What is it with these Williams boys? First Juan Williams gets fired by NPR for saying on the Bill O’Reilly show that “….when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb, and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”
Then Hank Williams, Jr. gets fired by ESPN for suggesting that Democratic President Barack Obama (whom he referred to as the “enemy”) playing golf with Republican House Speaker John Boehner was tantamount to Hitler playing golf with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Get it? A Jew). Clearly, Hank wasn’t accusing Obama of practicing eugenics or mass extermination, but rather was pointing out the odd juxtaposition of two opposites playing golf together.
Not only should neither Williams have been fired, but Juan should have been applauded for admitting to something (simple-minded, depressing, and painfully naïve as it may have been) which many, if not most, Americans wouldn’t have the courage to admit, and Hank should’ve been given credit for actually knowing who Netanyahu was.
Personally, I was way more offended by Williams being hired in the first place than by his Hitler analogy. When he opened the show, in 1991, my first thought was: Why did Monday Night Football need a vulgar, costumed hillbilly singing, “Are you ready for some football??” when they already had Dixie locked up? Everyone knows that football is wildly popular in the American South. Did they honestly think the NASCAR and Grand Ol’ Opry crowd wouldn’t tune in to a football game unless a country-western singer was shilling for it?
If ABC (the network that originally broadcast Monday Night Football) truly wanted to expand its viewing audience, they should have applied a little creativity. They should have hired Zubin Mehta or Susan Sontag to do the opening promo. They should’ve gotten Noam Chomsky to do it. Or, if they were dead-set on a singer, they should’ve gone after a Leonard Cohen or Patti Smith or (if it was the youth market they were trying to tap into) an Eminem.
Although people are already comparing the firing of Hank Williams, Jr. to ABC’s firing of Bill Maher from his “Politically Incorrect” TV show, it’s an imperfect analogy because Maher wasn’t technically “fired.” The Sinclair Broadcasting Group didn’t drop the show from its ABC affiliates until many months later, in June of 2002, after key advertisers (e.g., Sears Roebuck, FedEx) had withdrawn their accounts in protest of what they considered Maher’s unpatriotic and controversial remarks.
But Maher’s remarks weren’t far off the mark. Responding to President George W. Bush’s portrayal of the terrorists who flattened the Twin Towers as “cowards,” Maher took the gravest possible exception. He said on the air, “We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building. Say what you want about it. Not cowardly.”
We don’t know what Hank’s public comment would’ve been in response to Maher’s observation back in 2002, but, bless his heart, we can be sure it would’ve been primitive and ugly. Still, if ESPN saw fit to use Williams in the first place, they had no good reason to stop using him. All ESPN did was raise the “gutlessness” bar to another level.
David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at Dmacaray@earthlink.net