ESPN’s first statement on the controversy that has enveloped the network after Stephen A. Smith’s comments on domestic violence amounted to an advertisement for Monday’s First Take.  There the network said, Smith would address the controversy in full.

Monday’s First Take opened with what appeared to be a taped apology from Smith on set alone with Cari Champion.  After Smith finished his apology (calling his comments “the most egregious error of my career”), Champion spoke directly to viewers as well, saying that the show needed to do better in communicating.

(NOTE: ESPN apparently doesn’t want our readers to see the apology as they have blocked the video from airing on this website even though it’s fully available on others.  Why they would want to prevent the public sharing of a video they posted on a public forum, and only for certain websites, is a good question for debate.  You can watch it at this link if interested.)

After the three minute segment, First Take went on to debate LeBron James changing his number back to #23 from #6 and Johnny Manziel.  So everything truly was business as usual after the taped apology.  After a mere three minutes.  ESPN also released a second short statement on the matter:

“We will continue to have constructive dialogue on this important topic. Stephen’s comments last Friday do not reflect our company’s point of view. As his apology demonstrates, he recognizes his mistakes and has a deeper appreciation of our company values.”

So that… appears to be that.  Smith has apparently escaped any sort of discipline whatsoever from ESPN for talking about a woman’s role in domestic violence.  Considering the laundry list of past ESPN suspensions, it comes as a great surprise.  Perhaps Smith and First Take truly are untouchable at ESPN as the network seems to be happy moving forward.

Giving Smith the benefit of the doubt (you can argue whether or not he’s earned it) that sounded like a very sincere, direct apology where he took full responsibility for his comments.  One wonders why that didn’t come Friday when he said he was annoyed by the furor surrounding his remarks, but nevertheless he struck the right conciliatory tone today.

Smith’s apology sounded sincere, but the method of how ESPN and First Take handled this situation only opens up everyone involved for more questions.

– Why did a show that centers itself on debate and discussion go to a taped apology to address this story?  Why not do what they do each and every day and devote an entire segment to it?  Why devote only three minutes to the controversy and then go on with business as usual?  Jumping straight from the taped apology to a silly debate on LeBron James’ number change was tone deaf.

– Why was debate not embraced this time?

– Where was Michelle Beadle?  Was she invited to come on the show to discuss the story and her perspective?  Did she refuse?

– Why did it take this episode for Champion to promise a more prominent role in offering an opinion on serious matters instead of merely moderating between Smith and Bayless?

– This is the second time that First Take has promised to be better in communicating.  What changes are going to take place to actually ensure this happens?  Will it be more “enhanced editorial oversight” because clearly that didn’t work the first time.

– Why were Smith’s comments deemed not worthy of discipline by ESPN given their track record of suspensions?  What does ESPN’s lack of action say about the company as a whole?  What faith should ESPN viewers have that they can really offer “constructive dialogue” on this topic?

– Does Marcia Keegan, the ESPN executive responsible for First Take, still feel that “Embrace Debate” has had a universally positive effect on the ESPN brand after this week?  Does Keegan still feel that ratings are the only needed justification for the show and that First Take “succeeded” in this controversy?  Her past comments on the record would dictate an answer in the affirmative.  Does she still believe that?

– If ESPN is making the decision to continue to support First Take in its current format… and if ESPN is willing to continue airing a show that has gained a reputation for offensive commentary, baiting athletes, and turning the daily sports conversation into a lowest common denominator carnival barking competition… how long will it be until the next embarrassing episode comes from this corner of Bristol?

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