Before Monday Night Football (MNF) used British composer Johnny Pearson’s song “Heavy Action” as the official theme song, American songwriter Hank Williams Jr.’s “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” could be heard on Monday evening’s ESPN football broadcasts.

The facts

In 2011, Williams exercised his right to freedom of speech, comparing President Obama and then-Speaker of the House John Boehner golfing together to “Hitler playing golf with [Israeli prime minister] Netanyahu.”

Subsequently, ESPN announced its decision to stop using Williams’ song and instead began playing Pearson’s song for the Monday Night Football theme.

The journalistic/legal analysis

While the First Amendment protects for the freedom of speech, among other liberties, Williams clearly (and wrongly) used his position of influence to make an inflammatory statement. Whether or not Williams’ intent was to target Holocaust survivors, he must recognize that, as an opinion leader, his statements can incite violence in some instances.

A more contemporary example is Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s 2005 recorded statement regarding groping women and frequent inflammatory statements towards minorities (I fail, here, to provide you with a link because that list would be too long). Simply, hatred can incite violence. If malicious intent exists (and can be successfully prosecuted as such), the individual who spoke those words can be found guilty under the law.

Like many forms of the press, celebrities and other opinion leaders are granted more leeway than the average person (who likely owns a fairly small amount of influence in the world). However, these opinion leaders should respect their followers, and more importantly, consider the lasting impact of their words and actions on all individuals.

“Treat people the same way you want them to treat you.” – Matthew 7:12

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