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HomeEntertainmentHank Williams, Jr/ESPN Controversy: Free Speech Does Not Mean Freedom From Consequences

Hank Williams, Jr/ESPN Controversy: Free Speech Does Not Mean Freedom From Consequences

Hank Williams Jr. MNFCongress 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.- Amendment 1 of the United States Constitution

As the large majority of Americans know, or SHOULD know, and as most people in other developed countries know, the above mentioned statement is the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. It is the first of the the first ten amendments of the Constitution known as the Bill of Rights. As it states, United States citizens have a right to belong to any religion they want to. In other words, the US government can not establish a state religion. Americans can get together peacefully, and more importantly, have the FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

Freedom of speech is one of the greatest attributes of being an American. You are allowed to speak your mind about anything. I am allowed to write this blog without government censorship. It is absolutely wonderful. However, what needs to be understood is that just because one has freedom of speech, one is not absolved of responsibility for one’s speech. If you say something, you have to own it, and take responsibility if what you say gets you in hot water, especially if you are a celebrity, and you are associated with a large corporation.

[adinserter block=”2″]The latest celebrity to get himself in some rather hot political water is Hank Williams, Jr. Most NFL fans who have watched “Monday Night Football” over the past two decades are quite familiar with his “All Our Rowdy Friends” song that kicks off the “MNF” broadcast, with it’s famous chorus, “Are you ready for some football….a Monday Night Party………” Well, on Monday morning, October 3, 2011, Hank Williams, Jr, who is an ultra conservative, went on the Fox News show, “Fox and Friends.” He , unprompted , was talking about President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner going golfing togethers, and stated, “It’d be like Hitler playing golf with (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu.” He then was asked to clarify , and said that they (meaning Obama and Biden ) “were the enemy.” Well, ESPN yanked his “All Our Rowdy Friends” intro from that night’s “MNF’s” showing of the Indianapolis Colts vs the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

ESPN made the following statement: “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.” Hank William’s made a statement on Monday night via his publicist with the following: “Some of us have strong opinions and are often misunderstood. 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. They’re polar opposites and it made no sense. They don’t see eye-to-eye and never will. I have always respected the office of the president.” Williams made an apology again on Tuesday with the following: “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,” Williams wrote on Facebook and his website. “I am very sorry if it offended anyone.”

Now, there is, of course the debate of whether ESPN did the right thing, and the issue of censorship. There were quite a few people on the conservative side saying ESPN censored Williams. What I found interesting about that is that these are the same people who preach responsibility. These are probably some of the same people who slammed the Dixie Chicks for expressing THEIR free speech rights. Of course, there were people on the liberal side saying that ESPN did the right thing because Williams criticized Obama, and compared him to Hitler. Well, morons called George W. Bush “Hitler” also. No one should compare anyone to Hitler, but that is not the point I am trying to make right now (more later).

ESPN is a business. They are a very large business, and they happen to be 80% owned by Disney. Disney has a corporate, and a certain public image to keep. I don’t care about one’s politics, but it does not take a genius to figure out that if a celebrity, or anyone working for a conglomerate like ESPN says something so controversial as what Williams said, or says something that ESPN or any huge corporation disapproves of, ESPN has every right to disassociate themselves with said celebrity. Does Hank Williams have a right to say what he wants? Yes. It is in the Constitution. However, he is not free from responsibility for what he says. Hank is not being censored. ESPN is not censoring him. They are not stifling free speech.

ESPN fired Hank Williams, Jr on Thursday, October 5th, and released the following statement, “We have decided to part ways with Hank Williams, Jr.,” ESPN said in a statement. “We appreciate his contributions over the past years. The success of Monday Night Football has always been about the games and that will continue.”‬‬ However, Mr. Williams claims he “quit” and said the following on his website, “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.” — Hank Williams Jr

Well, I see a couple of things going on here. It seems to me that Mr. Williams does not fully understand the First Amendment, and Freedom of Speech. He seems to think that he can say what he wants, which is true under the First Amendment, and just because of that fact, he should not receive repercussions for the words that come out of his mouth. After all, he is a celebrity, and he shouldn’t have to follow any rules. As WWE wrestler Edge once said, “Wrong. Wrong. Wrong Wrong Wrong WRONG!!!!” People who are saying Williams is being censored are also having a hard time with the following concept: Freedom of speech does NOT mean freedom from responsibility for what comes out of your mouth. If you say it, own it. If you get bad backlash, then you have to take responsibility. Hank Williams, Jr’s comparing Obama to Hitler is something that would likely upset ESPN’s corporate culture. ESPN is NOT the Federal Government.. ESPN is a private company that is allowed to hire or fire anyone it wants.

Some time in the mid-1960s or so, Beatle member John Lennon made a statement to the effect of “The Beatles were more popular/bigger than Jesus Christ.” The Beatles suffered a huge backlash. People destroyed their records. There were protests. Beatles records were burned. Now, did Lennon mean the Beatles LITERALLY were bigger that Jesus? No. He meant it as a metaphor, but people got upset, and he and the band suffered a back lash. Did the government come in and censor them? No. The Dixie Chicks suffered a terrible backlash from fans and such for their anti Bush statements.

Sports personalities like Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder, and Al Campanis have lost jobs because of racially charged statements. The rock band KISS was removed from a Michael Jackson Tribute show due to take place in October, 2011 because a couple of years ago when Jackson died, Bassist Gene Simmons made some silly remark calling Jackson a perv and a molester. Well, KISS was supposed to be featured on some Michael Jackson tribute show, and because the Jackson Estate or the promoters found out about Simmons’ statement, they removed KISS from the show.

[adinserter block=”1″]The point is, just because Hank Williams has a right to say whatever he wants, and he DOES, he is not free from any consequences. Besides, I loved how he said “All my rowdy friends are out of here.” Seriously, Hank? How much of an ego does he have to have to think that millions and millions of people are going to stop watching Monday Night Football just because ESPN yanked his stupid little song that takes 2 minutes? Sure, there will be those who don’t understand how the First Amendment, and those who are Obama haters who will follow suit and will stop watching Monday Night Football because of ESPN’s firing Williams, but people are going to continue to watch Monday Night Football regardless. I am just amazed at his audacity, and his failure to understand that the First Amendment applies to the Government in that the Federal Government can not censor free speech, NOT a company like ESPN. It is not a hard concept to grasp.

Terri Bey currently blogs for about Wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture related subjects. Her work has appeared in BleacherReport and for Terri can be found here at Facebook- and at Twitter-

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  1. I'm with you- and I wish people would stop using these terms incorrectly.

    Facing the results of ones speech is not censorship- censorship is where one is not allowed to speak in the first place.

    As far as MNF goes, I'll continue watching when my team plays on monday nights.

  2. Spot on

    Never mind that Hank should never have been on Faux News in the first place but he failed to realize who writes the check and how important the image of the Evil Empire is to them.

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