“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. announcement Thursday after ESPN announced that he would no longer be featured as the intro to Monday Night Football
Back when I was in college I did something incredibly stupid simply because I thought that I was being funny. I had a part time job as a Peer Counselor with the Educational Opportunity Program. The program was to help kids from poor families with not so great educations get a chance at college. Some kids did well and others didn’t. My wife Judy was a student in the University’s program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students. The office that ran the deaf program was called Support Services for Deaf Students or simply SSDS.
Judy had a roommate named Kendra and the three of us came up with some pretty sick jokes. In fact I learned sign language more to tell jokes with Kendra more than any other reason. Since Judy was “just hard of hearing” I used some sign with her but mostly to help her understand in difficult situations as for the most part she functioned as a hearing person despite having a 77% hearing loss. Judy is also an artist and a cartoonist. One day we came up with a fake flyer for a parody of SSDS. We called it Support Services to Dead Students. Judy did the drawing and all would have been well had I not gotten the less than brilliant idea to “spam” the flyer out. Now this was way before e-mail and Facebook or any other social media. So I went to a copy store and made about 50 copies and took them to work. I put them in messenger envelopes and sent them to most school departments through the internal school mail system. I thought that it was hysterical and I must have let slip to someone that I had pulled this off this prank. Anyway a couple of days later I was called into my boss’s office and was told by him that he knew that I did it. He felt that it was deeply offensive and that I could resign or be fired. I ended up resigning and my boss was grateful. To be truthful it had nothing to do with the EOP students we were poking fun at the deaf students. Yes it was still crass and insensitive but I didn’t think that I would lose my job over it. I thought that it was a funny parody. My employer didn’t.
I learned a hard lesson. No matter how funny I thought that my parody was that it didn’t mean that my employer had to keep me on. What I did embarrassed my department and paid the price for it. Was anyone harmed? No. Was it malicious? No. Could it be interpreted in ways that I didn’t intend it to be? Yes. Did it reflect on my lack of judgment? Yes. Did my boss have a right to terminate me? Yes. Did I learn? Most of the time.
Now of course Hank Williams Jr. made a complete ass of himself on Fox and Friends Monday morning. Not only did he compare President Obama with Hitler but he went into a rant that just made him look like an angry idiot. He called Obama “the enemy” and in making the Hitler comparison really made light of the Holocaust. There is little that any American politician on the right or the left can do to be compared with Hitler. Even his Fox friends who are not known for their love of Obama looked really uncomfortable as Hank ranted on.
Now to get things right I will defend people’s free speech rights and I don’t have to agree with them. If one decides to compare any American President with Adolf Hitler Joe Stalin, Pol Pot or the Ayatollah Khomeini he or she can say it without fear of being prosecuted by the State for doing so and if he is I will defend his right to that speech, even if I think it is hateful. It may be hateful and ignorant to do what Hank did but there is no law against it and if he was prosecuted for it by the government I would defend his Free Speech rights.
That being said if one is the face of Monday Night Football as Hank was ESPN then there are risks to acting like an idiot. The producer of that show and the NFL had a right to end his relationship with the show. It is about business, other companies with that advertise on Monday Night Football don’t want to be linked to the “H” word. If they had not ended the relationship it would have been bad for business.
Let’s face it using the Hitler analogy tends to get people fired and it is not about free speech it is about business. There are probably hundreds if not thousands of “conservative” commentators, bloggers and journalists who have made the Hitler analogy frequently on the internet and in print. It is protected Free Speech. In fact when George W. Bush was President left wing bloggers and columnists frequently played the Hitler card against him. . However none of them were the face of Monday Night Football and generally they work for employers that make money by criticizing Obama and the Democrats or Bush and the Republicans so they keep their jobs. Remember each business determines what is good for their business. Monday Night Football decided that Hank was now bad for business.
Hank is now saying that he decided to leave Monday Night Football “with his rowdy friends.” He said that what happened to him was a violation of his free speech rights. Now it seems like most people with the exception of Hank and Sean Hannity think that ESPN was within its rights to end their relationship with Hank. If I recall one of the key conservative tenants is that employers are the ones that set the conditions for employing people. The right to hire and fire at will is something that conservatives and Libertarians love. Firing and shunning celebrities for doing stupid, ignorant or hateful things or even for benign associations is a sport in this country if a business deems the celebrity’s actions bad for business.
Let’s just go back 50-60 years, the McCarthy hearings and the Hollywood “blacklist” which tarred and feathered many actors, directors and others involved in the film industry being associated with the Communists or other unpopular causes at some point in their life, even if they had renounced that association. Those people were not allowed to work, many for years simply because their loyalty to the country which had nothing to do with their acting abilities was questioned and producers fearing audience backlash simply blacklisted them. Some of the many people blacklisted included Orson Welles, Burgess Meredith, Eddie Arnold and Edward G. Robinson.
Then there was an actress named Hanoi Jane Fonda, daughter of Hollywood icon Henry Fonda who had the dumb ass idea to go to North Vietnam, make anti-American and anti-war statements and be photographed on an anti-aircraft gun within a mile or so of the Hanoi Hilton POW camp. She couldn’t get work for several years and when she did start working again, many people, me included boycotted her films and I still won’t watch them. She was able to say what she wanted but she suffered the consequences and is still one of the most hated Hollywood celebrities in conservative circles.
There are so many other examples where celebrities have been fired or shunned because of their actions. Here are a few:
Gilbert Gottfried: Tsunami jokes got him fired as the voice of the Aflack Duck.
Megan Fox: Canned from Transformers due to Hitler remarks.
Madonna: Fired from her Pepsi sponsorship when the American Family Association boycotted Pepsi after Madonna released her controversial “Like a Prayer” music video.
Michael Phelps: After getting caught smoking dope was dropped by Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Frosted Flakes.
Mel Gibson: He was shunned after making anti-Semitic comments during a DUI arrest. His career has not been the same since.
Whoopi Goldberg: The Sister Act star got canned from her Slim Fast spokesperson job when she made double entendres about President George Bush at a John Kerry fund raiser. She was also shunned by Kerry after it.
Sharon Stone: Dropped by Christian Dior inChina for suggesting that Chinese earthquakes were caused byChina’s treatment of Tibet.
The Smothers Brothers: Their hit comedy was cancelled by CBS for their controversial statements about racism,Vietnam and politics.
The Dixie Chicks: While touring “Old Europe” the country singers lashed out at President Bush and the Iraq War. They were not fired but lost a huge number of fans in the process. The fans shunned them. They lost money and have not regained their former popularity.
The list can go on but I think I make my point. If people want to claim that business are free to do as they please and hire and fire people for whatever reason they deem fit on one hand, then they shouldn’t that their Free Speech rights are being violated. It is a two way street. Think about it. If you are a business owner or in management and one of your employees does something that you think reflects badly on your business and may hurt your business would you fire them? You bet your ass you would and it doesn’t matter for what reason politics, religion or even your sense of humor.
What old Hank did was so stupid it defies imagination but he could say it. Fox didn’t cut away as he shot off his mouth, he wasn’t censored. While his words and tenor were unbelievably stupid they were not illegal. However I don’t blame ESPN for firing his sorry ass. Hank is no victim of political correctness he shot his own balls off and I don’t care if he works ever again or he overcomes this and his career recovers. However, he can say what he wants and believe what he wants and if he was prosecuted by the government for voicing those beliefs I would defend his Free Speech rights. But that is not the case here.
Now I do have a lot of strong feelings about the often capricious ways that businesses use their liberty to mistreat or silence workers for speaking their political and religious beliefs in the workplace. However if one wants to say that businesses should be free to do what they want to increase profits and market share without government interference then one has to expect that businesses will do best for business. Profit and not Free Speech is their number one concern. Many celebrities and ordinary citizens have found this out before Hank; he can just join the club. Heck, I’m no celebrity but it happened to me too… boo hoo Hank. Boo hoo. I’ll cry in my beer with you. Wow that rhymed.