On December 13, 2012 during an episode of ESPN’s First Take, commentator Rob Parker asked the following question about Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (RG3); “is he a brother or is he a cornball brother?” When asked by his confused co-hosts to clarify what he meant, Parker replied;
“Well, he’s black, he kind of does his thing. But he’s not really down with the cause, he’s not one of us… He’s kind of black. But he’s not really the guy you’d really want to hang out with because he’s off to do something else… He has a white fiancée, people talking about that he’s a Republican…”
The next day, ESPN suspended Parker indefinitely and announced that they would conduct a “full review.” Parker in the meantime took to Twitter to defended his statements, before eventually apologizing… five days later. His apology fell on deaf ears at ESPN however and they cut him loose as soon as his contract was up.
Compare ESPN’s handling of Parker’s offensive comments to their handling of Stephen A. Smith’s… On July 25, 2014 during an episode of ESPN’s First Take, commentator Stephen A. Smith made a statement about domestic violence that boiled down to; “I think domestic violence is wrong but women need to learn not to provoke men into beating them.” The full statement is a bit convoluted, still, I suggest watching it in full:
The next day, ESPN
suspended oh, they didn’t… well they at least made a statement? Oh, they didn’t do that either… What did they do? Nothing? Well, umm Smith did something. He took to Twitter to defended his statements, before eventually giving a non-apology a day or two later. On a side note, while ESPN was doing nothing, fellow ESPN on-air personality Michelle Beadle took it upon herself to address the situation and publicly challenge Smith by tweeting:
So I was just forced to watch this morning's First Take. A) I'll never feel clean again B) I'm now aware that I can provoke my own beating.
— Michelle Beadle (@MichelleDBeadle) July 25, 2014
— Michelle Beadle (@MichelleDBeadle) July 25, 2014
Finally, After a weekend of public outrage, ESPN finally made a statement late on Sunday, July 27th (reprinted here in full):
“There has been a lot of discussion and reflection on the topic since Friday and it will continue. Stephen A. Smith plans to address the situation on Monday’s First Take and we will have more to say on Monday as well.”
How did Smith and ESPN address the situation? With a pre-recorded closer-to-the-real-thing apology that included Smith’s female co-host Cari Champion. Champion was apparently hanging around waiting to offer the women’s point of view? I don’t know. It was confusing and her presence only made things more awkward.
The difference in these two responses is not just mind-boggling, it’s telling. ESPN made it clear they don’t value their female viewers as much as they value their black (male) viewers. It took one racially offensive comment to get Rob Parker quickly canned (at least that I’m aware of… somebody please correct me if he had a history of such offenses that I missed). Stephen A. Smith on the other hand, despite his so-called apologies and claims of “religiously speaking out against domestic violence throughout his whole life,” has been caught victim blaming before, yet ESPN does nothing. Let me restate that… Stephen A. Smith has justified physical violence against women multiple times now and ESPN has let it slide just as often. The hypocrisy and value statements being made here are hard to miss.
Speaking of hypocrisy, I have one final question on my way out the door; Where’s Rob Parker when you need him? Why isn’t he calling Ray Rice a cornball brother for committing violence against a black woman, or Stephen A. Smith one for justifying that violence? I mean, how backwards is that philosophy… falling in love with someone of a different race makes you a sell out, but abusing or justifying abuse against a woman in your own community earns nothing but silence? Shit like this is why black women question whether or not black men truly have their backs.
Of course none of that matters to ESPN or its parent company Disney. To them, the black community is defined by black men and the concerns and experiences of black women are easy to ignore. This isn’t to say that ESPN gets it better when discussing violence against women of any other race, but when you consider the intersection of race and gender at ESPN things just start to look even worse.
The same day I published this post ESPN announced a one week suspension for Stephen A. Smith. As should be obvious by now, I think the suspension is deserved. I do however question the brevity of the punishment. One week doesn’t send a very strong message, especially when compared to the initial indefinite, later changed to 30 day, suspension that Rob Parker received for his racially insensitive comments. If anything, the brief suspension confirms my initial point that ESPN doesn’t value their female viewers as much as they value their black male viewers. This is not at all surprising behavior from ESPN, nonetheless it’s still disappointing.