The firing of country music singer Hank Williams Jr. by ESPN after he controversially compared President Obama to Hitler on Fox News has sparked a nationwide debate.
As is often the case with arguments involving either sports or politics, things tend to get emotional. During a long segment on ESPN's "Outside The Lines" program, tempers flared and the debate featuring Alabama radio personality Paul Finebaum, Dave Zirin of The Nation and sports radio host Bomani Jones quickly devolved into a screaming match.
Finebaum gave the discourse its first push down the slope toward hysteria by taking a verbal swipe at Zirin for an earlier comment suggesting that ESPN should have parted ways with Williams long ago due to a songbook that includes songs like "If The South Woulda Won," in which he sings "If the South would’ve won we'd a had it made."
After Jones weighed in, Finebaum took the argument completely off topic, perhaps illustrating how personally so many people around the country have taken Williams' firing. Finebaum brought up the fact that his parents are from New York and he has relatives who died in the Holocaust. Both Jones and Zirin pointed out that Finebaum's background had nothing to do with the subject of the discussion.
"That's an outrageous statement," Zirin said. "If you want to talk about my relatives who died in the Holocaust or my time in the South we could do that, but that's not germane to this discussion at all. And frankly it's cheap and unprofessional to bring that into this discussion."
While Finebaum contended that Jones and Zirin were "making fun of people" from the South, both Zirin and Jones took issue with Finebaum's method of defining Southern culture, noting that his definition seemed to account for Williams but not the large African-American population who surely don't share the singer's views on the outcome of the Civil War. As the debate grew even more vitriolic when the Georgia-born Jones screamed at Finebaum, "I'm just as Southern as you are!"
Ben Flanagan of al.com noted that Finebaum talked about the exchange on his radio show later on Thursday:
"I respect Dave, but that's the single stupidest thing I've heard on the show," Finebaum said. "I don't remember what else I said, and I don't think I really want to see it because I don't think I made a whole lot of sense because Zirin really ticked me off."
"Dave Zirin and Bomani Jones don't have the right to insult every southerner. Zirin insulted every soldier who fought for the Confederacy. I don't have relatives from the South, but I'm not going to let that person insult the good name of all these people because Hank Williams happens to be a country music star."
Jones posted on his blog on Friday about what he intended to say on the show before the conversation strayed far off topic, writing that "Paul Finebaum isn’t going to cheat me out of this chance." He says he thinks ESPN made the right move by firing Williams and also asks: "When did country music become so patriotic?