ESPN announced that Stephen A. Smith, regular commentator and host of the network’s First Take program, has been suspended for one week. Smith made on-air comments stating women should take measures to avoid provoking their abusers into violence against them. The suspension includes Smith’s work on First Take, which airs on ESPN2 and ESPN Radio. He will return on Aug. 6.
Smith offered a defense of his comments, which aired on July 25, on Twitter, as well as an on-air apology for them. According to Smith, he was not suggesting that women are responsible for their abuse, but that they should be informed about potential ways to avoid abuse.
In a statement on its website announcing the suspension, ESPN posted a statement to employees from its president, John Skipper, which read in part:
“We have been engaged in thoughtful discussion about appropriate next steps. Those conversations have involved a diverse group of women and men in our company. . . . Stephen has called what took place ‘the most egregious mistake’ of his career. I believe his apology was sincere and that he and we have 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.”
Controversy over Smith’s original comments erupted after ESPN colleague Michelle Beadle took him to task on Twitter. “I was in an abusive relationship once. I’m aware that men & women can both be the abuser. To spread a message that we not ‘provoke’ is wrong,” Beadle tweeted.
She then added, “Violence isn’t the victim’s issue. It’s the abuser’s.”