Friday, August 1, 2014

The Silencing of Steven A.

I appears that, seventy-two-or-so hours into his one-week suspension from ESPN, Steven A. Smith is taking his licking like a man, ala the great and classy Bob Ryan some years ago. Let’s hope that Mr. Smith will be looking back on this incident some years from now, perhaps from an ESPN platform, using his experience as precautionary perspective, again ala Mr. Ryan.

But let’s have no misunderstanding here … Steven A. Smith made a serious error in judgment during last Friday’s First Take while debating the NFL’s shameful handling of one of their player’s literal handling of his then-fiancé. He was wrong, dead wrong – from a sensitivity standpoint; from a logical standpoint; hell, from a forensic standpoint.

In point of fact, there’s more than ample shame to go around stemming from this unfortunate and very ugly situation. ESPN’s imposition of disposition was clunky and reeked of “Reactionary Gotcha”! NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s hiding under some rock and delegating a subordinate to try to evade a series of “Yes-or-No” questions on Mike and Mike was downright cowardly. And the hasty marriage of the now-Rices, with a honeymoon spent in counseling, seems immature and just backwards.

None of these faux-pas, however, opened a door for Mr. Smith or anyone else to insert the notion of provocation into the discussion of THIS case. How in the world can a 200+ pound, fit-as-a-fiddle, premier athlete feel “threatened” by a young lady the size of this victim? Feel angry, even irate? Sure. But feel physically in danger – to the point of striking out? Come on, now.

Domestic violence is a blight on our “civil-ization,” one that stains individuals of all races, colors, creeds, lifestyles and (yes) genders. All human behavior is situational, and anyone accused of criminal impropriety is deserving of the presumption of innocence. Additionally, it would be naïve to contend that provocation by the ultimate victim never occurs.

The argument that Steven A. was attempting to communicate, however clumsily, would/could be a valid point in a more general discussion of this troubling and confounding human foible. But NOT in this case – whatever the now-Mrs. Rice may have said or done at that time and in that place did not and could never justify the disturbing end result. That would imply that Mr. Rice had no alternative but to strike out, a deduction that stretches credulity beyond the breaking point.

Steven A. Smith’s remarks last week were insensitive to the far too many victims of domestic battery or other forms of assault, who far too frequently face doubt and inquisition, or are simply intimidated into silence.

And finally, in a debating sense, just where was he trying to go with this line of “thinking”?

Mr. Smith had been one of the few commentators who gave voice to the thought that the NFL’s reprimand, a mere two-game suspension, was sufficient punishment for this soiling of The Shield, an institution that has been decidedly pro-active and stern in dealing with the off-field indiscretions of its players, criminal justice system be damned.

A casual Facebook acquaintance, a college student and sports journalist-in-training, offered the opinion a couple of days ago that Steven A. had said nothing wrong. I don’t mean this as a criticism of a young man I perceive to be an overall honorable kid, but that was the seed that spawned this rant. The schoolteacher in me offered these words, verbatim:

A few years ago at school, I noticed one of my favorite kids sporting an extreme version of the style of the day -- saggy, baggy and extra florescent. Only partly in jest, I pointed out to him that the day would come when he'd look back and say, "What was I thinking?"... For your sake, young man, I hope and pray you've just had one of those moments in regard to an issue far more critical than fashion!!

Steven A. Smith is no longer in his early-twenties. His “day” of reflection should be now. The response to his reprimand is a promising beginning.