Peter Cooper’s writing about Hank Jr., poor Hank Jr. who finally shot off his mouth and embarrassed ESPN.
But, here’s the thing: Hank Jr., Charlie Daniels and Ted Nugent are all awesome. Or at least “Family Tradition,” “Devil Went Down To Georgia” and “Cat Scratch Fever” are awesome. And that’s all that matters here. Not digging Hank Jr. because you don’t like his politics is like not digging Bill Clinton because you don’t like his sax playing. And digging Hank Jr. because you like his politics is like digging Bill Clinton because you like his sax playing. And digging Bill Clinton’s sax playing is like digging the lame, new, post-Hank Monday Night Football lead-ins.
And, I know, I know … there’s the Dixie Chicks thing. Yes, they were summarily removed from country radio playlists for criticizing President George W. Bush. And, yes, that was wrong, short-sighted (“Hey, let’s ruin the radio career of the most popular band in country music, just to prove a point!”) and regrettable. But if you opposed that circumstance — as did high-ranking Republican Senator John McCain, who said “To restrain their trade because they exercised their right of free speech is remarkable.” — you should oppose this one.
I’ll say I agree with 98% of this. But here’s the deal. Sometimes, to flip a feminist phrase on its ear, the political is personal. Here’s the hard truth. Even though the whole country is racist (My dad spent half our time at Uncle Bud’s yesterday trying to prepare the Butcher’s Friend for just how segregated she was going to find central Illinois, because he thought she’d find it almost cultural-shock-levels of disconcerting), Southerners tend to be on a kind of cultural probation–the rest of the country assumes you’re racist (or the dupe or victim of racists at a level you would not be if you lived somewhere else) until otherwise proven.
Now, this is unfair, especially considering how racist the rest of the country is AND how they excuse their own sins through the strawman of how bad the South is. But it is what it is.
And when you sing a song like “If the South Would Have Won, We’d Have Had It Made,” you don’t have to be much of a historian to understand that that “we” doesn’t include the people who would have continued to be enslaved. Those folks would not, in fact, have had it made.
And now, those folks’ descendants, a small sliver of them, make millions of dollars playing football. And they make millions of more dollars for the corporations that advertise, promote, and sell through football to consumers, many of whom are also descendants of people who would not have had it made.
Which kind of means that, if Hank Jr. wasn’t already on racist probation just for being a Southerner, the second he put his face on a Confederate flag (see his website) and sang about how awesome it would be if we still had a government that allowed slavery, he was definitely going on it.
And then, here’s the dance with the devil ESPN and Monday Night Football were doing–they had to hope that Junior, who was singing an invocation to a game played predominately by black men, would not do something or say something that made it impossible for players and consumers to ignore that he seems to love and miss slavery times.
There’s football–“Watch these seasoned athletes play at the top of their ability a game we all love. Here’s Hank to tell us a little bit about it in an entertaining way before we start the game.” And then there’s football–“Watch these black guys entertain us, yes the same us who would have had it made if the South would have won, because this is our proper role as people entertained by the antics of black people, and their proper role as entertainers.”
Monday Night Football might have felt fine if a small sliver of Americans took from Hank Jr.’s participation that Football was okay with the second interpretation, but it sure as hell doesn’t want to be seen or perceived in any way as endorsing that.
Is “Obama=Hitler” really the thing that should have tipped the scales for Williams?
I don’t know. Like Cooper, it seems like a lot of conservative entertainers are loosing their damn minds over Obama, when little has demonstrably changed for them since he took office.
But neither Nugent or Daniels were in Williams’ position–openly pining for a return to slavery in his public appearances in concert, while being presented to the nation by Monday Night Football as someone who was basically harmless.
And it makes sense to me that there was some calculation, some tipping point in ESPN’s estimation when his rhetoric away from football ruined their ability to present him as harmless. We can argue all day if “Obama=Hitler” should have been that tipping point, but holy shit, what a sad thing to sit around debating–how much should Hank Jr. be allowed to signal he has a problem with black people before it’s weird?