SBD/October 7, 2011/Media

Columnists Weigh In On ESPN's Decision To Cut Hank Williams Jr. From "MNF"

Williams' "Are you ready for some football?" will no longer be used by ESPN
Hank Williams Jr. has "the right" to make the comments he made about President Obama that ultimately led to him being dropped from ESPN's "MNF" broadcast, but he "also has to be aware that his actions have consequences," according to Ryan Cooper of the WASHINGTON POST. Cooper, noting Williams compared Obama with Adolf Hitler and called him the "enemy," wrote, "I strongly doubt that ESPN and Disney and their various corporate sponsors want to be associated with an entertainer on their big NFL game of the week that drives their ratings bus who would make such an analogy" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 10/6). Washington Post columnist Mike Wise said freedom of speech "comes with a price when you work for a multi-national conglomerate and you have a business relationship with them." Wise: "You represent them in some way ... If you’re going to call the leader of the free world an enemy, guess what, you’re probably not going to be working there very long” (“Washington Post Live,” Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, 10/6). In Cincinnati, Paul Daugherty writes Williams “has equal protection under the law, to make a fool of himself,” but ESPN “has the right to disassociate itself from fools” (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 10/7). The Nation’s Dave Zirin said ESPN "didn’t have a choice at this point” but to part ways with Williams. The NFL is “always trying to be all things to all people, and to have as the spokesperson of their flagship show someone who would be viscerally offensive ... then it becomes a different question altogether." Syracuse Univ. Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture Dir Robert Thompson said ESPN “wanted to make this go away, and anything that causes this much trouble is not something you want to keep flowing around in the culture.” But First Amendment Center President Ken Paulson said, “It’s a scary time if a lot of people believe you ought to lose your job when you speak out. That only leads to silence” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 10/6).

MAKING THE RIGHT MOVE: ESPN's Bomani Jones, who appeared Thursday in a memorable "Outside The Lines" segment related to the Williams controversy, wrote on his personal blog he believes ESPN "made the right call" in dropping the country music star. Jones wrote, "I find Hitler references distasteful, but I also debate whether they should be fireable. I know, however, that they are fireable. Full-time employees might get suspended, but part-timers get fired. That's not just ESPN. That's the world, and this is where that part of the discussion should end" (BOMANIJONES.com, 10/6). However, in L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes, “It's only because of its erratic track record in the punishment department, likely determined by Disney shareholders, that we can't be sure week to week how someone like Williams could be justly treated without letting emotions cloud things” (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 10/7). Meanwhile, USA TODAY’s Michael Hiestand writes “both sides win” with the decision. ESPN’s “payoff is its biggest buzz in years,” and Williams has gotten the same effect. Williams is “now a victim” and a “sort of rebel.” “MNF” should have been “happy to hold the door” for Williams, as a show “built on novelty ... has become just another NFL game.” ESPN now can “pick somebody new to open ‘MNF’ and get to hype it, like it’s really a big deal” (USA TODAY, 10/7).

MANIC MONDAYS: In Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley writes, “Telling Hank to take his Hitler analogies, along with his trenchant political analysis, and hit the dusty trail was the easy part. Now the hard part -- restoring ‘Monday Night Football’ to its place as the destination of choice for National Football League fans in prime-time television, or at least slowing the rate of its descent, its standing, its clout and its relevance. Hasn’t the caché of ‘Monday Night Football’ migrated to the upstart ‘Sunday Night Football’ on NBC? Isn’t Sunday night, not Monday night, the real appointment event now for television viewers of NFL football in prime time?” (JSONLINE.com, 10/6).
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