Stephen A. Smith has dug himself quite a hole this time. While discussing Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's two-game suspension for assaulting his now-wife, the sports commentator launched into a rambling, ill-advised monologue on ESPN's First Take that implied the onus for preventing domestic violence is on the victims, not the perpetrators. Women should "learn as much as [they] can about elements of provocation," he said on the show, to "make sure [they] don't do anything to provoke wrong actions." The central message: being abused — or, in the case of Janay Rice, knocked out cold by your 200-pound partner in an elevator — is a woman's responsibility to avoid. His remarks shocked and angered many in the sports world, including ESPN colleague Michelle Beadle, who fired off a string of comments via Twitter that took Smith to task for suggesting women are at fault for their own abuse. "Violence isn't the victim's issue," read one tweet. "It's the abuser's. To insinuate otherwise is irresponsible and disgusting. Walk. Away." In response to Beadle's criticism, Smith doubled down on his original stance. "If a man is pathetic and stupid enough to put his hands on a woman — which I have NEVER DONE, btw — of course he needs to pay the price," he tweeted. "Who on earth is denying that? But what about addressing women on how they can help prevent the obvious wrong being done to them?" The idea, of course, was still that women bear responsibility for preventing domestic violence, that being beaten signifies a failure to learn enough about "elements of provocation" and an inability to avoid "wrong actions." Smith proceeded to apologize to Beadle and "any woman who misconstrued what I said," but the underlying message was clear: When men abuse women, it's sometimes the woman's fault. He later deleted his tweets and issued another apology.
But Smith is far from the only sports figure to make tone-deaf or victim-blaming comments in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal, which was sparked in February by the release of a video depicting the running back dragging his then-fiancée's unconscious body from an elevator in an Atlantic City casino. Shortly after the story broke, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome cautioned against judging Rice, despite the fact that he'd seen the video himself. "I don't know if a different story is going to come out," he said, as if a different story would excuse or justify Rice knocking a woman out cold. In a press conference about the assault, Rice told reporters, "Failure is not getting knocked down. It's not getting up" — a poor choice of words, to say the least, given that he was the one doing the knocking. (He also apologized to everyone except Janay.) And just this Thursday, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh kicked off his remarks to the media regarding Rice's punishment with a similarly indelicate, "It's not a big deal." Clearly the NFL, which issued Rice's two-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy, agrees; as ESPNW reporter Jane McManus pointed out, "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." Taken together, all signs indicate the football world has a long way to go in taking domestic violence seriously. Like New York Daily News sports columnist Ralph Vacchiano tweeted about the two-game suspension, "Good thing [Rice] wasn't high when he beat his wife. He would've gotten four."
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