ESPN studio personality Stephen A. Smith won’t make his regular appearances on the network’s First Take morning show or on ESPN Radio for one week after he urged women not to “provoke” domestic violence in the wake of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s suspension last week.
ESPN president John Skipper sent a notice to all of the network’s employees Tuesday afternoon announcing Smith’s absence, though he did not refer to it as a suspension. Smith will return to both First Take and his ESPN Radio show on August 6.
“As many of you know, there has been substantial news coverage in the past few days related to comments Stephen A. made last Friday in the wake of the NFL’s decision to suspend Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games following charges of assaulting his then fiancée, now wife, a few months ago,” Skipper said in the email to employees, which was posted on ESPN.com. “We’ve said publicly and in this space that those remarks did not reflect our company’s point of view or our values. They certainly don’t reflect my personal beliefs.”
“We have been engaged in thoughtful discussion about appropriate next steps,” he continued. “Those conversations have involved a diverse group of women and men in our company. Our women’s [employee resource group] has added to the conversation, and going forward, I know they will help us continue constructive discussion on this and related issues.”
Smith is a daily contributor to First Take, the morning controversy-stirring “debate” show that has drawn plenty of critics both inside and outside the network. His comments about women provoking domestic violence drew even more outrage, especially after ESPN’s Michelle Beadle criticized the comments on Twitter. Smith then took to Twitter to “clarify” his remarks but only re-stated the same point.
Smith recorded an apology that aired at the top of Monday’s episode of First Take and called his words the “most egregious mistake of my career,” though again, he focused more on the fact that he hadn’t articulated his point clearly than he did on the victim-blaming nature of the comments.
This is not the first time Smith has said that women can provoke domestic violence. As Deadspin noted, Smith made nearly identical comments during a 2012 First Take discussion about then-Miami Dolphins wide receiver Chad Johnson’s arrest on domestic battery charges.
“There are plenty of instances where provocation comes into consideration, instigation comes into consideration, and I will be on the record right here on national television and say that I am sick and tired of men constantly being vilified and accused of things and we stop there,” Smith said.
He made the same point during a 2010 Twitter discussion about boxer Floyd Mayweather. Smith tweeted then that he was “hard pressed to believe Floyd Mayweather Jr. put his hands on a woman,” then told another Twitter user, “Let’s no (sic) discount the women out there who want someone like Mayweather strictly for the cash. Men ain’t wrong ALWAYS.”
So while Smith claimed in his apology that he has “religiously spoken out against domestic violence” during his career, that career includes at least three incidents in which he has put at least some of the blame for domestic violence on the women who were victims.
Nevertheless, Skipper said in his email that ESPN has “learned from what we’ve collectively experienced. I’m confident we will all move forward with a greater sense of enlightenment and perspective as the lasting impact of these last few days. I want to thank all those whose thoughts have contributed along the way.”