Thursday, October 06, 2011

ESPN isn’t ready for any more of Hank Williams Jr.

Hank Williams Jr. has long been the voice of the common man, at least according to his own bio. For years he has been serving up observations on life and society inciting a rousing “Hell Yeah!” response from his fans.

ESPN told the so called “voice of the common man” on Thursday they no longer wanted to have anything more to do with Hank – ending his 20-year association with Monday Night Football.

ESPN announced that it will no longer use Hank Williams, Jr.’s iconic “Are You Ready For Some Football” open in the wake of his controversial comments to Fox News earlier this week.

“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.”

Williams began working with Monday Night Football in 1989 when Monday Night Football was on ABC.

Hank followed ESPN’s announcement with a suggestion that it was he and not ESPN that ended the relationship.

“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.”

The right to free speech has been a long held belief Americans hold close to their hearts as a key to the lives they lead. The right to free speech is a large part what makes the United States of America one of the best countries in the World in which to live.

However, with free speech comes a sense of responsibility, a real understanding and a genuine appreciation of what free speech means.

Bruce W. Sanford, a First Amendment expert at Baker Hostetler, told The New York Times he “wouldn’t pounce too hard on him for not being a constitutional lawyer.”

“He seems to be saying that ESPN is discouraging his freedom of speech, which it certainly is, but it is entitled to do so as a private company which does not have to use a tone-deaf politico to sing into its kickoffs,” Sanford said.

How did Hank manage to get himself kicked off Monday Night Football?

Williams criticized President Barack Obama on “Fox & Friends,” Monday morning. Williams compared President Obama, a Democrat, and House Speaker John A. Boehner, a Republican playing golf together over the summer to “Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu,” referring to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.

When the show’s anchor Brian Kilmeade gave Williams a chance to clarify by saying he didn’t understand the comment, Williams replied “I’m glad you don’t, brother, because a lot of people do. They’re the enemy: Obama! And Biden! Are you kidding? The Three Stooges.”

Later in the interview, anchor Gretchen Carlson pointed out to Williams that he basically compared Barack Obama to one of the worst human being to ever live.

"Well that's true. But I'm telling you like it is," Williams said.

ESPN was quick to pull Williams’ All My Rowdy Friends" from that night’s telecast saying: “While Hank Williams, Jr. is not an ESPN employee, we recognize that he is closely linked to our company through the open to Monday Night Football. We are extremely disappointed with his comments, and as a result we have decided to pull the open from tonight's telecast."

Williams offered two terrible apologies before ESPN decided Hank was a little too rowdy for them. One of those half-hearted apologies included:

"I have always been very passionate about Politics and Sports and this time it got the Best or Worst of me. The thought of the Leaders of both Parties Jukin and High Fiven on a Golf course, while so many Families are Struggling to get by simply made me Boil over and make a Dumb statement and I am very Sorry if it Offended anyone. I would like to Thank all my supporters. This was Not written by some Publicist."

Williams was, at least, smart enough to cancel is follow-up appearance on Fox News Tuesday.

James Miller, co-author of a recent book about ESPN titled “Those Guys Have All the Fun,” told The New York Times that sooner rather than later ESPN would have shown Hank the door, and that Williams’ decision to exercise his right to free speech created the opportunity ESPN may have been looking for anyways.

“Even before this occurred, there were people who thought the opening was past its prime and were advocating a new one,” he said. “Others want to keep it for its tradition and legacy.”

The Anti-Defamation League was pleased with ESPN’s response, and made it clear earlier in the week that the group wanted much more from Hank. For the Anti-Defamation League, it wasn’t a matter of free speech but rather Williams’ unacceptable choice of words.

Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and Holocaust survivor, told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement that “the Holocaust was a singular event in human history, and it is an insult to the memory of the millions who died as a result of Hitler’s plan of mass extermination to compare the Nazi dictator to any American president.”

“Hank Williams Jr. should know better," Foxman says. "He owes an apology to Holocaust survivors, their families, and the brave American soldiers who gave of themselves to fight the Nazi menace during World War II. The last thing we need is to enter another election cycle on a sour note tainted with inappropriate, tired and over-the-top analogies to the Nazis.”

Williams’ attempted to set the record straight in his second attempt at an apology.

"Some of us have strong opinions and are often misunderstood," he said in a statement. "My analogy was extreme -- but it was to make a point. I was simply trying to explain how stupid it seemed to me -- how ludicrous that pairing was."

How difficult is it for anyone to say they’re sorry and they should have never linked the most hated man in history to the President of the United States? Apparently too difficult for Hank Williams Jr.

What’s next for Monday Night Football?

"The football-themed tease open that we have been using to start the telecast will now air before kickoff," an ESPN spokesperson said. "The overall telecast will begin with a quick scene set highlighting the atmosphere at Ford Field. In between the scene set and tease, we will have preview segments in the booth with Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski and a couple of commercial breaks as usual. This is the format we'll likely use for the remainder of the season. We haven't made any decisions beyond that."

Monday night football this week feature early season fan darling, the 4-0 Detroit Lions, hosting the storied Chicago Bears. Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions legend and a member of the Football Hall of Fame, will welcome America to Monday Night Football. A much more fitting opening.

Free speech is alive and well in America. Hank Williams Jr. was free to say whatever he wanted, but at the same time ESPN was free to tell Hank Williams Jr. they were no longer interested in associating with him.

God Bless America.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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