Stephen A. Smith Was Unjustly Suspended For His Domestic Violence Comments

imagesIs it morally right for a 210-pound man to strike his 130-pound girlfriend unconscious? Of course not, but this is what happened earlier this year when NFL player Ray Rice punched his then girlfriend and now wife Janay Rice at an Atlanta hotel. It is a commonly held belief that a man should never hit a woman; however, beyond taking legal actions, what should be done about these types of situations? Should we educate men of their moral wrongdoings? Possibly, but this will most likely not work when we are dealing with people that have little regard for morals in the first place. Should we educate women to not provoke men as a preventative measure in avoiding these types of situations (since after all, it has been reported that Janay Rice initially hit Ray Rice before being knocked unconscious)? This was an option proposed by sports analyst Stephen A. Smith, which has led to nationwide criticism and subsequently a weeklong suspension from his television and radio show. ESPN’s wrongful decision to suspend Stephen A. Smith due to the public’s reaction is treating this matter with ignorance when we have much to gain from analyzing his perspective on an issue that most would rather leave in the closet.


Smith’s comments have generated a firestorm of criticism partially due to a lack of stasis between him and his audience. Each side is arguing different points in that Smith attempts to convey the necessity of taking measures to prevent any abuse from occurring, while many opponents perceive his comments as putting the blame on the victims. Smith attempts to establish stasis through a series of tweets reiterating his original message and explicitly addressing the point of his critics, saying, “In no way was I accusing a women of being wrong. I was simply saying that preventive measures always need to be addressed.”


Regardless of a lack of stasis, Smith should not have been suspended, as he has always been known as an analyst that speaks his mind, especially on controversial issues regarding matters of sports. In his show First Take, Smith and fellow analyst Skip Bayless comment on sports related issues with each taking a position, typically opposite of the other. The point of this show is not necessarily for these two men to impose their contrasting ideas on the community, but rather for them to establish two strong cases for these positions, allowing the audience to develop their own well-informed stances on what is happening in the sports world. Smith’s sometimes long-winded rants appeal to many viewers because he “keeps things real,” but needless to say, these monologues do come off as being rough around the edges at times. He should not be punished for his words though, as he was attempting to shed light on a topic that most shy away from, bringing up the point that, “there’s only but so much that can be done after the fact… once the damage is already done.” This stance of taking preventive measures is one that is ever so familiar to us in our daily lives. Vaccinating oneself to prevent diseases, never storing valuables in a car to prevent temptations leading to break ins and for me personally, learning of laboratory safety protocols at school to protect from chemical injuries are just a few preventive habits stressed in our everyday society that take precedence over correcting for damage that’s already been done. Why should taking steps to prevent abuse be treated any differently? As Stephen A. Smith stressed, once a woman has been hit, it’s too late. And considering that according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women will experience some type of domestic abuse within her lifetime, this is a matter that must be addressed immediately.


In the days following the controversial remarks, Whoopi Goldberg came into defend Smith on her daily show The View. Goldberg emphasized the point that nobody should hit anybody and that “If you make the choice as a woman who’s 4 foot 3 and you decide to hit a guy who’s 6 feet tall and you’re the last thing he wants to deal with that day and he hits you back, you cannot be surprised!” She continued, saying “you have to teach women, do not live with this idea that men have this chivalry thing still with them; don’t assume that this is still in place.” This is very true and is an extension of what Smith alluded to. Many women have this illusion that they are protected by this assumption of chivalry and will therefore instigate arguments. Take for example, Solange Knowles recent attack on Jay Z in an elevator this year. Although we do not know the full story of what instigated the attack, Knowle’s physical retaliation could have lead to a Ray Rice-like altercation had Jay Z not remained cool-headed. Smith emphasized the point that no one should hit anybody and to not provoke physical altercations like this, but in the case of Ray Rice, his violent act was far overshadowed by the public’s reflexive belief to never hit a woman.


Lastly, Stephen A. Smith should not have been suspended because from watching his rant and reading his subsequent tweets, he showed a genuine caring nature for women and their wellbeing. Through his tweets, he mentions that he has never laid his hands on a woman and repeatedly said that those who do “need to be dealt with.” By simply listening to what Smith said, it is obvious that he does not condone domestic violence one bit and is trying to do whatever he can to reduce the occurrences of these types of situations in the future. The manner and intensity in which he articulated his thoughts were not entirely conducive toward persuading those that are sensitive to this issue though, but nonetheless, he acknowledged this and apologized for the misunderstandings. Additionally, his on air apology did not seem scripted and in my opinion, was filled with as much passion as his initial controversial rant.


It is understandable to see where all this anger is coming from in response to Smith’s words especially for victims of abuse such as MSNBC pundit Goldie Taylor. Taylor brings up how Smith’s “words were all too familiar” and it is easy to see how one would not want to be reminded of the terrors of domestic violence; however, to solve any problem, the problem must first be addressed. Without ever bringing up different viewpoints toward an issue that we all know is occurring around us, we will never be able to remedy it. Instead, the world will remain as hurtful as it is today. Secondly, some argue that unlike the weather, which is predictable, human nature is complex and therefore cannot be prepared for. These people say that the behavior of the abuser is solely their issue and although it is absolutely their moral issue to not commit these heinous acts, it is also the victim’s issue physically to avoid getting hurt.


Through practicing Kendo, a Japanese martial art, I have been on the receiving end of abuse being dealt bruises that painted my skin in various shades of red and purple and being left welts that made my arms feel as if a series of marbles lay directly under my skin. This was the reality I faced for 18 months and to avoid the abuse, I listened to every command my coach gave and developed a friendly relationship with him, never giving him any reason to hit me. In my mind, I never wanted to be hit again and would do whatever it took to make sure that happened. Never did I think of how to address the problem after the fact. My own experiences resonate with what Stephen A. Smith was attempting to get across on his morning show; prevention is better than treatment. It was wrong for him to be suspended as he was addressing a fact that impacts all of us, regardless of sex. Instead of criticizing what Smith said, it is in our best interest to take what he said and learn from it.


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