The Hank Williams Jr. recent political firestorm opinion and the resulting resignation/firing, are interesting fodder for my legal blog, because it really does incorporate free Speech, employment issues, and reputation. ESPN’s article relays the story in a way that it comes out as “it depends on who you talk to”.
I’m guessing you know the story but here’s a quick recap. Williams has been doing the opening for Monday Night Football for a long time. His song includes mentions of the two teams for that game and then says “All my rowdy friends are here on Monday Night”.
Recently, Williams was on Fox News, expressing his opinion on House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama, playing golf together. He compared it to the President of Israel playing golf with Hitler. The Fox commentators gave him a couple of opportunities to back off that comparison. He pressed on to include that “They’re the enemy”, referring to President Obama and VP Biden. In that moment, his national reputation was viewed differently. Some may have liked him more; others less; and still others might have thought that he needed a straight jacket.
That night, before the Colts game, ESPN announced that they would not be playing Hank Williams’ intro song. Instead, they went from commercial, directly to kickoff.
Since then, ESPN has announced that they are parting ways with Williams. Williams announced on his website that he had decided to no longer be associated with ESPN because they had “pulled my opening on Oct 3rd and stepped on the toes of the First Amendment”. Williams has continued to stand by his original statements but has added, “I am very sorry if I offended anyone”.
First, we now know that Williams was not considered an employee of ESPN. By simple definition, that means that they had less control over him if he was deemed an independent contractor. They just decided, according to ESPN, that they did not want to be associated with him… their legal right. If he had a contract that did not include an opt-out by ESPN, they still may be required to continue to pay him for term of the contract.
The next issue is whether ESPN’s action could somehow be considered as “stepping on the toes of the First Amendment Freedom of Speech”.
Growing up, I used to hear the old expression, “the freedom of your fist ends when it comes near my nose”. ESPN owns their content and have expelled employees on multiple occasions, for actions that they deemed not suitable for their employees.
In this instance, I’m not sure why Williams thinks that they have violated his freedom of speech. All they’ve said is that they don’t want to continue any association with him. He can continue to express his opinion on politics…. just not as an ESPN contractor.
I find these stories fascinating because politics and opinion is feisty. In fact, if this blog were political, I would get more comments of disagreement.
One final note that connects this Firm to opinion. I regularly buy broad television rotators. That means that I might buy an afternoon rotator of 1-5. I recently received an email on the Firm website, from a lady who was protesting that one of my advertisements ran during the show “Ellen”. She felt that I was supporting “The gay lifestyle” by having my ad run during that show.
A few years back, Sinclair Broadcasting was supporting President Bush. A group organized a mass email to any business that was buying advertising from Sinclair. We have an office in a couple of Sinclair advertising staions. So, I received a a lot of emails in my “in box” that threatened to never call me, if I didn’t stop advertising on their stations.
I still place ads in and on different communication mediums. I haven’t really focused on “not buying” something because of disagreement. For now, all my rowdy friends and me will just continue to stay the course and represent individuals. It’s a whole lot easier than running around trying to be angry over the golf game of two politicians.
Now, a whole lot simpler pic o’ day. Just a squirrel and a Coke.