ESPN Executive Vice President John Skipper explained the rationale behind the network’s decition to quickly cut ties with country singer Hank Williams Jr. after he made an analogy likening President Obama to Adolph Hitler to the ESPN ombudsman at the Poynter Institute.
ESPN and Mr. Williams Jr. have had a relationship since 1989 when the network began using his song “Are You Ready for Some Football?,” which was an adapted version of his other tune “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight,” as a theme for it’s “Monday Night Football” broadcasts. That relationship ended after Mr. Williams Jr. appeared on “Fox and Friends” October 3 and compared a golf game between President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner to “Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu.”
ESPN has a policy against “public participation in matters of political advocacy or controversy among editorial employees, contributors and public-facing talent.” The network made their final decision to cut ties with Mr. Williams Jr. after he posted a pair of statements about the incident on his website.
In his first statement, Mr. Williams Jr. wrote that he “was simply trying to explain how stupid it seemed to me — how ludicrous that pairing was.”
Mr. Williams Jr. was more contrite in his second statement, but he still stood by the Obama-Hitler analogy.
“I have always been very passionate about Politics and Sports and this time it got the Best or Worst of me. 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 and I am very Sorry if it Offended anyone,” Mr. Williams Jr. wrote.
Mr. Skipper said ESPN interpreted the “first statement as saying he’d been misunderstood, while his second one didn’t amount to a real apology.” ESPN ended their relationship with with Mr. Williams Jr. October 5th.
“He has every right to voice his opinions, and we have every right to disassociate ourselves from him,” Mr. Skipper said.
On the same day Mr. Skipper the network decided to cut the song, Mr. Williams Jr. made an announcement that he no longer wanted to work with ESPN.
“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,” Mr. Williams Jr. said.
Mr. Williams Jr. subsequently released a song calling for a boycott of the network. Bad media breakups are always so very messy.