For the last couple of months I have been silent. I needed the break from politics, and I am a believer that the world is always better when the opinionated occasionally shut the heck up. But Hank Williams Jr. proved to be a bridge too far. Two months of silly political posturing, the Chris Christie flirtation, the Palin “divorce saga”, and all of the other garbage that defines our media-whoring democracy, proved easy to ignore. Hank Williams Jr.’s statement, however, I just can’t let slide. The statement I refer to, by the by, is not the one you’re thinking of.
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.”-Associated Press via Fox Sports
Now, most of you know how I feel about the network Jason Whitlock aptly calls The Worldwide Misleader of Sports, but in this rare case, they have been done wrong. Understanding that this statement is Williams’s part of a pissing match between he and ESPN (both parties claim they fired the other), it is the awesome ignorance of our constitutional freedoms that have drawn my fire. Hank Williams has committed that most egregious of American sins, he has used the Constitution as cover for his own big mouth.
By way of refresher, Hank Williams Jr. compared (on Fox and Friends) the Golf Summit between President Obama and Speaker Boehner to a meeting between Israeli P.M. Netanyahu and Hitler. That the dim bulbs screwed into the host slots on that show say worse than Williams did, on a regular basis, is only slightly off the point. ESPN responded by pulling the Williams intro to Monday Night Football for, they said originally, the one game. For Mr. Williams, whose career for the past 20 years has been kept alive by the MNF gig, the rebuke proved too much. For ESPN, the injection of partisan politics into its football broadcasts is a scenario to be avoided at all costs.
For the rest of us, the discussion of what the Bill of Rights means must begin anew. The Freedom of Speech enshrined in the Constitution protects citizens from actions by the government in response to speech. It is in the First Amendment because the ability of citizens to criticize the government is fundamental to what it means to be an American. It does not offer any protection to private citizens whose speech causes harm or potential harm to other private citizens or business. ESPN stepped on no First Amendment toes, it stepped on the toes of Hank Williams Jr. and others who feel as he does.
I am of course shocked that a “pro-business” guy like Hank should fail so utterly to understand ESPN’s right to build and maintain its brand equity. As I get over my shock though, I am reminded how poorly all of us seem to understand the Constitution these days, and how poorly we treat the foundation for our way of life. Our Constitution, and the democracy it frames, are not instruments for giving us everything we want. Living in a free democracy and having rights is neither an all access pass or get out of jail free card. Absolute freedom is only available to those few who are powerful enough to step on everyone else’s toes. Think Exxon and Goldman-Sachs.
For the rest of us, we recognize that playing our stereos at 140 decibels may be a wonderful expression of personal freedom, but it denies something to the folks next door. We also recognize that we can say most anything we want, but consequences exist. Freedom of Speech, as I recall, never kept my mother from washing my mouth out with soap, and it wouldn’t stop a boss from sanctioning an employee who insulted a customer or coworker. If a potential client dislikes my views on this column, and decides against retaining me, my Freedom of Speech won’t force that person into a different position. Nobody is saying that Hank Williams Jr., or Michael Moore, or John Stewart, or Rush Limbaugh can’t say whatever they feel needs to be given attention. Just be American enough to know that others have the right to respond.
The Rational Middle is, once again, listening…