ESPN officially parted ways with controversial country star Hank Williams Jr. on Thursday (October 6), just days after it suspended him for comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler.
Williams' signature song, "All My Rowdy Friends," was initially pulled from this week's "Monday Night Football" broadcast for one night, but the firing became permanent Thursday when the network formally severed ties with the notoriously rabblerousing singer.
"We have decided to part ways with Hank Williams, Jr.," ESPN announced in a statement. "We appreciate his contributions over the past years. The success of Monday Night Football has always been about the games and that will continue."
The controversy began to bubble Monday morning after the outspoken Williams appeared on a Fox News morning show, during which he condemned a June golf outing involving Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and Obama. "It's like Hitler playing golf with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu," he said of the bipartisan golf game.
The hosts of the conservative network's "Fox & Friends" morning program seemed surprised by the comment, with co-anchor Gretchen Carlson asking Williams to clarify what he meant by the inflammatory statement, saying, "You used the name of one of the most hated people in all the world to describe, I think, the president." Williams responded, "That's true ... but I'm telling you like it is."
A short time later, Williams issued the first of two apologies, writing on his website, "Some of us have strong opinions and are often misunderstood ... My analogy was extreme — but it was to make a point."
That appeared to do little to quell the firestorm over his comments, leading to Thursday's firing. Williams' "Rowdy" has been part of "Monday Night Football" for more than two decades, and the singer was clearly stung by the sports network's actions. In a statement denying that he'd been fired, Williams wrote, "After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made MY decision," he said, employing the classic "you can't fire me because I quit" argument. "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."