By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – The statements by the NFL and its players that purport to condemn domestic violence sometimes come with qualifiers, and the latest example comes from Stephen A. Smith, one of ESPN’s most prominent personalities.
Smith and co-host Skip Bayless had been discussing Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who received a two-game suspension from the NFL more than five months after knocking his now-wife out cold in an altercation caught on video.
In a lengthy monologue on “First Take,” Smith spoke strongly against men hitting women, but he evidently felt compelled to also mention that women should take care to not incite such altercations.
“I think that just talking about what guys shouldn’t do, we got to also make sure that you can do your part to do whatever you can do to make, to try to make sure it doesn’t happen,” Smith said. “We know they’re wrong. We know they’re criminals. We know they probably deserve to be in jail. In Ray Rice’s case, he probably deserves more than a two-game suspension, which we both acknowledged.
“But at the same time, we also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation,” Smith continued. “Not that there’s real provocation, but the elements of provocation, you got to make sure that you address them, because we’ve got to do is do what we can to try to prevent the situation from happening in any way. And I don’t think that’s broached enough, is all I’m saying. No point of blame.”
ESPN reporter and host Michelle Beadle took to Twitter to respond with disdain to those comments.
In an incident between a woman and an inevitably large and strong NFL player, one would think that the player would rarely be in physically danger and thus has the responsibility to refrain from retaliating to whatever action an angry girlfriend or wife may take.
Evidently, however, not everyone sees it that way.
The Baltimore Ravens made it crystal clear that they believe Rice’s now-wife Janay had some responsibility in the altercation that ended when Rice knocked her unconscious. The team live-tweeted the following during Rice’s press conference about the incident.
Of all the people and entities to which Rice apologized in the press conference, Janay was not one.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said that Rice made a mistake but lauded the running back as a “heck of a guy.”
It seems a surprisingly prevalent opinion that, depending on the situation, a man might be justified to some degree in hitting a woman. Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate brought up the he-said-she-said element of domestic violence when the writer interviewed him in June for a story about the discrepancy in how the NFL punishes players accused of domestic violence versus players who test positive for drugs.
Tate said he did not know much about the situation of Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington, who earned long suspensions for testing positive for drugs but who has not yet received punishment after pleading guilty to aggravated assault on his ex-girlfriend.
Nevertheless, Tate offered the following perspective.
“I’m sure there is another side of the story,” Tate said. “That’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my years, that there is his side of the story, her side of the story and the actual truth. It’s unfair because we’re under a microscope, but it is what it is. It’s what we signed up for.”
Many people, including players interviewed for that story, say they believe a man should never hit a woman, regardless of the situation. Tate endorsed that principle but also intimated that following that basic rule is easier said than done.
“It’s really tough,” Tate said. “For one, you’ve got to try to surround yourself around better people than that, who respect you and respect themselves, really, but I can only imagine it’s very tough to be hit by a female. I’m sure he probably said, ‘Stop,’ I’m sure she didn’t. She didn’t just hit him and then guys just hit them back. I’m sure they asked for you to stop or they try to leave, and women get in front of the door, so you really have no choice – you do have a choice still, but you try to – I would like to think that we understand the laws in America, and I would like to think that no man is just going to be hit and then all of a sudden hit them back. I would like to think that guys have tried to step away from the situation, guys have tried to remove themselves and at some point, one split-second it just turns, it goes south.”
Just as the NFL took its time deciding on a punishment for Rice, it seems the league will also delay any discipline of Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, who has been convicted of assaulting a woman and communicating threats. Hardy and his accuser gave completely different accounts of the violence, and Hardy is appealing, so the NFL and the Panthers will wait to take any action, leaving Hardy free to join training camp and play in games this season.