Are you ready for some FOOOTBAALLLL?! A couple of notes on the Hank Williams, Jr. hullaballoo

Hank Williams, Jr. said some stupid shit. Because, you know, he’s not exactly a rocket surgeon or a model of progressive, pro-human ideals. I can’t imagine that this comes as much a surprise to anyone. Now ESPN has done what they pretty much had to and kicked Hank to the curb. Read all about it.

Two quick thoughts.

First, that Monday Night Football intro sequence was getting tired. Five years ago, in fact. ESPN needed to change its open regardless of anything that Hank did or did not say. So from a viewer/consumer perspective, this is a good thing.

Second, anytime politics and sports intersect and you want to hear idiots proving that they slept through every History, Civics, Social Studies or Government class they ever signed up for, please, turn on your nearest sports talk radio station. (I’m lucky – here in the 5280 I have four to choose from.) Trust me, there was never a time when these guys had to make that hard choice between a career in broadcasting or one in nukular physics.

Why, just the other day I heard a sports jock on one of our outlets pontificating on the Bocephus/ESPN case and saying something to this effect. I’m paraphrasing, but this is close:

I think the media in America leans to the left sometimes, but I don’t really care. I don’t think it should affect sports. I just care about the First Amendment, and Williams has a right to say whatever he wants.


Time for a refresher course on the stuff you missed that day you and Bubba and Skeezo cut class to go watch Freddy Got Fingered. Let’s begin with the text of the actual First Amendment from the actual Constitution, which everybody talks about but few seem to have read:

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.

What do you notice that may be relevant to ESPN’s actions? Hint – read the bolded words closely.

RIGHT! Congress has made no law about what Hank Williams can say. The wise men who penned the Bill of Rights, which many believe to be the greatest political document of all time, made no mention of ESPN. No restrictions on what a media entertainment conglomerate in general can do with respect to terminating contracts with various third parties, etc. (Now granted, perhaps they should have, because our corporations are running roughshod all over democracy. But that’s another rant for another day.)

So this has about as much to do with the First Amendment as your average sports talk host has to do with a campus lecture on the Pre-Raphaelites.

Further, even if I were to allow that what was intended was a broader comment on the absolute sanctity of free speech as a universal principle, Sports Guy still misses the point badly. Yes, Sports Guy, you do and should, positively and absolutely, have the right to say whatever you want (within defined parameters, such as the “yelling fire in a crowded theater” standard; but I’ll leave that alone because your head might explode).

However, the right to say it does not imply a right to be free of the consequences of your words and actions. I have a right to respond, for instance. I may, depending on what you said, have a right to bring a civil case against you. I may, if I’m your employer, have the right (even the responsibility) to discipline you or terminate you. If you said something that appalls the woman you just started dating, she has every right in the world to dump you before it gets any worse.

Let’s consider an extreme hypothetical example. You might have the right to say that your local Congressman is a racist cannibal who hosts barbecues each weekend where he grills steaks cut from the bodies of only the tenderest undocumented immigrant babies. You may further speculate as to whether he prefers said meat plain or with steak sauce. (This being an example of a racial nature, a “Heinz 57” crack seems appropriate here.)

However, when it turns out that he’s also godfather to your CEO’s children, unfortunately there’s nothing in the Constitution that’s going to save your ass from either the HR department or the Congresman’s lawyers.

The reality that what you say might have consequences is central to the issue of speech. Those who founded the nation – your Jeffersons, Madisons, Washingtons, Adamses, and so on – understood that their words could literally get them killed, so they sought to create a society where you didn’t have to risk your life to speak a truth (or even a lie, for that matter). But they never intended to create a society without accountability. After all, there’s hardly anything brave or noble or virtuous about speaking your mind when you’re insulated from any possible retribution, is there?

So here’s the bottom line. Hank had his say, taking full advantage of his rights. ESPN then exercised its rights in accordance with both the law and the greater principles that informed the Constitution. There’s nothing to see here except the orderly conduct of society. Move along, folks. Move along.

As for Sports Guy, you have a right to your opinion. You have a right to be butt-stupid. And your decision to fully exercise your rights to an ill-informed opinion put you squarely within the majority here in the Greatest Nation on Earth®.

I, in turn, have the right to change the station, and also to write a blog entry where I explain why you’re a doofus. Isn’t democracy a wonderful thing?


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