter Selena Roberts helped break much of that speculation.

But where was the outcry then?  Well, who was “reporting” those speculations?  Reporters!  People in the media.  Gatekeepers!

And that is the fear.  With declines in newspaper circulations, there is a fear that these reporters, including those on online media outlets, are becoming obsolete.  And when they are not the ones who are breaking the stories, it means that they are losing their power to dictate knowledge.

Controlling and dictating the construction of knowledge is critically important in maintaining power.  And for much of our lifetimes, and those of our parents and grandparents, newspapers and newspaper writers have been the ones in power and controlled information, and therefore knowledge.

What blogs in particular and the Internet in general have done is empower the previously powerless masses.  And when it comes to sports, fans now have a voice.  And evidently, that voice is becoming audible.

This disempowers sports reporters.  And, in turn, they lose their gatekeeper status.  And they have taken notice.  Hence the reaction towards blogs that break stories.  Like the music industry, when reporters are beaten to the punch, the natural reaction seems to be to discredit those who write in the “new media.”

Hence Gonzalez’s sarcastic use of “poet” when referring to Morris.

Hence Rosenthal’s parental lecture of “don’t do that” (complete with finger waving).

And hence Passan’s attack of a Twins’ fan’s occupation and competence.

Sorry, this was all I could find!

Sorry, this was all I could find!

I am not claiming that Morris or Faust are correct in their assessments.  I think Morris’s speculation is warranted, but that is all it was — speculation.  And Faust’s analysis seems fuzzy at best.

But the point is not about the bloggers and the “grainy” videos, but simply the vitriolic reaction from the media.  The reactions and criticism of bloggers comes across as bitter.  Perhaps the bitterness comes from that slip in power and the loss of the gatekeeper status.

Or maybe, in the case of Passan, he is just bitter because, like Faust, he “does not play baseball, nor is he a scout.”

But then again, I am not a “sports writer” either.