Hank Williams Jr., aka Bocephus, made a reasonable point about Barack Obama playing golf with John Boehner, but he made the wrong comparison. Recent history has shown that whenever someone on television, radio or any other form of media compares a person or situation to the Holocaust or Adolf Hitler things end badly. People should know by know that references to certain topics are just off limits: the Holocaust, slavery, and homosexuality to name a few. Although Williams’ point that two people who basically act as enemies playing golf together rubbed many Americans the wrong way made perfect sense; comparing the petty, childish games Democrats and Republicans have been playing lately doesn’t exactly require a Hitler reference. Regardless of Bocephus’ mistake, I don’t blame him at all … I blame ESPN.
Bocephus has every right to cite the First Amendment to the Constitution to express his disdain for what ESPN did, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The US government can’t do anything to prevent Williams from making his comments, but that doesn’t mean that ESPN has to keep him employed. If anyone walked into their boss’s office and called him an asshole they shouldn’t be surprised if they got fired. The company doesn’t prevent anyone from cursing at the boss, thus keeping with everyone’s First Amendment rights, but they also have the right to discipline employees as they see fit. That being said, ESPN is to blame for this whole fiasco. If they had really been paying attention (or if they watched this Saturday Night Live clip) they would have known that this isn’t the first time Bocephus has taken rather controversial stance on a sensitive issue. Although the lyrics are quite benign, Williams released a song in 1988 entitled “If The South Woulda Won.” Is that any less controversial than what he said on Fox and Friends? In addition, Williams has a past history of drug and alcohol abuse. He’s presumably clean now, but “the worldwide leader in sports” should have known they weren’t getting a choir boy when they signed him. ESPN ignored these nuggets when they asked him to record a song for their telecast every Monday evening, so it’s perfectly understandable why Williams was so put off by them not playing his song on October 3rd.
I watch ESPN every day, but they make several odd, inconsistent decisions that confuse viewers, so I can imagine those who do business with them get confused also. Rush Limbaugh was hired to be a studio analyst for their Sunday morning pregame football telecast. He was soon fired after making questionable comments about Donovan McNabb. Isn’t that why a guy like that is hired, because he’s known for pushing the envelope verbally? I don’t blame Limbaugh; the onus is on the company for employing a guy known to be divisive. Former ESPN columnist Bruce Feldman was fired essentially for writing a book with controversial ex-Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach. Instead of firing him after the book was published, why did they let him even begin the project? Baseball analyst Harold Reynolds was fired for disputed comments to an intern, but Mike Tirico was simply suspended for multiple episodes of sexual harassment and stalking. Jalen Rose wasn’t fired after getting arrested for DUI and not reporting it to ESPN, but Michael Irvin was essentially let go for rape allegations (although ESPN says that is not the reason for his firing). Anyone detect a pattern? Me neither. ESPN needs to get their house in order before placing all the blame on Hank Williams, Jr.
Williams’ song “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” has been a Monday night staple for a couple of decades, but in all seriousness, is that song why people get excited about watching football on Mondays? An even better question is how many people would rather see Faith Hill prance around in leather than a middle aged cowboy wearing sunglasses? I’m not going to shed any tears for Bocephus, as I’m sure he’s been handsomely rewarded for very little work, but he’s not to blame for the situation. His First Amendment rights were not violated by ESPN, but their inconsistency in discipline further underscores their need to re-evaluate their business partnerships. Rush Limbaugh, Hank Williams, The Decision, the Longhorn Network, and many other examples illustrate a need to darken the line between sports journalism and ratings boons. Bocephus is not to blame … this one is solely on ESPN.