Update: Smith has been suspended by ESPN for his comments.
Stephen A. Smith (or “Screamin’ A,” as one of my Twitter followers calls him) gave a corporate apology at the top of ESPN’s First Take yesterday for his ridiculous domestic violence victim-blaming in relation to Ray Rice’s controversial two-game suspension resulting from an ugly incident earlier this year at Revel. It was the type of apology that we’ve all come to expect during a dust-up when a public figure who gains prominence for vocalizing a controversial opinion wants to sweep the furor under the rug. In that way, it was entirely uneventful.
It took 72 hours (he should be thanking God for small favors in the form of the weekend news cycle drag), but with a smidge less heat surrounding him, Smith delivered his contrition with standard applications of feigned revelation and self-interest. There are debates about whether or not Smith should be allowed to keep his job; those debates are not without merit, though as of this writing Smith has announced (well-timed!) plans to leave the network and head over to more irreverent pastures at SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio.
That the same hand of mercy covers Smith and Ray Rice in equal measure.
You see, the problem with Smith’s statements is that he’s not the only one who feels that way. This is why he hasn’t been fired. This is why Ray Rice still plays football. Don’t believe me? Check Smith’s mentions on Twitter. There is a subversive belief that, yes, domestic violence at some level involves provocation. Barring the death of the victim, when it becomes insurmountably obvious that she could not protect herself, it is not unusual to hear one ask what a woman did to incite the violence against her.
Under this logic, surviving doesn’t make a woman courageous — it makes her culpable.
Putting your hands on someone is wrong — this rule applies to men and women. There are few opportunities in life to put things so declaratively, so I will seize the opportunity here: Putting your hands on someone is wrong. It shouldn’t happen. And no matter how much reconciliation and rehabilitation can exist between two people, it doesn’t excuse the abuse. It’s still wrong. Moreover, despite Smith’s claims that abuse correlates to some level of provocation, studies show that the risk of death or injury to a victim is greatest when leaving an abusive relationship or shortly thereafter.
And so as Smith — who has deleted the series of misguided, ego-inflated Tweets that followed his on-air statements — boxes up his cube and heads to the next big thing, my thoughts are with Janay Rice, who made a choice to marry the man who dragged her unconscious from an elevator after knocking her out, hoping that her safety doesn’t require for that to be swept under the rug, too.
Follow @MF_Greatest on Twitter.