Call me a communist, but I think it was outrageous that ESPN
banned the playing of "Are You Ready for Some Football" by Hank
Williams Jr. The ban, which began this past Monday night and will
continue ad nauseum, is an egregious hit to the head of basic American
values, such as free speech.
It's the worst crime perpetrated by that bastion of the first amendment since the hiring -- and firing -- of Rush Limbaugh in the 20th century. (OK, so technically, he resigned. But the writing was on the wall.)
Based in Bristol, Conn., ESPN is 80% owned by ABC, an indirect subsidiary of The Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS). Privately held Hearst Corp. holds the remaining 20%.
Hank Williams Jr. has been a staple on ESPN's Monday Night Football since 1989. But ESPN threw him out of the game for some remarks he made on Fox & Friends, a cable news talk show on Fox News
perhaps best-known for the silly banter between its hosts. While
discussing current events with host Steve Doocy, the singer compared a
golf game between President Obama and John Boehner to one featuring
Hitler and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
That's it, ESPN decided. You're finished for the season. Hand in your
song! It was a violation of an American's basic right to wake up at
dawn, drink Fox & Friends' lousy coffee (I have had that experience), and say the first thing that came to mind.
What self-respecting Monday Night Football fan wakes up that early in the morning and watches Fox & Friends? So Williams's comments went viral. Big deal. What doesn't these days?
The question ESPN management should have asked itself during the
constitutional crisis is this: What does a singer's quirky political
opinions have to do with a song that has reached the iconic level of an
American folk song?
I mean, it wasn't as if he sang the "Horst Wessel" song.
And what, really, was Hank Williams's crime? Did he accuse Obama of
being a socialist or a Muslim or of not being born in the United States,
all of which Fox audiences have heard from guests fairly regularly?
Did he offend the NFL by saying that professional football was a
violent, dangerous sport, and could be harmful physically and mentally?
The metaphor about them playing golf didn't work. That's not
surprising. Hank Williams Jr. is no Cole Porter or Noel Coward. He's not
Rather than being upset imagining Hitler and Netanyahu on the links
with the president, Williams would have been wiser to say it was as
unthinkable as seeing the Packers-Vikings or Colts-Giants sitting down
for a six pack of brewskis together.
It was yet another case of shoemakers not sticking to their lasts.
But, WOW. What a shocking overreaction by the commissars at ESPN. What
was their problem? Were they afraid of Hitler being defamed?
At the very least, ESPN should be penalized for unnecessary
roughness, promise to stop repressing free speech at other networks,
apologize to Hank Williams, and bring back the song. "Are You Ready for
Some Football" has become a national anthem that arouses the passions
the way Kate Smith singing of "God Bless America" did for an older
Williams has responded to his firing by taking pot shots at Disney-owned ESPN, saying things like "Mickey is a mean mouse."
What kind of lesson is all this to young America? I know banning the
song is causing a problem in my house. I have been trying to teach my
three-and-a-half-year-old grandson, Milo Finn Kitman, basic wholesome
values by letting him watch Monday Night Football.
"Are you ready for some football?" I call out when the show goes on.
"Yes," he screams, jumping up and down with the dancers on the screen. It is his favorite song, second only to the Bob the Builder theme. He wants to get America back to work, his mother says.
His interest in football, sad to say, is yet to kick in. But any day
now, later this season, I dread having to explain what happened to his
"It's banned, kid."
"The network thought the singer was offensive."
"Something he once said."
"Didn't you tell me we had the freedom to say anything in this country? Except 'no' to my mother and father?"
Next Monday night, I will be taking a crack at explaining the limited free speech concept.