In Defense of Stephen A. Smith

I’m a frequent viewer of ESPN’s First Take, and there have been plenty of times I have disagreed with host Stephen A. Smith. I’d say there were a few times that Stephen A. Smith has offended me with his views (same with Skip Bayless). Recently, Smith was discussing his opinion in regards to the Ray Rice suspension, and his words stirred up a hornet’s nest of opposition in the media, mostly from ESPN’s SportsNation host, Michelle Beadle. I’d wager to say that a lot of the angst and disappointment that commentators have for Ray Rice’s two-game suspension is now directed at Stephen A. Smith.

I think this is a bit unfair to Stephen A. Smith. I’ve watched the broadcast and read through the transcript a couple of times, and I’m not entirely convinced that Smith’s words are as offensive as many are labeling them. In fact, he may have something of a point that we are hastily disregarding in light of a shared disdain for abuse of women. Stephen A. Smith may have not been as eloquent in this instance, but he might not deserve the knee-jerk reaction he is receiving from those with an inclination for proving their staunch opposition to the Ray Rice suspension.

First, as to what I think about the Ray Rice suspension, his receiving two lost games is not a long enough suspension…not that four to six games might necessarily magically cure Ray Rice of his physical attacks on his wife. The public scrutiny on Rice seems to be more of a cure than this suspension, and who’s to say that a four-game suspension would be enough to satisfy the crime? Would the media have become incensed if it was a four-game suspension? Probably not, which could indicate that the media’s moral majority might be the ones who have the most beef here. It seems a bit arbitrary to me, especially considering how unbalanced the NFL’s system for handing out fines and suspensions has been to this point.

I think this has become a case of political correctness, especially concerning Stephen A. Smith’s commentary on Friday. Here is what he said:

We know you have no business putting your hands on a woman. I don’t know how many times I got to reiterate that. But as a man who was raised by women, see I know what I’m going to do if somebody touches a female member of my family. I know what I’m going to do, I know what my boys are going to do. I know what, I’m going to have to remind myself that I work for the Worldwide Leader, I’m going to have to get law enforcement officials involved because of what I’m going to be tempted to do. But what I’ve tried to employ the female members of my family, some of who 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, because if I come, or somebody else come, whether it’s law enforcement officials, your brother or the fellas that you know, if we come after somebody has put their hands on you, it doesn’t negate the fact that they already put their hands on you. So let’s try to make sure that we can do our part in making sure that that doesn’t happen.

I bold-faced the text that I believe has been deemed offensive. What I think Stephen A. Smith is trying to say involves something that happened in his life. If I’m reading it right, then it might have involved a situation where a female might have been attempting to persuade a male, whether a male family member or a male police officer, to vindicate a perceived crime (I say perceived because that’s how our legal system works). It’s possible that a female might have been asking for a “chivalrous” reaction in the form of returned violence (think of the commonly-used phrase, “Be a man”), which is not what should be advocated in such a situation. We want the law to handle domestic violence situations without further violence, and we certainly don’t want to add to the list of potential arrestees. Perhaps, Stephen A. Smith was attempting to convey how, at times, females shouldn’t goad males into escalating a situation in the after-effects of domestic violence…and if you don’t believe that this could occur, then I’d suggest watching a few episodes of Cops (the truest reality TV show).

Stephen A. Smith continued:

Now you got some dudes that are just horrible and they’re going to do it anyway, and there’s never an excuse to put your hands on a woman. But domestic violence or whatever the case may be, with men putting their hands on women, is obviously a very real, real issue in our society. And I think that just talking about what guys shouldn’t do, we got to also make sure that you can do your part to do whatever you can do to make, to try to make sure it doesn’t happen. We know they’re wrong. We know they’re criminals. We know they probably deserve to be in jail. In Ray Rice’s case, he probably deserves more than a 2-game suspension which we both acknowledged. But at the same time, we also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation. Not that there’s real provocation, but the elements of provocation, you got to make sure that you address them, because we’ve got to do is do what we can to try to prevent the situation from happening in any way. And I don’t think that’s broached enough, is all I’m saying. No point of blame.

Michelle Beadle, who is EXCELLENT on SportsNation, posted some Tweets showing her disgust for Stephen A. Smith:

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.

I’m thinking about wearing a miniskirt this weekend…I’d hate to think what I’d be asking for by doing so @stephenasmith. #dontprovoke

I was in an abusive relationship once. I’m aware that men & women can both be the abuser. To spread a message that we not ‘provoke’ is wrong

Violence isn’t the victim’s issue. It’s the abuser’s. To insinuate otherwise is irresponsible and disgusting. Walk. Away.

Since Beadle has been in an abusive relationship, it’s obvious that she is taking this personally. Unfortunately, she is stretching Smith’s words a bit, especially with asking about wearing a miniskirt, which Smith did not indicate anything about how a woman dresses being involved in provocation.

He also did not say that Michelle Beadle in any way provoked her own beating. It’s understandable that Beadle might assume Smith is referring to all women who suffer domestic violence, but it was not his intention. Smith suggested that it is possible that women might provoke a response from men AFTER an incident of domestic violence. I do not see where Stephen A. Smith suggested that any woman who is beaten “provoked [her] own beating.” It is a leap on Beadle’s part.

Beadle suggests that Stephen A. Smith censor himself and walk away. She has a great point about violence being the abuser’s issue, and it is true. However, she wants to suppress (deems it “irresponsible and disgusting”) any discussion about how provocation might be a factor in domestic violence. This isn’t exactly fair, and it might work against efforts to cease domestic violence. Does Michelle Beadle believe that women are not capable of provoking men to commit violence? If we allow no discussion about the factors that lead to domestic violence, is it possible that some women might manipulate the system to falsely accuse or “get revenge” on men who have wronged them? Do men (and women) frequently engage in violence against their partner WITHOUT provocation? I’m not trying to make excuses for those who commit violence, but it’s obvious that domestic violence happens on a disgustingly large scale. Do we honestly think that suppressing a voice that might actually have a decent suggestion to avoid cessation of further violence helps? Is censorship going to help avoid further domestic violence? Michelle Beadle’s shaming of Stephen A. Smith isn’t exactly helping her cause, in some ways.

It’s obvious I’m in the minority when defending Stephen A. Smith here. I’m sorry to say it, but I agree with him on one point: I don’t think this topic is broached enough. Unfortunately, I don’t think Stephen A. Smith is going to broach this topic ever again, thanks to the backlash he’s receiving. This is unfortunate, in the sense, that it contributes to the difficulty of designating what causes violence in the first place. I live on the South Side of Chicago, where a culture of gun violence has surfaced, in which young people are shot, based on imaginary grievances and manufactured provocation (some of which are provoked by females, instigating easily-manipulated male characteristics). Nobody talks about how these shootings in Chicago are so easily provoked. In fact, most people ignore the details…and the violence increases.

I might also bring up Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. Was there provocation involved? Is provocation a factor in “stand your ground?” In this case, was Zimmerman provoking an attack, or did Martin? Did the young dead victim deserve to be shot, because he provoked Zimmerman? Did our justice system exonerate a killer because of the untalked-about factor of provocation involved in the case?

How about we scrutinize the nature of provocation in a specific case of a female who suffered domestic violence? Marissa Alexander could serve 60 years in jail because no one wants to talk about how provocation should be defined in her Florida case, even though it is the exact opposite of the justification for George Zimmerman’s exoneration.

My point is that we shouldn’t be so quick to stifle an opinion that asks us to consider the nature of provocation in instances of human violence. Certainly, I’m not willing to make the leap that Stephen A. Smith is advocating that any woman who is beaten by a male asked for it by her own provocation.

A few days earlier, Tony Dungy was lambasted for comments about St. Louis Rams rookie Michael Sam. When asked about the comments, Michael Sam gracefully replied, “I have a great respect for Coach Dungy, and like everyone in America, everyone is entitled to their own opinions.” I fail to see how this situation is that different. Stephen A. Smith gave his opinion, and I’m not sure that his opinion, according to his rhetoric, is “women deserve to get hit,” as some are suggesting it is.

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4 comments

  1. An excellent discussion. I think you are right when you say that the points were made from personal emotional positions and that they were not reflective enough of a larger discourse. How about you give my piece a once-over and then decide if you still want to defend Stephen A. I believe he was in the wrong, but he has become part of a firestorm of a larger issue that no one has been able to put their finger on. So they attack individuals. We need to look at the bigger picture and identify the real dynamics of abuse. http://2bsisters.com/2014/07/27/footballs-cult…lateral-damage/

  2. I watched Stephen A. Smith’s apology, and I hope people give the guy a break. As I wrote, he’s not defending those who abuse women; he deserves a wee bit of latitude. However, I do wish the show had extended this discussion. Trust me, I spent some of the weekend reading some of the reaction Smith received on Twitter and Facebook, and the executive decision to stay AWAY from the Ray Rice issue was the right one for television (btw Mike and Mike had startling interview with NFL exec that IS enlightening). However, I think the right social decision is to have a more open public discussion about how and why domestic abuse and violence occurs. Stephen A. Smith and First Take have removed themselves from the debate, and I am sure every other ESPN show is going to be cautious (understated) about the topic of domestic violence. As I wrote, censorship is not necessarily a good method of social improvement, especially considering how prevalent physical mistreatment of women and men occurs in our society. Consider that the root cause of this civil unrest concerning domestic abuse is Ray Rice received a suspension where he cannot play in two games for the Baltimore Ravens in the regular NFL season…obviously this is a travesty, right? Somehow this seems disingenuous to me considering how we can only come close to showing disgust for domestic abuse when it’s involved with punishing these males by taking away their football…huh? There are child abusers who only receive six years in prison; our military and colleges are full of rapists who are defended by the institution’s overseers; and Marissa Alexander has an overzealous prosecutor in Florida who insists that she (an abused woman) deserves to rot in jail for 60 years because she feared an attack and attempted to defend herself by firing a gun in the air to thwart her attacker, a man who had already committed domestic abuse on her. You can’t tell me that Stephen A. Smith is the bad guy here when it is obvious to me that we need to talk about this more…not less.

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