ESPN suspended sports analyst Stephen A. Smith on Tuesday after he made some highly controversial and insensitive comments about domestic violence last week, and continued to defend them on Twitter. A taped, but seemingly contrite apology from Smith was broadcast on Monday. Yet, the Worldwide Leader In Sports apparently still felt a suspension was in order.
The initial debate stemmed from a very light suspension that Ray Rice received from the NFL following his arrest for domestic abuse, which involved video evidence of Rice dragging his unconscious fiancee from an elevator.
As with any controversial issue, there are opinionated individuals on both sides of the fence. More appear to be on the side of domestic violence victims, yet there are many who side with Smith. Here is the trouble with Stephen A., and those who think similarly:
One of the first things that I read from someone after Smith's suspension was that he had a point, and "we don't know what she did." The then fiancee, now wife of Rice would be the "she." Such a statement implies that she could have done something which warranted being knocked unconscious. It places the blame and responsibility with her. This was also the general tone of Smith's comments.
Smith mentioned an issue of "provocation" that needs to be addressed. Basically, he suggested that we need to educate women on how to not make a man want to hit them. This, again, obviously implies that women can do things which cause them to be abused. And also again, absolves the offender.
Here are more major issues with the dangerous aforementioned sentiments:
- What is provocation? To some it may be a woman talking back or not having dinner ready on time. I'm willing to bet that every man whom has ever hit a woman feels she pushed him to do it. The definition is left open to endless interpretation. What's a valid enough reason for a man to hit a woman anyway?
- Victim blaming. Instead of holding a man accountable for his actions, this point-of-view looks for ways that the woman may be responsible for what transpires. It shames and belittles the victim. In essence, it searches for reasons that the woman may have deserved what she got.
- Incredibly insensitive. A woman is beaten in the United States every 15 seconds. Such statements are a collective, figurative slap to their faces. Comments similar to those that came from Smith are offensive to victims of domestic violence and reinforce the notion that it is somehow their fault or problem. This is a notion that many victims already feel within, and presents a huge barrier to them leaving abusive relationships. No one "deserves" it.
The position of Smith contributes to empowering and coddling domestic violence offenders, while weakening its victims. It offers no support, confidence, or strength to the woman afraid to leave such a situation. Rather, it makes excuses for the source of her fear. To the children that hide in their rooms when daddy gets mad at mommy, it tells them that this may be acceptable.
To be fair, Smith never said that it is OK for a man to hit a woman. Nor did he use the word "deserve." But, however you spin it, his comments provide some justification. Whether it be in certain situations or following the actions of some women, Smith implied that there are instances where a woman is responsible for being abused.
Domestic violence is wrong from all angles, no matter the sex of the perpetrator. This is not to ignore the fact that women can sometimes be the aggressor in these situations. Yet, for men, if your daughter, mother or sister was knocked unconscious by a 212 lb. football player would you care what she did? Would you lecture her on provocation?
Of course, anybody can "provoke" another human being to do something. Self-defense is another story. We have all found ourselves in compromising situations, where we felt the urge to do someone bodily harm after they got under our skin, verbally engaged with us in a disrespectful manner, or otherwise committed some type of wrong in our eyes. However, most of us have resisted this urge more often than not.
It's called self-restraint. And there should have to be some very rare, extreme circumstances for any adult to get a pass on practicing it. Especially when the situation involves an individual to whom one is grossly physically superior.