Sports commentator-provocateur Stephen A. Smith said mostly right things after ESPN's announcement that he will be suspended from the network for a week. That's fortunate, because the comment that landed him in hot water was about as boneheaded, and wrongheaded, as it gets.
The subject was the controversial two-game suspension of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who allegedly knocked his girlfriend, now wife, unconscious and then dragged her down a hallway. (Part of the incident was recorded on a hotel security camera.) It's a punishment that has drawn considerable fire for its leniency regarding physical abuse, especially in the context of at least two other NFL players who will probably miss the entire season for smoking pot.
Smith said during his regular stint on ESPN2's "First Take" that Rice probably deserved a harsher punishment ... but "we also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation. Not that there's real provocation, but the elements of provocation, you got to make sure that you address them, because we've got to do is do what we can to try to prevent the situation from happening in any way."
Not surprisingly (and certainly not unfairly), Smith's implication that the victim might share the blame exploded in his face, drawing blasts from, among others, his ESPN colleague Michelle Beadle, who tweeted, "Violence isn't the victim's issue. It's the abuser's. To insinuate otherwise is irresponsible and disgusting." Another Beadle tweet remarked sardonically, "I'm thinking about wearing a miniskirt this weekend ... I'd hate to think what I'd be asking for by doing so."
Smith, after an apology in which he called the remarks "the most egregious mistake of my career," said later that "the hits that I took were well deserved." He acknowledged that he and "First Take" colleague Skip Bayless "are on the air every day holding folks accountable for the things that they say or the things that they do. You don't do that and then run from it when it's your turn."
Fair enough. And while it's probably a vain and even naive hope, might we be spared -- just this once -- the usual obnoxious bleatings from the usual-suspect apologists that Smith is a victim of "political correctness"? Stephen A. Smith is not a "victim" of anything, nor does he claim to be. It was his own careless insensitivity to real victims that caused the problem in the first place.
Commentators like Smith are intentionally, and for the most part harmlessly, provocative. His remarks in this case weren't harmless, and they are the only "provocation" that should be at issue here.
Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer