ESPN Takes Heat for Forgiving Stephen A. Smith

"How offensive need someone be to earn a week or more off?"

The media is not happy with ESPN’s handling of Stephen A. Smith after his comments on “elements of provocation” in the Ray Rice domestic violence incident.

Friday Stephen A. Smith made the grave mistake of attempting to discuss domestic violence as a male on live television, cautioning against coming to conclusions about Ray Rice’s apparent abuse of his then-fiancé, now-wife without full knowledge of the event.  

“In Ray Rice’s case, he probably deserves more than a two-game suspension, which we both acknowledged,” said Smith. “But at the same time, 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.” He went on to say on air and via Twitter in an exchange with his female colleague that women can help to prevent violence by being careful not to provoke it. Not a good idea.

Three days later, Smith appeared on ESPN and gave his formal apology (above), calling the moment “the most egregious error of my career.” Following Smith's apology, ESPN released a statement of their own signaling that they would not suspend him:

We will continue to have constructive dialogue on this important topic. Stephen’s comments last Friday do not reflect our company’s point of view. As his apology demonstrates, he recognizes his mistakes and has a deeper appreciation of our company values.

Well, the media is not happy with how things appear to be shaking out at ESPN. USA Today called the moment a missed opportunity to "embrace debate" Monday, while The New York Times’ Richard Sandomir condemned ESPN for being lenient on sexism and playing by an inconsistent “discipline handbook.”

After dismissing Smith’s and Bayless’ call for stronger suspension of Rice for the incident as “not brave,” Sandomir laid into Smith for portraying himself as having “so-called expertise” in domestic violence due to his family background. Sandomir then ripped ESPN for failing to discipline Smith for his “verbally reckless” comment, saying it's time for ESPN to clarify its standards for suspension:

If he is not suspended, it suggests that we need to understand ESPN’s discipline handbook. How offensive need someone be to earn a week or more off? In 2012, two ESPN employees used the phrase “chink in the armor” in reference to Jeremy Lin, then a guard for the Knicks.

One of them, an anchor, got a 30-day suspension; the other, an editor who used the phrase in a headline on ESPN’s mobile website, was fired.

How does ESPN weigh its employees’ offensive remarks, regardless of how strongly they apologize? We shall see.

Update note: This article has been slightly expanded.

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