Stephen A. Smith Suspension Exposes ESPN’s Bigger Problem

Stephen A. Smith Suspension Exposes Bigger
Vivien Killilea/Wire Image

ESPN has a problem. It wants to be in the thick of things, to be part of every major debate pertaining to sports. But its commentators and analysts – rooted as they are in trade deadlines and X’s and O’s – can be loose cannons, occasionally getting in over their heads when pressed to address topics that go beyond their areas of expertise.

Stephen A. Smith – suspended for his remarks about domestic violence pertaining to the NFL’s questionable action regarding Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice – is just the latest to engender controversy in one of these scenarios.

First, Smith awkwardly suggested that women can play a role in provoking situations of domestic violence. Then he began apologizing and seeking to clarify those remarks via Twitter. Then he went on air and apologized some more. And then ESPN still opted to discipline him.

But the channel can’t really have it both ways. If the goal is to be provocative – and those participating in these free-for-alls are, inevitably, encouraged to be colorful and bicker – it only stands to reason people are occasionally going to say questionable or offensive things, especially when tackling hot-button political issues.

At this point, it’s hard to keep track of all the flare-ups. There was basketball analyst Chris Broussard expressing his faith-based disapproval of homosexuality in relation to Jason Collins becoming the NBA’s first openly gay player. Rob Parker was suspended for questioning quarterback Robert Griffin III’s “blackness.” Mike Ditka called Jonathan Martin a “baby,” saying he wouldn’t want to coach him, for the bullying accusations that resulted in the NFL acting against Miami Dolphins teammate Richie Incognito. Elsewhere, another former coach, Tony Dungy, created headaches for NBC Sports with his comments about Michael Sam.

And so it goes. Athletes are people, after all, and thus the stories about them can be as ugly and troubling as anything humanity can dredge up. But a channel that obsesses so relentlessly over what city LeBron James calls home is often ill-equipped to do a quick pivot and deal with matters that touch on harassment (workplace or sexual), gay rights or race.

ESPN has taken some steps to bolster its journalistic bona fides, from hiring Keith Olbermann – who, love him or hate him, has a background in covering news that goes well beyond the playing field – to columnist Jason Whitlock. For the most part, though, the network is too often left relying on whoever’s available to cover the story of the moment – a prisoner, like virtually everyone else, of the vagaries of the 24-hour news cycle.

Corporate justice is never dispensed with complete uniformity in these instances, and one can argue till the cows come home about who made comments that merited a suspension and who didn’t.

The bottom line, though, is that if ESPN continues to cover the breadth of sports in all its messy, complicated glory – and expects to do so by featuring people who spend most of their time preoccupied with the minutia of the game – well, let’s just say the PR department should keep several versions of a boilerplate apology on file, just in case.

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  1. ggr says:

    Stephen A Smith, spoke the truth women sometimes knowingly provoke men to react

  2. Mike78 says:

    And yet Mike Greenberg was never ANYTHING for his on the air Martin Luther King slur. Can you explain that?

  3. Wilson says:

    Good job suspending Steven A because he needed to be checked and remember that he’s still a black man in 2014 and you can’t make comments like that without Queen Beadle putting you in your place Steven A. Honestly: if Michelle Beadle would not have blown out of proportion Steven A’s comments, then it wouldn’t have been an issue. ESPN did not back Steven A on this because she turned his comments into something larger than what he said. We all know that men and women can provoke an argument or fight. What’s not acceptable is when a person is living under abuse and it’s explained away and this was not the case in Ray Rice’s story.

    All abuse is wrong, but what Steven A was saying was that if you spit on someone (and Ray Rice’s wife spit on him), then you don’t know how they may respond physically to you. And yes, of course its wrong to smack a woman (or man) around for spitting on you. His warning was also to people who prey on pro athletes for money and then provoke them into fighting when a good number of these athletes are already wound tight with legal and illegal performance enhancers.

    Domestic violence is wrong towards anyone and I don’t believe in my heart that Steven A endorses it and has ever participated in domestic violence. He just didn’t get his words politically correct before they left his big mouth!

  4. Bobbi Dooley says:

    I don’t get it. Maybe everyone is imaging that all women are meek and that the most “provoking” they could do is whine or nag or insult a man. Did no one see the Solange Knowles elevator video? Was she not provoking Jay Z by hitting and kicking him? Am I really some sort of Neanderthal by suggesting that women should not do what Solange did, which CLEARLY was provocation (and assault) and if Jay Z had knocked her out, her actions would have been her ROLE in the altercation? If Jay Z had done so, am I an evil cretin for not insisting that JayZ the “attacker” (who was attacked) should bear full responsibility? How dare I suggest that Solange, the victim, had played a ROLE by PROVOKING JayZ? Well, I dare.

  5. rod wadas says:

    The truth requires a heavy price. I respect Stephen A. for having the guts to say what is true. It is not what people want to hear, but it is what is happening. I hope that over time people will respect and understand his point of view.

  6. Eric says:

    Did anyone hear what Stephen A. said previous to the comment that has gotten all the attention. He said (I paraphrase) “if anyone assaults someone in my family you know what I; goin do”, clearly indicating he would take revenge of some sort. Isn’t that vigilante justice, which is illegal in this country.

    This guy constantly says inappropriate stuff on the air. He will continue to. ENSP needs to fire him before he does it again.

  7. ehamilton says:

    Nothing Stephen A. said was untrue. His timing was just bad. Sometimes people just don’t want to hear the truth, and this was one of those times. Never in the history of mankind has one sex been always right and the other always wrong. I am sure the court system can confirm the provocation of domestic violence. Violence is never acceptable, especially against women, but stifling a dialogue about why it happens is not the solution.

  8. dazeone says:

    Steven A does over do some things but although it was not politicaly correct it was the truth.Now the women including his colleague is going to run with it….they all need to stop it.

  9. JOSH DARIUS says:

    Well…….you have to remember Smith aka George Jeffersons Klingon Half-Brother, is a idiot. A racist, hate monger, whose big mouth would get beaten to a pulp by most women if he talked like that in person.

  10. Kim says:

    I didn’t see elevator footage of inside.. Clearly he is an abuser and clearly they both need some form of intervention because I’m sure it has been going on for sometime

  11. Jeff says:

    The footage inside the elevator is worse than the footage outside!

  12. Rodney says:

    We all in life have “provoked” someone one way or another. Stephen A Smith is right and alot of women know that he is. For example, if a woman caught her other half cheating or in a lie, she either puts a finger to his head or start striking him and when he retailates ( and is provoked) is called domestic violence. No one want to be hit on and if u can’t touch each other in a loving way then don’t at all. Like the old saying ” If u’re big enough to hit someone u’re big enough to be hit”!!

  13. srvwp2013 says:

    It used to was be that Sports Reporting was about statistics and scores and points and numbers. The bottom line is that it does not matter how the game is played; it only matters who is the winner. Losers are forgotten. In this respect it does not matter who plays the game. The subject of Sports reportage should be the game and not its players. If someone wants to report on players, then let them cover the Police Blotter and Court beat. Howard Cosell say as much decades ago. He never played any game, but even Howard could see when the whole enterprise of “sport” had already become a carnival. Sports has devolved into just another social media fiasco with “analysts, colour commentators, “celebrity experts and other con artists” with an agenda. All sports reporting needs is a person, woman or man, to sit behind the microphone and call the game. When an athlete or a faux athlete acts anti-socially, it is time to call 911 and let the Police call that situation.

    All of American sports leagues have become criminalized. The worst is the NFL. Even the NHL players comport themselves in a much more admirable manner than members of the NFL. It is not only important that women boycott the NFL, it is important that everyone — men, women and children boycott the NFL. It is a criminal organization along the lines of Organized Crime and it spreads cancer over America the like of which Is killing the country. The activity of the NFL has no place on the planet. Congress should ban it; the NFL should be banned just as are cockfighting and dogfighting.

    It was suggested earlier this in The New York Times that the sponsors, advertisers, name brands and household names of America be boycotted and pressure brought to bear on these companies, corporations and enterprises. The life blood of the NFL must be deprived. The broadcast networks of any and all media must get out of the business of supplying the NFL with its vital funds.

    Whatever premise began the NFL no longer has viability in the 21st Century. America and the world has much more important things to do than waste hours sitting in stadia and in so-called “family rooms” on Sunday afternoons, Sunday Nights, Monday Nights and Thursday Nights. If even a fraction of the energy spent around aspects of the NFL were re-directed to the vital needs of America, we would be a far cry from the Third World broken and failed country we have become. Talk about income equality and income re-distribution. When items in the grocery store average $3.00 to $4.00 apiece, the citizens of America do not need to be donating the money to pay the million dollar contracts of NFL players and the multi-million dollar wages of NFL owners.

  14. Timothy says:

    Stephen A. Smith clearly provoked Carrie Champion with his remarks, but she didn’t hit him. It can be done. Smith is always a hot-headed bore and verbally abusive. The show is better without this clown. The NFL says their market is 50% women. Oh really? (add Stephen A. Smith loud inflection). Women should boycott the NFL until they straighten out the Rice punishment. Cudos to ESPN for muzzling Stephen A. Bigmouth.

  15. I also want let everybody know that i do not condone domestic violence against women. Im just feel like some women do stuff like this on purpose. I love all the women in my life.

  16. Timothy says:

    It sounds like Stephen A. Smith might be an abuser himself. Sure sounds like it. He is verbally loud, offensive and overbearing. The show is better without all his shouting and weird loudness.

  17. Timothy says:

    No excuse to ever assault a woman, knock her out, or abuse her in any way. Smith was way off base. If a woman provokes you, get a new one. Rice should be in jail for several months. This woman is now a candidate for Alzheimers later in life. He should know this. Shame on the NFL, they should ban him for life for this. ESPN was right to suspend Smith and he would agree.

  18. Ron Martin says:

    Is ESPN kidding? Smith should be fired just like he said so many times on his show about different sports people. ESPN needs to clean up their act starting with firing Smith.

  19. I don’t see the issue simply being the fact that commentaries such as those voiced on ESPN are offered by inept overtaxed presenters. The issue is actually that a large segment of sports journalism is still rooted in biased, bigoted attitudes. There is no such thing as ‘faith-based’ questioning regarding homosexuality: this is a euphemism for bigotry just as Mr. Smith’s comments are rooted in a very deeply accepted sexism that exists both in the world of sports and among many sports watching men.

    I’m sure that many men who are watching this unfold not only agree with Mr. Smith, but wonder what the flare-up is all about; In the same way that there is a collective shared opinion among men regarding women who dress ‘provocatively.’ (that they are somehow ‘asking for it’) there is a similar and more violent attitude among men who see physical violence as a legitimate response to women who cross a verbal line.

    If ESPN is to be taken to task for the Neanderthal-like journalists who work for them, then there needs to be a deeper social response to their ineptitude: there needs to be an overhaul of the culture and an introspection that is based on civility. The question is, can that be done in a culture where civility and introspection is seen as soft? I think they used to call this ‘sportsmanship’.

  20. Kristi says:

    WB will give them an animated series like they did Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist best known for biting and not fighting in the ring. Working title the ESPN Mysteries.

  21. Let Stephan A Smith have his opinions and let them be challenged.

    Best approach is to act like grownups and discuss the issues and stop hiding behind the victim label to chill speech.

    It does no good to simply silence everyone using the “I’m offended” hammer.

  22. Conway says:

    Steven Smith was talking to certain women. He wasn’t talking to surban house moms who are married to drunk abusive husbands. He wasn’t talking to college girls who are getting abused. He was talking to those girls that are on “World Star Hip” who go around trying to fight guys. He was talking about the drunk girl at the club who can’t handle her drinking and decides she wants to start a fight with anyone one around her. We all seen the Amber girl on Teen Mom and we all saw the Jay Z and Solange video. Before you get mad at Steven Smith. Read the transcript from start to finish and then watch “World Star Hip” or look up girl street fights on Vine. Then you will know why he said what he said.

  23. robin says:

    Wow! Sounds a lot like NBC?

  24. Dunstan says:

    ESPN is one of the most useless networks available – and just about the most expensive on a per subscriber basis. Except for such as work as their “30 x 30” docu series, the incessant mental masturbation they engage in is pathetic and mind-numbing. Basically, they took a five minute sports report and expanded it to levels that go beyond the description of ‘wretched excess.’

  25. Natalie says:

    Most of these commenters should be ashamed of themselves! They might be abusers themselves, who knows.

  26. Natalie says:

    Jay, more ignorance from you. Of course she’s not 100 percent innocent (WHO EVER IS?) but he should not have struck her. Is it really so hard to believe that making comments like this are hurtful and even damaging to those who are the victims? Also, they don’t just “find themselves in” these situations. They start off as nice guys, believe it or not. Many are well-liked, respectable men who love their wives and kids but have major control and anger issues. Smith’s words were unprofessional and untrue. He should’ve been fired. Who asked him? Who cares what he thinks? Stop the bigotry! Stick to the sports, because that should be easy enough material to handle.

  27. Natalie says:

    No one should have to feel unsafe, ever. Ray Rice is a strong man who needs to control himself. FYI, physical abusers are not allowed to hit their partners, under any circumstance! Be an adult. The worst part is that these women are probably treated like dirt a lot of the time in their relationships and are exhausted from trying to keep things calm for their safety. Anyone who deflects attention from the abuser’s actions onto the victim, who is more than likely scared and isolated, is only furthering these issues.

    • Barbara says:

      Well when you say no one is allowed to hit their partners do you say this knowing that she hit him? I don’t condone a man physically abusing a woman, I have been abused but I believe you would be insane to think in todays society that you can hit someone and they won’t hit back.

  28. Natalie says:

    This article is ignorance piled on top of ignorance! His words were insensitive, disrespectful and unwarranted. To defend those words and imply sports-talk is at all related to domestic violence, harassment, homophobia, or any abuse of any other person in any way, is asinine!

  29. richard talaga jr. says:

    “Sticks and stone will break my bones but names will never hurt me” My grand mother taught me that and today i guess it does not apply. People are more offend by words then action! Word can not hurt unless there is truth in them. Was Steven saying hitting a woman was ok NO! But “he who is with out sin cast the first stone” These people that are casting stones on Steven A Smith or Tony Dungy are ones that are full of sin and regret. They attack others because they can not face there own short falls. Remember words don’t hurt unless you allow them to. We are human we make mistakes all of us it’s time we stop pointing fingers and make a difference in this world.

  30. T. Renee says:

    great commentary! i am a woman and feel that Stephen A. Smith said nothing wrong if you heard his comment in its entirety. interesting enough, his colleague took it out of context due her personal experience and took to twitter. it is one thing to just say something that is totally insensitive without any thought behind it, but this was not the case. what is interesting…ray rice and his wife, who is at the center of the controversy, is going about life without a care. we have to listen actively and agree to disagree on some issues.

  31. dothan says:

    See Bill Maher’s rant RE: Donald Sterling and being guarded in EVERYTHING one says. What a boring world to live in where every word is parsed in nothing controversial is spoken.

    ESPN has no loyalty for on-air talent if they don’t forgive a slip up once in a while. Mr. Smith is speaking live and unfiltered; he doesn’t have the luxury of rewriting a sentence.

  32. I like Steven A Smith, I hope he keeps his job, and I think he said nothing wrong. Women are not 100% blameless in 100% of cases. Not by a long shot. But SAS’s punishment is much less than what he has been demanding of the Clippers owner.

    We really gotta stop demanding that 100% of people agree with us on everything or they must lose their job or property.

  33. malcomx says:


  34. Jeff says:

    You are an idiot! Hope that wife beater fits you well! ESPN has stood by people they shouldn’t have, and they suspended Tony Kornheiser for his remarks about an anchors outfit. So STFU you dirtbag. The truth is this isn’t the first time Smith made these comments (see Chad Johnson) and lord knows it won’t be the last as long as he has wife beaters like you following him! Truth be told he got off easy, ESPN should have fired him since all of it’s other on air people dogged the NFL for how they handled the situation!

  35. Jeff says:

    WHAT?!?! You made no sense what so ever…

  36. Artie says:

    Forget the insensitive comments he made. The real crime is that a guy who can’t express himself any better than he did when he made those comments would be allowed to hold a job as a commentator at all. Are we even certain that he said what we think he said? Glib and outrageous doesn’t qualify him for a national forum. Instead of a suspension, how about just letting him walk for good! Or better yet, package him in an air tight canister and stash him away at a rural nuclear waste depot for the duration.

  37. This article is good and on-point but I’ll take it further. When ESPN does this, they’re not just ill-prepared, they’re pretty much hypocrites. They want people like Stephen A. and others to speak their minds and be current/edgy – but then they won’t hesitate to suspend them for controversial statements. People can’t say anything anymore without an outcry for punishment. It makes me sick and I’ve pretty much lost all respect for ESPN’s politics.

  38. Jeff says:

    Here is the problem with ESPN, you have guys like Mike Greenburg and Mike Golic rip the NFL for the way they handled the Ray Rice situation and even ask a rep from the NFL to come on so they can get “better clarification” like they are investigative journalists and sit there on their soap box with a hollier than thou attitude, and than rip the guy when he doesn’t go into detail. When just days before one of their own, Stephen A. Smith, made the comments he did but they didn’t call him to task, no because you don’t rip your own, PLEASE!! If you have any respect for your craft you call out whoever it is, if you want to toe the company line and just watch your co workers say whatever than I have no respect for you as a reporter, or person for that matter. I applaud Michelle Beadle for calling out Smith, and feel bad for the crap she had to endure for his many idiot followers.

    I don’t wish domestic violence on anyone, but if there ever comes a day when Michael Sam and his partner have a fight and Sam knocks him out, can’t wait to see what side of that fence Mike & Mike and the rest of the company stooges land on.

  39. Bleacher Bum says:

    The sports commentators’ job ought to be to shut up and stick to the sports. No one cares what they think about peripheral subjects. When they go off topic they lose all credibility. ESPN loses credibility when it goes beyond its reach and its on-air talent look like fools.

  40. ron says:

    Problem is ESPN hosts think they are Howard Stern, and also think their in your face tell it like it is style fits in the sports broadcasting world. Colin Cowherd who is a direct rip off of the Stern style is the biggest offender.

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