For more than two decades, Hank Williams Jr. has provided the opening soundtrack for Monday Night Football. The country music singer earned four Emmy awards in the early 1990s for his lyrical odes to the gridiron. And when the staple of American sports culture made the transition from ABC to ESPN in 2006, Williams traveled with it.
But such staying power was little match for an ill-conceived political quip earlier this month. As a guest on the Fox News program Fox and Friends, Williams suggested that the recent golf outing of President Barack Obama with House Speaker John Boehner was akin to "Hitler playing golf with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu."
The remark drew scorn from the Anti-Defamation League, which contends that such comparisons to Hitler cheapen the German dictator's singularly heinous crimes against European Jews. But before Williams could muster a public apology, ESPN pulled his musical opener from its broadcast, citing extreme disappointment with his comments. Who knew that the nation's premier sports network is averse to using music from entertainers who make mildly stupid political statements? Too bad. That's just about all of them.
Such a policy smacks of last decade, when hyper-political-correctness cost numerous radio and television personalities their jobs. But hasn't that era of tiptoes and eggshells begun to fade, and maybe especially in sports? Isn't the affably controversial Hulk Hogan's new reality show on midget wrestling evidence enough of that?
Listen to a sports update, including a report on Hank Williams Jr. on the Oct. 8 edition of the radio program The World and Everything in It.
Major League Baseball's pennant races provided historic drama this year-the September collapses of Boston and Atlanta; the 23-9 season-ending surge from St. Louis; the stunning come-from-behind victory of Tampa Bay over New York on the final day of the season to nab a playoff spot.
Such excitement offers a reminder of the game's human element. For all the wizardry of Billy Beane's statistical analysis, now immortalized in the Brad Pitt film Moneyball, baseball remains a fantastically unpredictable enterprise, often turning on the intangible grit of a player's guts. Playoff history proves as much. Here are three surprising, gripping, and deeply human moments from the game's postseason archives.
In the 1960 World Series, Pittsburgh second baseman and defensive specialist Bill Mazeroski delivered a bottom-of-the-ninth-inning home run to win Game 7 and the title. To this day, Mazeroski maintains that the feeling of calm he felt as the fateful pitch was delivered "is something I've never been able to explain."
In the 1986 World Series, Boston first baseman Bill Buckner let a slow-dribbling ball trickle through his legs, allowing the Mets to score the game-winning run and avoid elimination. New York would win Game 7 and the series two days later. The baseball from that infamous play went up for sale on eBay this month with a price tag of $1 million.
In the 2001 ALDS, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter raced across the infield to track down an errant throw and flip the ball backhand to catcher Jorge Posada, who promptly tagged out Oakland runner Jeremy Giambi trying to score from first base. The play preserved a New York lead in Game 3 and provided the pivot for the Yankees to surge back from a 2-0 deficit to win the series in five games. Had Giambi only slid, Oakland might well have eliminated the Yankees that very day.