For the second time since 2011, ESPN is reportedly removing Hank Williams Jr. from its “Monday Night Football” intro.
This time, the network claims it’s not about Williams’ controversial points of view, according to Sports Business Journal.
Instead of Williams’ iconic “All My Rowdy Friends Are Here on Monday Night” that became the anthem for weekday football in 1989, ESPN will air a rendition of Little Richard’s “Rip It Up,” mashing the late artist’s vocals with instrumentation from Virginia-based band Butcher Brown, per the report.
ESPN reportedly cites COVID-19 crowd impact
The official stance from ESPN is that the “rowdy” Williams intro doesn’t jibe with a season of NFL games being played in stadiums with limited or no fan capacity because of COVID-19, according to SBJ.
But it shouldn’t be ignored in 2020 that ESPN is removing Williams in favor of one of the Black founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll backed by a majority Black band. Little Richard, who died in May, was a titan of the genre and one of the most influential artists in American popular music.
Hank Williams Jr. removed in 2011 after comparing Obama to Hitler
The last time ESPN axed Williams was in 2011 after he compared President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. He returned to the network’s airwaves in 2017 amid the massive cultural shift that was the election of President Donald Trump.
Now that the United States is in the midst of a racial reckoning and social unrest not seen in decades sparked by the homicide of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Williams is gone again.
ESPN’s ‘stick-to-sports’ initiative
ESPN has long catered to the stick-to-sports crowd and has doubled down on those efforts lately under president Jimmy Pitaro, who has continued to stifle non-sports commentary from the network’s stable of personalities.
Network brass surely doesn’t want to be seen as catering to a certain demographic by pulling Williams for what could be construed as political reasons. That doesn’t fit with the brand or a segment of its audience.
The COVID-19 pandemic makes for a convenient fallback that allows ESPN to protect its business interests while avoiding the dreaded “political” label at the same time.
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