On Stephen A. Smith, provocation, and interpreting the NFL message


Stephen A. Smith’s remarks last week led to a Twitter feud with ESPN colleague Michelle Beadle. (Getty Images)
Sally Jenkins
Columnist July 28

As Stephen A. Smith says, “See, we keep talking about the guys, when we never talk about the elements of provocation.” See, some guys can sound so dumb you’d think they had a chair broken over their head, but the first element of provocation a woman should avoid is calling them on it, whether it’s an NFL official justifying a two-game penalty for a running back going all Flintstone on his wife, or an ESPN announcer who holds your cable subscription hostage while he tries to string two sentences together. As Smith likes to say to “the female members” of his family, “Let’s try to make sure that we do our part in making sure that doesn’t happen.”

Smith says we should know better than to believe he meant it when he suggested that sometimes women have it coming. Smith issued a series of tweets and taped an apology for those remarks that aired on ESPN’s “First Take,” but if a woman really wanted to be provocative, she could boil down his apology to one sentence: “I didn’t mean what I’ve so often said.”

Sally Jenkins is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

See, when a guy puts his hands on a woman, we don’t wanna have to get law enforcement officials or her brothers involved, Smith says. Somebody might wind up in ankle tracers from his parole officer. So she shouldn’t open her mouth and be an element of provocation. When he comes home from the club at 4 a.m. bleeding from his eyes, whatever you do, don’t say, “How come you smell like an electrical fire and look like you just walked out of a blender?” So let’s try to do as Smith suggests and “make sure that we can do our part in making sure that that doesn’t happen.”

See we all know women are Super Predators whose caustic sarcasm can turn a guy with perfect table manners into a Tyrannosaurus Rex, or worse, she might reduce him into a traumatized ball quivering like jello on the ground as she tears up his Man Card and sentences him to a life of every-Wednesday-is-Sandwich-Night.

“Now you got some dudes that are just horrible and they’re going to do it anyway, and there’s never an excuse to put your hands on a woman, and that is obviously a very real, real issue in our society,” Smith says, “and I think that talking about what guys shouldn’t do, we got to also make sure that women do their part.”

So when an announcer who works for the World Wide Leader messes up and betrays his real thoughts and attitudes during a sports talky on the brain-sucking idiot box that most men pray to, don’t say to him, “Personally I prefer Dog TV.”

Or, “I’m not sure I get your point; could you be a little more obtuse?”

We all know some men in the NFL are criminals. The trouble is, it’s hard to recognize the ones who should be wrapped in caution tape, especially the ones who seem nice until they’ve spent the night drinking a handle of tequila with Nyquil chasers, when they turn into something that should be muzzled with a ball gag and shock collar. So it’s best to just keep your mouth shut around all of them and don’t be an element of provocation.

We know some of them should be out of the league, but the NFL is tougher on a guy who passes a blunt than one who reduces his girlfriend to blood and stitches, which in Ray Rice’s case, resulted in a two-game suspension, which as NFL Vice President Adolpho Birch says “in terms of sending a message about what the league stands for, we’ve done that.”

The league seems to feel the same way as Stephen A. Smith, who said in 2012 when Chad Johnson got caught head-butting his wife, “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.” Or as he tweeted when Floyd Mayweather was charged with domestic violence, “Let’s not discount the women out there who want someone like Mayweather strictly for the cash. Men ain’t wrong always.”

What you’re supposed to do for these Lords of the Loco is just put on pink rabbit ears and play nightclub hostess. Also, learn how to escape from a car trunk. Every woman should know how to get out of a car trunk, and if you don’t, it’s your own fault.

ESPN issued a statement on Monday after Smith apologized for the fact that people interpreted his words as exactly what he had actually said. “We will continue to have constructive dialogue on this important topic. . . . As his apology demonstrates, he recognizes his mistakes and has a deeper appreciation of our company values.”

Actually, what his apology demonstrates is that half the time he doesn’t understand what he said any more than we do. But let’s not go raking anyone with our she-wolf nails, at risk of provocation.

On the other hand, some women may not be able to help themselves from acting like an element of provocation around certain types of guys who will put their hands on women. What should they do? Stephen A. Smith doesn’t have any advice for them. But I do. Take a course in Counter Terrorism and Aysmmetric Warfare, and rip out a page from Robert Heinlein, who wrote, “An armed society is a polite society.”

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