Worldwide leader fails in its response to Smith controversy
Posted July 30, 2014
I came to the stunning realization this morning that we, as a sports-consuming public, have serious, near-cataclysmic problems with concentration.
The slightest deviation from the norm so upsets us that it's a wonder we can even make the drive to work on a daily basis unless the light cycle is identical every single morning. What if the car in front of you at the Starbucks drive-thru orders something complicated? "NO, not a venti-double-macchiato! I don't have all day!" Where's my flask? So much adversity already and it's only 8:40.
This was finally driven home for good Tuesday when ESPN announced a six-business-day suspension of commentator Stephen A. Smith for his ridiculous comments regarding the shockingly light suspension the NFL handed down to Ray Rice.
By now, you certainly are familiar with this story. Rice, a star running back with the Baltimore Ravens, knocked his fiance out cold in an Atlantic City casino elevator in February, and after careful consideration and extensive consultation with dozens of industry, civic and spiritual leaders, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell thought a two-game suspension was a stiff price to pay.
We can debate all month long whether or not the penalty fits the crime in this case, except that there has never been any debate because I haven't heard a coherent adult agree with the NFL's actions regarding this. So, let's consider that debate – sorry, that distraction – concluded.
On Friday, the day Rice's unpaid vacation was announced, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, a co-host on "First Take," offered that women need to be careful not to provoke incidents of domestic violence. To be fair, Smith did repeatedly say that there's never any excuse for a man to hit a woman, but clearly Smith inserted his entire left leg into his esophagus with his "blame the victim" (as slight as it may be) approach. On top of that, after fellow ESPNer Michelle Beadle took him to task on twitter, Smith doubled down with a series of his own 140-characters-or-less entries in an attempt to clarify his comments. Instead, he really just restated his previous point in ALL CAPS.
Well, at least it wasn't in comic sans.
For many, they saw Smith as writing his own ESPN eulogy. On Monday, he took to the airwaves at the front of "First Take" with a taped 2-minute apology in which he first referred to his comments as "the most egregious mistake of my career."
Smith said that it was never his intent to blame women for their role in cases of domestic violence and ultimately it was his failure to clearly articulate his point that had put him in this position. When you consider that Smith's job description as a columnist, TV/radio talking head, opinionizer is to…wait for it…..CLEARLY ARTICULATE YOUR OPINION, Stephen A.'s apology could have been summed up by simply saying that he was sorry for being terrible at his job.
Regardless, all of us in the unscripted world of talk radio will step into a giant steaming pile at some point, so let's let Smith "learn from his mistakes" and turn our focus to the actions of ESPN.
Network President John Skipper sent a statement to employees that was published on ESPN.com:
"We have been engaged in thoughtful discussion about appropriate next steps. Those conversations have involved a diverse group of women and men in our company. Our women's [employee resource group] has added to the conversation, and going forward, I know they will help us continue constructive discussion on this and related issues. Stephen has called what took place 'the most egregious mistake' of his career. I believe his apology was sincere and that he and we have learned from what we've collectively experienced. I'm confident we will all move forward with a greater sense of enlightenment and perspective as the lasting impact of these last few days. I want to thank all those whose thoughts have contributed along the way."
Mr. Skipper, it's certainly nice that you've engaged in thoughtful discussion about appropriate next steps. Even better that you've involved a diverse group of women and men in those discussions. But, holy nimrod, is that really necessary? I don't know why would you consult men in those discussions. What perspective could they add? And, is it really that complicated a concept that there's never a time when it's appropriate to throw broad brush blame on women for their role –however slight you may believe – in these episodes?
Beadle's tweet about being careful not to wear a mini-skirt to work lest she be responsible for male wrongdoing might have been an exaggerated response, but a fair barb in my opinion considering the idiocy of the initial statement.
As for the "we have learned from what we've collectively experienced" portion of the statement, I'm almost speechless. These are the moronic words players and teams use to make gullible fans believe that players are going to grow from these unfortunate episodes. Roger Goodell is confident that Rice will learn from his mistake. Right, because he wasn't already aware that knocking your fiance out cold in an elevator was unacceptable behavior.
Learning from your mistakes should happen in the early stages of life. When to use "your" or "you're." How to parallel park. Why you should never, ever ask a woman if she's pregnant. These are learning experiences. By the time you're an adult, the learning from mistakes portion of your life is over.
Moving forward is what players and teams – and apparently ESPN – say when they want us all to forget how absolutely stupid they've been. When something they've done or said is so embarrassing that they just can't bear to address it anymore, it's best for them just to move on and "focus on what I can control."
I just hope that ESPN, as the worldwide leader in sports, will be able to overcome all of the adversity, deal with this distraction and learn from their mistakes. Or maybe they should just give a higher profile to those who are capable of intelligently articulating their point clearly and effectively.
One could make the argument that the "mistake" made by Stephen A. Smith mirrors those coming from the offices above.
Otherwise, there's no way to successfully move forward.