BRISTOL, Conn. — Are you ready for some football? Hank Williams Jr. isn’t anymore.
The country singer and ESPN each took credit for the decision Thursday morning to ax his classic intro to “Monday Night Football.”
The network had pulled the song from the game earlier this week after Williams made an analogy to Adolf Hitler while discussing President Barack Obama on Fox News on Monday morning.
“After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made MY decision,” Williams said in a statement to The Associated Press. “By pulling my opening Oct 3rd, You (ESPN) stepped on the Toes of The First Amendment Freedom of Speech, so therefore Me, My Song, and All My Rowdy Friends are OUT OF HERE. It’s been a great run.”
But ESPN’s statement said: “We have decided to part ways with Hank Williams Jr. We appreciate his contributions over the past years. The success of Monday Night Football has always been about the games and that will continue.”
Spokesman Kirt Webster said Williams made the decision Wednesday night, while the network said it informed Williams of the move Thursday morning.
Regardless of whose call it was, one of sports’ and entertainment’s most visible partnerships is over. The song had been a “Monday Night Football” staple since 1989 and survived the game’s switch of networks from ABC to cable a few years ago.
The song is based on Williams’ hit “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight.” The lyrics were changed each week to reflect the night’s game.
ESPN will no longer have access to the music or words because Williams owns the publishing rights, the master recordings and the song. Williams, the son of country music icon Hank Williams, is known for his bombastic manner and strong opinions.
For next Monday’s Bears-Lions game, ESPN will run before kickoff the preview segment that had been used at the start of the MNF telecast. The intro will be narrated by former Detroit star Barry Sanders.
“This is the format we’ll likely use for the remainder of the season,” spokesman Josh Krulewitz wrote in an email. “We haven’t made any decisions beyond that.”
Williams’ statement on “Fox & Friends” comparing a golf game between Obama and Republican Rep. John Boehner to an outing featuring Hitler and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went viral after ESPN announced it would pull the intro late that afternoon.
“It’d be like Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu,” Williams said during the satellite interview.
Asked to clarify, Williams said, “They’re the enemy,” adding that by “they” he meant Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
Anchor Gretchen Carlson later said to him, “You used the name of one of the most hated people in all of the world to describe, I think, the president.” Williams replied, “Well, that is true. But I’m telling you like it is.”
Williams issued a statement Monday night insisting his remarks were misunderstood, then apologized Tuesday.
Williams got plenty of support, even from some unlikely places.
Among his defenders were Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar of “The View,” who have a very different political viewpoint from the conservative Williams, but often are called out for their own comments.
“Those among us who are without sin, cast the first stone,” Goldberg said.