OP-ED: Some Thoughts on Provocation

By Laura Finley
Laura Finley
Laura Finley

Here we go again. Another loud-mouthed commentator perpetuating the storyline that somehow, victims of domestic violence provoke their abusers. This time, it was Steven A. Smith on ESPN’s First Look. In a two minute diatribe Smith at first seem to recognize how appalling it is that Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has been suspended for only two games after violently assaulting his then-fiancé (now wife) Janay Palmer  in an elevator, punching her in the face and knocking her out completely. 

Rice was caught on video dragging the unconscious Palmer out of the elevator. Then Smith negated everything he said about how it is never OK to hit a woman by proceeding to spend the rest of his time soliloquizing about how women must watch out so they don’t provoke their men into “wrong actions.”

 Smith is scheduled to “address” his comments on July 28, which in all likelihood will include a disingenuous apology, given that Smith responded to the controversy over his remarks (most notably by ESPN colleague Michelle Beadle) by essentially reiterating the same comments on Twitter. He has already apologized to “any women who might have misconstrued what I said.” And he had the nerve in his series of Twitter posts to note that he was “annoyed” that people expressed outrage at his comments. 

Really? Sorry, Mr. Smith, but it seems that you said exactly what you meant, so take ownership for it. But of course he blames viewers for the error, giving himself a pass in the same way that he does for abusers.

Further, it is not the first time that Smith has made controversial comments about domestic violence. When NFL receiver Chad Johnson was arrested in 2012 for head-butting his wife, Evelyn Losada, Smith pontificated that she may have been over-dramatizing the attack for publicity, noting he was “sick and tired of men constantly being vilified and accused of things.” 

Surely there are times when men are falsely accused, and that is always a travesty. But to say that men are constantly vilified is such a huge over-dramatization on Smith’s part, especially given the fact that numerous studies have found that while college and professional football players may not perpetrate more domestic violence assaults, they are significantly less likely to be held accountable when they do.

And what about the two-game suspension for Rice? As Jane McManus notes in an article on ESPNW, “Commissioner Roger Goodell has issued longer suspensions for pot smoking, taking Adderall, DUI, illegal tattoos, dogfighting and eating a protein bar thought to be on the NFL's approved list.” 

The NFL claims to be taking action on domestic violence, with rookies attending domestic violence training, but the handling of Rice’s situation suggests that so much more is needed.

Another suggestion comes from Steve Almond in a July 24 Daily Beast article. Almond explains that we worship the hyper-aggression that is football today and applaud the most violent players. So, while people may be outraged at Rice’s actions, they will still tune into the next game to cheer loudly for the team.  Almond explains, “If you’re truly disgusted by what Ray Rice did to his fiancé, and by the NFL’s response, then stop paying them to entertain you.” That would send a powerful message to the league.

As for Smith, it is clear that, similar to other blowhards like Don Imus and Rush Limbaugh, he has made it his goal to be as divisive as possible. In May 2014, he commented that NFL player should not be punished for anti-gay tweets about player Michael Sam, the first openly gay player in the league, who kissed his partner on air. If we are truly outraged at Smith’s combative and divisive commentary, we should withdraw our support for the shows on which he announces, letting advertisers know that this is not the kind of commentating viewers will accept.

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Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology in Miami, FL,  and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.


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