ESPN, Reprimand Panelist Who Implied Battered Women Provoke Beatings

The NFL punished Ravens running back Ray Rice with a 2-game suspension after he allegedly knocked his fiance unconscious. But then ESPN panelist Stephen A. Smith responded by advising battered women not to provoke their abusers.

During a “First Take” segment, Smith acknowledged that men have “no business” striking women, just before he went on to insinuate that women contribute to their own abuse via “provocation.”  

ESPN’s Michelle Beadle shot back, saying Smith’s comments were equivalent to blaming rape on a victim’s “provocative clothing.”

Further disturbing is that Smith seems to make excuses for NFL’s lenient punishment of Rice, compared to a 4-game suspension it imposed on another player for smoking pot.

Following widespread criticism, Smith insisted that he in no way supports a man “putting his hands on a woman,” but he continued to advise that women should take responsibility for “preventing” such abuse.

Though Smith finally apologized, his comments should be of grave concern to ESPN, as they promote a culture of tolerating violence against women.

Tell ESPN to reprimand Smith for his comments and make sure all its analysts are properly trained on the issue of domestic violence.

We, the undersigned, say ESPN should take Smith’s comments as a sign that the network does not take the issue of domestic abuse seriously enough.

Although Smith has made a what appears to be a sincere effort to apologize for and correct the potentially dangerous implications of his comments about  battered women “provoking” men to abuse them, the network itself needs to take measures to train its analysts to make sure it doesn’t continue to promote a culture that tolerates domestic violence.

Comments like Smith’s not only contribute to viewers’ misconceptions about domestic abuse, they can indirectly encourage such violence. His comments also seem to make excuses for the NFL’s tendency to not take abuse of women seriously enough, evidenced by its more lenient punishment of those who commit that crime compared to penalties imposed upon those committing nonviolent offenses.

We request that ESPN respond to Smith’s comments by making sure all its panelists/analysts are properly trained on this serious and often misrepresented issue of violence against women.

Thanks for your time.

Update #21 years ago
Some responders to this petition say that women sometimes physically abuse men and therefore can "provoke" men to respond physically. However, this confuses self-defense with abuse. Physical abuse, or battering, by definition is not provoked - that's why it's called abuse. Responding to a physical attack with physical force is called self-defense or fighting back. But often battered women are not able to fight back. Hopefully this explains why ESPN needs to properly address this issue.
Update #11 years ago
ESPN just announced that Smith will be suspended from appearing on radio or television for one week in response to his remarks. While this is a great first step, it doesn't go far enough -- please keep signing and sharing so we can keep the pressure up and ask ESPN to show they take violence against women seriously.
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