So I wound up on a really spirited episode of “Outside the Lines.” You can watch it — I come in around the 8:00 mark — and comment on it as you see fit. I’m leaving that alone. Plus, I made a series of facial expressions that make any further explanation unnecessary. Sorry, but I can’t play off crazy. I have an attuned ear for crazy, because crazy scares me. I stay on guard for crazy. So I heard crazy and reacted as I typically do: as if I just heard something crazy.
Anyway, my personal disappointment comes from the fact that I had a lot of things I wanted to say on this issue. For somewhat obvious reasons — most of which involve the phrase “legal tender” — I’ve left the topic alone publicly until today.
Then, this morning, I get a call from OTL asking if I could come on to discuss the topic. I made sure the folks at OTL knew I was going to honestly answer any question, and they were fine with it. So, I got my chance to talk about an issue that I think is somewhat important, but absolutely fascinating.
Then I got on, Finebaum took offense to what Zirin said about a song that I can only presume is one of Paul’s favorites, and any semblance of structure was gone.
And all my points, even the really funny observation I’d planned to try to close with, went pretty much down the drain.
Well, given that it was going to be OK for me to discuss this on the air, and that I haven’t lost my ever-loving mind, I’m going to try to say the things I thought were salient in this Hank Williams, Jr. controversy. I’m not going to lose any income over this — Rockin’ Randall Hank ain’t that important to me — but Paul Finebaum isn’t going to cheat me out of this chance. I had to delay my drive to Atlanta for CAU’s homecoming so I could do this show. So I’m going to say what I had to say.
1. I think ESPN made the right call. And this is a statement largely based on precedent (and you can Google that for yourself). I find Hitler references distasteful, but I also debate whether they should be fireable. I know, however, that they are fireable. Full-time employees might get suspended, but part-timers get fired. That’s not just ESPN. That’s the world, and this is where that part of the discussion should end.
2. Kinda surprised this hadn’t happened sooner. By “this,” I mean Hank saying something beyond the pale. He’s made a career behind selling a nostalgic look at Southern life, one that clearly doesn’t include black people. Sometimes, that’s simply by omission, like “If the South Woulda Won.” Others, though, it’s very, very, very thinly-veiled racism like “Mr. Lincoln,” which seems to intimate that emancipation was a bad idea (unless you’ve got another explanation for the “it” that isn’t working as Lincoln “planned.” He’s long been aligned with far-right political movements (and the operative word, in this discussion, is “far,” not “right”), and he likes to talk about these things in public (now, seemingly, more than ever).
Somewhat corollary to this point…
3. Would Hank Williams, Jr. have gotten the Monday Night Football gig in 2011? This is a very interesting question. On one hand, it would stand to reason there’s been a great deal of racial progress in 20 years, or at least enough of one that one of ‘s homeboys (link is SO NSFW) wouldn’t be the face of one of the most consistently bankable properties on television. That said, I can’t say I think racism is tolerated less now than it was then. In ’91 and ’92, speaking on ending racism was actually in fashion. Can you honestly say that about 2011? After all, to this day, you can buy a . So, it’s not exactly like Hank wasn’t closely attached to racist stuff before today (and the flag is racist, which is a point I’ll deal with later).
I really don’t have the answer here, but I bet this question is a bit more complex than you expected.
Speaking of getting the gig…
4. When did country music become so patriotic? What, you never noticed that when people want to show how “American” they are, they tend to go to country music? This includes Barack Obama, who wrapped up his speech at the ’08 Democratic National Convention with some country record. NBC uses country music similarly on “Football Night in America,” with Faith Hill going so far as singing the game will be a “star-spangled fight” (whatever that means). Americana is a big part of the brand for football, and it’s hard to ignore that the tastes of rural whites are considered to represent and scream out “U.S.A.!” What’s ironic about this with regards to Hank Williams, Jr. is how much of his music and persona is glorifies a return to the lifestyle of a country that fought a war against the United States. The way networks continue to use a genre of music that has never reached all cultures while broadcasting a sport that’s as universally accepted as Type O blood is a head-scratcher. It also makes me wonder if people like me are considered to be a little less American.
Now, for one of the defining moments of the OTL broadcast…
5. What in the Sam Hill makes Paul Finebaum think I’m not Southern? I wish he would have answered that. Perhaps Paul made the decision of what to say before the show even started, because he was getting on me for things I didn’t even say. But to say “yeah right” when I say I’m just as Southern as him? That’s going to require some explanation. For that matter, what makes Hank Williams more Southern than me?
Would I be more Southern if you could buy one of these with my face on it?
I am incensed by people who have made whiteness part and parcel of being Southern. After all, how could the Stars and Bars be defended as “Southern culture” without taking black people totally out of the equation? To be told I’m not Southern by a man who has never met me, who then didn’t listen when I told him where I was from, and remarked “yeah right” when I said he was no more Southern than him (and for the record, nobody in my family is from no damn New York)? Yes, it does make me angry.
And it angers me because I love the South like nobody’s business. I’ve never lived north of Interstate 40. I clown Southerners who wear Yankees hats, for God’s sake. Yet, forever and ever, when I see representations of “the South” on television, it’s nothing but a bunch of white dudes. When it’s time to get a “Southern” perspective on things, you think anybody’s going to call me? The Old South isn’t just the stars and bars, seersucker suits and bluegrass or whatever else. It’s also people who look like me, white t-shirts, jazz and OutKast. We are here, too. We are here in large numbers. We are Southern, and we are disregarded by the people who claim to love the South the most.
On top of that, we are American. And given how many people remove us from their idea of America and the South, it’s pretty friggin’ insulting that so many of those same people have the audacity to question the patriotism of the President, me or anyone else. But when I emphatically say that I am Southern and, by simple extension, American, I’m told “yeah right.” It doesn’t hurt my feelings, but it tells me what time it is.
I deserved much better than that, Mr. Finebaum. You may say I’m making this into something bigger than just what you said, but you wouldn’t have said that were I a white man with a drawl. Deny that, and my next trip to Alabama to see my mother, I’ll drive to Birmingham so you can try to tell that lie to my face. I seriously doubt you could.
I am not taking that as a throwaway line. I’m taking that as symptomatic of a problem where Hank Williams, Jr. speaks would ever be considered as a spokesman for America, even if it is just asking if we’re ready for some football.
6. I’m going to miss ol’ Hank. Hey, that song’s an institution. They’ve played it for 20 years. When Hank was dropped years ago, he was brought right back. But, at least we can all remember Hank Williams, Jr.’s last performance of “Are You Ready for Some Football?” You may recall it was last week. And it was done in Spanish.
Now that there’s something that could only happen in America, the country Rockin’ Randall Hank loves so much.