Stephen A. Smith earned a one week suspension from ESPN for making inappropriate comments about women "not provoking" domestic violence attacks.
ESPN's Stephen A. Smith is facing a weeklong suspension on all company projects after victim blaming Ray Rice's domestic violence on then-fiancée in “what can only amount to the most egregious error of my career."
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But is it enough in the world of sports?
Yahoo Sports's Ben Rohrbach gives a great rundown of the time line of the host's mistakes in "ESPN suspends Stephen A. Smith over Ray Rice domestic abuse commentary."
Friday's episode of Smith's television show, First Take, featured a rant that included advice aimed specifically at woman; "don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions" took an even more abhorrent turn when he blamed women for the actions of men. "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 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.— Michelle Beadle (@MichelleDBeadle) July 25, 2014
Fellow network host Michelle Beadle tweeted her disgust at the open victim blaming and concern trolling by her male colleague. Beadle opened up to the actions of domestic violence by admitting her own experience. She points out an abuser has a chance to "walk away" while a victim does not. A victim has been trained to accept the abuse and fault as their own. Plus, an abuser has the chance to leave in many cases. The fear is not ingrained at that point. The helplessness.
And the Sports Nation host received backlash from many male viewers. Responding to Stephen's comments created another kind of victimization.
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— Michelle Beadle (@MichelleDBeadle) July 25, 2014
Violence isn't the victim's issue. It's the abuser's. To insinuate otherwise is irresponsible and disgusting. Walk. Away.— Michelle Beadle (@MichelleDBeadle) July 25, 2014
And Smith's attempt to explain the situation somehow made the situation even worse. Responding on Twitter, the host helpfully offered more woman-friendly advice. "But what about addressing women on how they can help prevent the obvious wrong being done upon them?"
He continued on the social media tirade. "In no way was I accusing women of being wrong. I was simply saying what that preventive measures always need to be addressed because there's only but so much that can be done after the fact ... once the damage is already done."
The tweets seem to be removed, but he posted on a single entry on TwitLonger to "more appropriately and effectively clarify my remarks from earlier today."
Apologizing again on First Take's Monday episode, the sports commenter attempted to fix the blunder. Besides mentioning the "most egregious error," he admitted "the failure to clearly articulate something different lies squarely on my shoulders."
Which is nice, but not enough for the network it seems.
Richard Deitsch's "ESPN pulls Stephen A. Smith from air in wake of Ray Rice comments" for Sports Illustrated spills about an internal company memorandum sent out by ESPN President John Skipper.
Skipper reminded employees that such behavior would not be tolerated in any way by the network. "We've said publicly and in this space that those remarks did not reflect our company's point of view, or our values. They certainly don't reflect my personal beliefs."
And to back up the president's statement, part of the suspension length came from a discussion with the company's employee resource group. "Our women's ERG has added to the conversation and going forward, I know they will help us continue constructive discussion on this and related issues."
While Skipper believes in suspended host's sincerity and personal growth, he's "confident we will all move forward with a greater sense of enlightenment and perspective as the lasting impact of these last few days."
Then he should remind fans, not just employees, after Beadle was inundated with tweets calling her derogatory names.
USA Today's Chris Chase dives into the heart of the matter, saying NFL disciplinarian Aldopho Birch couldn't defend the weak charges because "defending an indefensible position." And since Roger Goodell's not expendable, Birch's the chosen fall guy. Domestic and sexual violence isn't new to the organization.
"NFL official attempted to explain Ray Rice suspension and predictably failed" points out that Ben Roethlisberger's 2010 six-game suspension in 2010 was publicly addressed by Goodell.
The same Goodell's that's remained silent since the suspension was announced. While Roethlisberger's suspension was reduced to four, he was suspended on a non-conviction. Unlike Ray, who was charged with assault but not prosecuted and will miss the first two games of the season.
The Ravens organization wasn't surprised. By not continuing with the charges, the suspension length was limited. But the team and organization does not think the actions represent his character, says Ian Rapport of NFL.com.
Of course, that video might disagree since he's seen dragging her on the ground.
Howard Bloom's Sporting News article offers a great look into the impact of female fans and the inclusive need for cash benefits without making the gender feel safe in "What does Ray Rice's suspension say about how important women are to the NFL's bottom line?"
The NFL's suspension was based on code of conduct for "allegedly striking his then-fiancée and now wife, Janay, unconscious in February in Atlantic City, the alleged assault included a video that went viral." Note the word viral there. Would the situation have even been addressed if the video hadn’t been leaked online?
Rice earned the two-game suspension by the NFL for February charges of assault in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Interestingly, the captured video has been floating around for months with no repercussion. Rice also forked over $529,000 for the act of violence—which is approximately three games worth of salary.
The National Football League faces a lot of criticism for their lack of action against domestic violence, and the fact ESPN gave Smith a longer suspension isn't exactly welcoming open discussion about violence in the organization.
Goodell informed the Ravens player, "You will be expected to continue to take advantage of the counseling and other professional services you identified during our meeting." The NFL commissioner believes Rice is "sincere in your desire to learn from this matter and move forward toward a healthy relationship and successful career."
And a measly, empty warning showed up, too. "I am now focused on your actions and expect you to demonstrate by those actions that you are prepared to fulfill those expectations." Considering the light sentence, what would make the Ravens running back wary of harsher repercussions?
The fact of the matter is that women impact the sport's profits and appeal. And the organization knows that. In an interview with espnW.com, a section of ESPN devoted to women in sports and fans of sports, NFL VP of human resources Robert Gulliver flatly said "any incident of domestic violence is really one too many."
So does that only apply when a charge and conviction occurs? Because actual, legal punishment is not something that happens often in cases of violence against women.
"We just simply don't tolerate instances of domestic violence." Gulliver offers pretty words with little meaning or trust now. The murder-suicide case of Jovan Belcher was a warning sign, and it looks like the NFL is still ignoring the seriousness.
Janay’s pleading for Goodell to not “ruin Rice’s image and career with his sanctions” only helps their family’s situation. What about the other women who are attacked, silenced, and afraid to speak up? Do they not matter?
The organization will have to prove their mettle: be proactive, consistent, and remember that women do matter. It doesn't matter if the women are fans, wives, family, daughters, or random strangers on the street.
Focus on the fact a network worth billions just outdid an established organization filled with 32 teams of players who willingly sign and break a code of personal conduct without facing serious consequences.