Last Thursday, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended for two games by the NFL following an offseason arrest. In May, Rice entered a pre-trial diversion program to avoid a trial and jail time for an altercation with his wife (at the time, she was his fiancé).
The penalty was met with universal eye rolls and general outrage from NFL fans and non-fans alike.
At best, Rice showed some horrible decision-making the night he dragged an unconscious Janay Rice out of an elevator. At worst, Rice is a wife-beater.
ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith didn’t show the same type of outrage that most did. On ESPN’s First Take, Smith admonished men who hit women but also said that women should not “provoke” men into hitting them:
But what I’ve tried to employ the female members of my family, some of whom you all met and talked to and what have you, is that again, and this, what I’ve done this all my life, let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions.
The backlash was swift, immediate, and understandable. Smith’s high-profile colleague Michelle Beadle took to Twitter to bash Smith’s stance.
“So I was just forced to watch this morning’s First Take. A) I’ll never feel clean again B) I’m now aware that I can provoke my own beating.”
Her criticism was somewhat surprising, since they both work for ESPN, and the company rarely wants its talent saying disparaging things about each other or the company. But it was also viewed as refreshing and really hammered home how insensitive Smith’s words were.
Smith took to Twitter to defend his stance, calling out Beadle by name as the reason for the explanation. As you’d expect, that just made things worse. He deleted the tweets and wrote a statement apologizing again, stating:
My series of tweets a short time ago is not an adequate way to capture my thoughts, so I am using a single tweet via Twitlonger to more appropriately and effectively clarify my remarks from earlier today about the Ray Rice situation. I completely recognize the sensitivity of the issues and the confusion and disgust that my comments caused. First off, as I said earlier and I want to reiterate strongly, it is never OK to put your hands on a women. Ever. I understand why that important point was lost in my other comments, which did not come out as I intended. I want to state very clearly. I do NOT believe a woman provokes the horrible domestic abuses that are sadly such a major problem in our society. I wasn’t trying to say that or even imply it when I was discussing my own personal upbringing and the important role the women in my family have played in my life. I understand why my comments could be taken another way. I should have done a better job articulating my thoughts, and I sincerely apologize.
There’s not much to follow in sports at the moment, so this controversy has been a major storyline throughout the weekend. Smith and Beadle are big media names, and the argument took the spotlight and heat off the NFL (which people have stopped bashing for this laughable suspension) and onto Smith and his comments.
People wanted to know what the World Wide Leader was going to do, and on Sunday, they said Smith would “have more to say about it” on Monday on “First Take.” That happened, with the show opening with a lengthy apology from Smith. Responses to the apology were mostly negative. The show then went into its typical debate, and ESPN released a statement that said “nothing additional is planned at the moment,” meaning that no further actions are expected for Smith.
To summarize: The NFL gave Rice a joke suspension, and one that’s frankly insulting to women. Smith, on a show that “embraces debate,” said something incredibly insensitive and stupid. Beadle rightly blasted him. Smith wrongly defended the comment. ESPN stayed quiet. Smith apologized this morning. Back to business as usual.
To summarize what didn’t happen: Rice kept his mouth shut, didn’t appeal the penalty, and loses a game check for probably hitting his wife. The NFL got bashed, but then saw the bashing move from them — a billion-dollar league — to Smith — a media personality. Rather than have a real discussion about domestic violence, everyone destroyed Smith for what he said. Everyone will now shift their focus to the next big story at the moment … that is, until another athlete beats up his girlfriend/fiancée/wife.
The real question out of this that no one is asking: Did we learn anything from this incident and will it spark any kind of change?
Follow Stefen Lovelace on Twitter @StefenLovelace