You can disagree, if you wish, with ESPN’s decision to part ways with Hank Williams Jr. and all his rowdy friends.
But don’t start parroting Williams and telling us ESPN “stepped on the toes of the First Amendment.” And don’t say ESPN is making a political stand because that, too, would be off base.
In case you missed it, ESPN pulled Williams’ opening from this week’s Colts-Bucs game after he appeared on Fox News and called President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden “the enemy” and said Obama’s golf outing with House Speaker John Boehner was “like Hitler playing golf with [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu.”
Williams apologized, but ESPN dropped him a few days later. Williams insisted he quit and suggested ESPN disregarded the First Amendment – a bandwagon that many of his supporters have jumped on.
For those defending Williams with the “free speech” argument, a quick civics lesson: The First Amendment, among other things, prohibits making any law that impedes freedom of speech. But the free speech element of the First Amendment does not prevent a private company from firing someone who embarrasses the company by saying something foolish or offensive.
Unless the employee has a clause in his contract that he can say whatever he wishes, he’s subject to discipline or dismissal for remarks the employee deems offensive. It’s that simple. ESPN has a lot of power, but it’s not a governing body.
The other anti-ESPN backlash has come from conservatives who suggest ESPN is trying to protect Obama. You know, the whole media/liberal bias angle. But do you know who ESPN is really trying to protect? ESPN.
As one ESPN source said, why would the network “want to mess around with the Monday Night Football brand,” make advertisers uncomfortable or alienate viewers who now view Williams negatively?
Ultimately, as the source said, Williams’ musical openings simply weren’t worth the aggravation, the public backlash, that his comments created. And that has nothing to do with a “freedom of speech” issue.
MORE NFL MEDIA ITEMS
### Will networks ever learn? Why, when a team is facing a decision of whether to punt or go for it on fourth down, do network directors often take their cameras off the field to show us replays, or sideline shots, leaving viewers with no idea if the team is punting? CBS did that in the Houston-Pittsburgh game, and we didn’t know the Steelers’ intentions until just before the snap, when Greg Gumbel finally said something.
### One reason Fox’s Jim Mora and NBC’s Tony Dungy have become two of the best listens among recent-coaches-turned-analysts is their willingness to criticize coaching decisions. Mora made a good point in questioning why the 49ers threw three straight passes after a 40-yard run. “You run it again because the defense is tired,” he said. “And I don’t understand why you would replace Alex Smith with Colin Kaepernick on third and 17.”
### Fox wisely moved its NFL score ticker to the bottom of the screen this year. Unfortunately, it took Fox four weeks to realize it needed to insert player statistics, besides the scores. And why must Fox superimpose its logo in two places, not just one? The screen is cluttered enough.
### Those four-day old highlights on Showtime’s Inside the NFL are a hoot because of the audio from players who are miked up. We heard Raiders coach Hue Jackson approach Patriots receiver Wes Welker before a game and say, “You caught 16 balls the last game. That’s two games worth. So you can chill today.”
And after the Eagles’ Jason Babin got his league-leading seventh sack partly because Cullen Jenkins drew a double team, we heard Jenkins tell Babin, “[That’s] two sacks I got you.” Said Babin: “The Jenkins are going on vacation with the Babins.”
### Our first chance to mention something that irked us from early in the season: It’s one thing for a network to make an occasional error. It’s quite another to be intentionally dishonest, to mislead viewers by fabricating a story. And that’s exactly what Fox did with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
In an attempt to demonstrate the criticism Cutler received for leaving the NFC Championship game with a knee injury, Fox displayed, on screen, what analyst Daryl Johnston called “actual headlines” about him. One said, “Cutler lacked courage.” Another said, “Cutler is no leader.”
The Chicago Sun-Times became suspicious, did some research and determined those headlines never actually appeared. Anywhere. Fox admitted as much and apologized.
Everyone knows what Fox did was deplorable. But here’s what else struck me: There was plenty of real, documented criticism of Cutler in the aftermath of that game. Other players criticizing him on Twitter. Commentators questioning him. Any of this would have been easy to find for Fox to make its point. But Fox decided it would be easier to make something up. So Fox wasn’t merely deceitful, but also incredibly lazy.
### What did Terry Bradshaw call “the stupidest thing I ever heard?” Viking coach Leslie Frazier saying he might try to change Donovan McNabb’s throwing motion.
### ESPN’s Steve Young likes to show viewers how smart he is. He said recently the Rams were “contumacious” in the red zone. The definition is “stubbornly disobedient or rebellious,” a word that didn’t exactly fit. What’s wrong with saying “ineffective?”
### The Marlins’ average audience of 32,000 homes was fourth lowest in baseball, ahead of only Oakland, Baltimore and Washington. What’s more, the Marlins’ 2.03 rating this season was down 27.8 percent from last season.
### ESPN’s Barry Melrose, on the Panthers, who open their season Saturday at the Islanders: “They will be one of the teams fighting for the last couple playoff spots, with Carolina and Winnipeg. Remember, a lot of other teams in the East got better, too. They will improve to middle of the pack in scoring, and their power play will be a lot better with Brian Campbell running the point. But Jose Theodore is a downgrade from Tomas Vokoun if they’re getting the Theodore from lately.
"To me, Campbell is the key to all they did. Which Campbell are you getting – the guy in Buffalo who played so well or the one in Chicago?”
### Will the Panthers’ roster overhaul boost interest? FSN certainly hopes. Games last season averaged 3000 homes per telecast – worst among 22 teams for which data was available.
### Jim Berry and Jorge Sedano will call the All-Star Basketball Classic – featuring Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and others – at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on Channel 33. The game is at FIU.