If you think political talk radio is a brutal place, you should try sports talk radio. In the world of news talk, you have a biased hosed with a political agenda attempting to spin current events to make you see them his way. In the world of sports talk, you largely have a field of minds so jammed with statistics and dates that they are unable to form a point of view on anything other than a simple Vegas line, let alone manage to try to find a way to spin the event for the mindless masses who tune it. This can make listening to channels like Mad Dog Radio on Sirius and XM Radio an exercise in frustration. Yet it is an exercise that I perform almost daily, and occasionally I call in to try to straighten some of these guys out. My latest beef? The New York Knicks.
This past week Hank Williams Jr., who performed the opening intro for ESPN's Monday Night Football, was relieved of his responsibilities with the network after he appeared on FOX News and suggested that the President and Speaker of the House golfing together was comparable to Adolph Hitler golfing with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu. While Williams did not specifically identify either individual as being like Hitler, his comments were obviously way out of line and he was promptly fired. I want to be clear here that I support ESPN's decision to get rid of him over these remarks. While I don't believe that they had to, I do believe that they are entitled to and I can easily understand why they would want to distance themselves from these comments. My concern, however, is for an apparent double standard with the network. During the 2008 NBA Playoffs, ESPN columnist Jemele Hill had the following to say about fans of the Boston Celtics.
Rooting for the Celtics is like saying Hitler was a victim. It's like hoping Gorbachev would get to the blinking red button before Reagan.
Interestingly enough, Jemele was also suspended by ESPN for these comments, but she was not fired like Hank Williams Jr. was. She retained her employment long enough to suggest in 2009 that Green Bay Packers fans should throw batteries onto the field at former Packer Quarterback Brett Favre, and compare Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calapari to Charles Manson. In fact, she is an employee of ESPN to this day.
So why is it okay for an ESPN employee to directly compare fans of a legitimate NBA Franchise to Nazi sympathizers, but it is not okay to make an indirect comment that compares President Obama to Hitler? In my opinion, both of these comments are over-the-top and out of line. But why the different treatment for the two offenders? It is important to look at the distinguishing factors here when comparing the two statements.
- Williams did not directly compare anyone to Hitler, while Hill's comparison was a direct one.
- Williams was an entertainer performing under contract withe ESPN, while Hill is a paid analyst.
- Williams' statement was made about two of our highest ranking politicians, while Hill's comments were sports related.
- Williams' statements were made on a different network, while Hill used ESPN's website to make her comments.
- While Williams comments may have offended some ESPN viewers, Hill's comments were directed at a specific group of ESPN viewers.
So could it be that simple? Is ESPN that opposed to anyone from their network delving into politics? If so, could they kindly stop parading President Obama out every year to share his NCAA brackets with the rest of us? Or wait a second. Is that it? Was ESPN afraid that President Obama was so thin skinned that he would stiff them next March if they didn't fire Williams?
Look, there is an important distinction to be made here. ESPN's product is the spoken and written word. I can understand them being very protective of their reputation when it comes to whose words they chose to associate with. But Jemele Hill is your words, ESPN. When I read a Hill article on ESPN, I associate her remarks directly with the network. Nobody sees Hank Williams and thinks "Oh, there goes that ESPN representative". Nobody does that. If you're going to fire on of them, you should fire both. And if you must fire one or the other, than fire the one that used your network to make the offensive comments, not the one that said them somewhere else. Fire the one that is paid for their opinion, not the one that is paid to sing a silly ditty.