Are we ready for this kind of football?
The kind that is so brazen about its motives and lack of moral compass that selective ignorance is the only way to continue watching the NFL with a healthy conscience?
Last week, ESPN announced that Hank Williams Jr. will be returning to Monday Night Football, reviving his iconic intro that ran for over two decades. He and the network parted ways six years ago after he went on “Fox & Friends” and made an absurd comment about President Barack Obama, saying his golf outing with former Speaker of the House John Boehner was like “Hitler playing golf with (Israeli prime minister Benjamin) Netanyahu.”
He continued to criticize Obama after that, too. Williams recorded an album called Old School, New Rules that had multiple lines aimed directly at the president. In 2012, he told a crowd in Iowa that “We’ve got a Muslim president who hates farming, hates the military, hates the U.S. and we hate him!”
There’s so much to unpack there, it’s almost overwhelming.
Williams is a Confederate apologist. He was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, during the height of Jim Crow, and the Confederate flag is a key part of his aesthetic. In fact, it’s incorporated into a lot of his merchandise.
I’ll get back to why this matters in a second.
Time, coupled with the endless dumpster fires in the world, has helped us accept or maybe even forget the fact that San Diego and Oakland are going to lose their teams. Both decisions indicated the NFL’s blatant disregard for fans, or how much of their hard-earned money and (sometimes) sanity goes into supporting it.
How fans are supposed to handle that is a complex question, and this circles back to the Williams thing.
The league’s apathy has reached a disturbing new low, and it’s disproportionately affecting minority supporters. It’s unlikely that the NFL explicitly told ESPN to bring back Williams to help curb last year’s poor ratings, but he definitely wasn’t OK’d without the NFL’s approval.
After the announcement was made, ESPN’s senior vice president of events and studio production, Stephanie Druley, said, “I’m sure there’ll be some (backlash), but I’m not concerned. It was the right time.”
Since the NFL and its bedfellows want to bring up the “right time,” let’s talk about Colin Kaepernick for a minute.
It’s June now and he has still not been signed. OTAs are in full swing and training camps begin next month.
Seattle, the last team he met with, was one that made sense in terms of culture and position needs, but instead opted not to sign him. They went with Austin Davis, a guy whose NFL career has seen him get cut by the Rams and the Browns – two of the most QB-thirsty franchises out there.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said it was because Kaepernick is “a starter,” and too good to be a backup to Russell Wilson. Whether or not Kaepernick was OK with being in that position or not is privileged information. Either way, it’s crystallized the issue with his prolonged free agency because there are far worse QB depth charts out there.
NFL owners are conservative by nature and won’t take on the controversy that comes with signing Kaepernick willingly. But to think he’s not being blackballed at this point requires an enviable level of simplicity.
He protested to shed a light on issues that affect racial minorities. The double standard NFL owners have set, signing guys who have committed crimes or abuse women but won’t sign a man because of his political views, is appalling.
They’re OK letting Williams sing “All My Rowdy Friends Are Here on Monday Night,” knowing full well that there are people out there forced to stomach his presence as a man who made money off Confederate nostalgia.
But the sensitivities of those who can’t handle Kaepernick’s protest for equality, well, they’re much more important to keep happy.
Welcome to the NFL in 2017.