On Friday’s edition of First Take, Stephen A. Smith embraced something far more than debate by suggesting in connection with the Ray Rice suspension that female victims of domestic abuse need to be careful to avoid provoking the men in their lives to commit violence. The comments drew a very strong reaction, including pointed comments on Twitter from ESPN’s Michelle Beadle, who said among other things after watching Friday’s show, “I’ll never feel clean again” and “I’m now aware that I can provoke my own beating.”
Smith responded by clumsily attempting to explain himself on Twitter, but in reality digging in deep enough that he eventually deleted the stream of tweets and posted a lengthy apology.
To launch Monday’s edition of First Take, Smith delivered what seemed to be a heartfelt apology, apology while reading from a teleprompter.
“Good morning,” Smith began. “On Friday, speaking right here on First Take on the subject of domestic violence, I made what can only amount to the most egregious error of my career. While elaborating on thoughts concerning the NFL’s ruling versus Ray Rice, following a domestic dispute with his then fiancee, I ventured beyond the scope of our discussion by alluding to a woman’s role in such heinous matters, going so far as to use the word ‘provoke’ in my diatribe. My words came across that it is somehow a woman’s fault. This was not my intent. It is not what I was trying to say. Yet the failure to clearly articulate something different lies squarely on my shoulders. To say what I actually said was foolish is an understatement. To say I was wrong is obvious. To apologize, to say I’m sorry, doesn’t do the matter its proper justice to be quite honest.”
Based on his grave delivery of that line, I actually wondered whether the next comment would be that he’s stepping down, for a week or a month or forever. That’s not the case.
“But I do sincerely apologize,” Smith continued. “As a man raised by the greatest mother in the world and four older sisters, I’ve religiously spoken out against domestic violence all of my life. I’ve done so repeatedly over 20 years in this business, as well as over these very airwaves. Right here on First Take. My primary reason for doing so is because I’ve experienced and dealt with the matter within my own family. Unfortunately, I did an incredibly poor job of asserting my point of view last Friday. For that, again, I am truly, truly sorry. Particularly to victims of domestic abuse and to my female family members and loved ones I’ve disappointed and who know I know better, you all deserved a better professional and quite frankly a better man last Friday sitting on this very set, in this very chair. My heartfelt apologies to each and every one of you.”
Smith paused and looked down for dramatic effect before saying “in this very chair,” which made me think of another guy who said something stupid about Donovan McNabb in one of the various chairs at ESPN roughly 11 years ago. That guy was dumped. Smith wasn’t.
While the situations may be distinguishable in many ways, ESPN has shown a hair trigger in the past when it comes to suspending on-air talent for a week or two. Smith apparently won’t be suspended or otherwise disciplined.
“We will continue to have constructive dialogue on this important topic,” ESPN said in a statement released after Smith’s on-air apology. “Stephen’s comments last Friday do not reflect our company’s point of view. As his apology demonstrates, he recognizes his mistakes and has a deeper appreciation of our company values.”
We’ll leave it for others to argue whether Smith should or shouldn’t be fired or suspended. But his remarks were clearly wrong. When it comes to domestic violence, there’s no “last straw” that justifies an attack. Disengage from the argument. Run away, to a stream of insults if need be. Assume a defensive posture as a last resort. But find a way out before it ever gets to the point where anyone could even begin to think that the actions of another justify something like an uppercut to the chin.