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ESPN Decided It Needed to Take a Stronger Stance Against Stephen A. Smith

stephen a smithESPN, taking things a step further than Stephen A. Smith‘s long apology, has suspended the commentator for one week after he made gross and misguided comments about domestic abuse against women. The comments followed the NFL’s weak two-game suspension of Ray Rice after footage showed him dragging his unconscious wife out of a casino hotel after he allegedly hit her.

Smith made a lengthy broadcast speech after first trying to tweet-splain what he meant by his warning that women shouldn’t “provoke” men to violence. During the apology he was much more contrite, bringing up the women in his family and his outspoken stance against domestic violence.

To really bring the point home, ESPN also had a female commentator, Cari Champion, say many words after Smith was done. Most of those words were in support of her colleague, who wore his special purple tie for the occasion.

Clearly, the PR team was working overtime on this spectacle. Wisely, the network felt the need to do more, hence the suspension.

After so vehemently defending his position, it’s hard to believe that Smith had this huge change of heart and felt a personal need to pour out all the emotion in this apology. Even after his colleague Michelle Beadle took him to task, he stuck by his original comments. So even though he was later willing to say all of these things on camera, it has the distinct whiff of BS.

Looks like ESPN held on to Smith as long as it could and then determined it had to let go and save itself. In addition to the one-week suspension, ESPN president John Skipper wrote a memo distancing the company from the comments. He also emphasizes the “conversations” that the company has had with “a diverse group of women and men” to talk about what else to do.

“Our women’s [employee resource group] has added to the conversation, and going forward, I know they will help us continue constructive discussion on this and related issues,” the memo continues.

More than a third (35 percent) of major league sports fans are women. We aren’t a demographic that sports companies can afford to ignore, insult or talk down to. Keith Olbermann went on an epic rant after the two-game suspension was handed down to Ray Rice, expressing what a lot of women (and men) feel when they dare to dive into sports. “The NFL wants your money. They will do nothing else for you,” he said. That’s not a recipe for winning over female fans.

ESPN had to show that they have a strong stance against Smith’s dangerous and ridiculous remarks. Now let’s see how they move forward when all the dust settles and it’s back to business as usual.

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