Stephen A. Smith continues to illustrate the very worst of ESPN’s coverage of Floyd Mayweather and domestic violence. As noted this week, Smith’s exclusive interview with Mayweather completely avoided the topic; while ESPN has had strong commentary and analysis on Mayweather’s past of domestic violence elsewhere from the likes of Outside The Lines, Sarah Spain and Keith Olbermann, Smith’s soft-soaping interview hurt the network’s image and illustrated the identity crisis it faces between reputable journalism and everything that doesn’t live up to that standard. Now, comments from Smith earlier in April have emerged that reinforce his pattern of problematic takes on domestic violence and are further proof he should have been kept miles away from ESPN’s Mayweather coverage, not assigned to interview him. On April 8’s First Take, Smith told Cari Champion that her criticisms of Mayweather’s domestic violence record were because “you’re a woman, you should feel that way.” Here’s the video, via SportsGrid:
Here’s a transcript of the key bit, starting at 0:30 (after a digression about some would make the argument that Mayweather’s bad behavior is all an act to sell fights):
Smith: “When you go into what Freddie Roach believes and what he alludes to Manny Pacquaio feeling and how there’s the spiritual conversion and all of this other stuff, what makes me uncomfortable is that they’re also lumping all of this other stuff that Floyd Mayweather allegedly has done to say ‘Well, you know what? Look at how much of a bad guy he is?’ When you take the position that you take, Cari, against—I got no problems with this, you’re a woman, you should feel that way—anybody else, based on what he’s been accused of, I get that. I have no issue whatsoever.”
Skip Bayless: “Okay, wait a second. [To Champion] Are you taking that position solely because of his domestic violence record?”
Champion: “I definitely have an issue with his domestic violence record, but I also have an issue with how he treats women period outside the ring.:
Smith interrupts: “Okay!”
Champion: “I have a problem with who he is.”
Smith interrupts again: “Okay, that’s fine! I’m saying that her position is clear because she’s a woman and this is how she feels he conducts himself. I am a boxing fan. When I’m talking about Mayweather-Pacquiao, I’m thinking about two dudes strictly in the boxing ring. And that’s all I’m doing. But Freddie Roach takes this to another level. Anybody that’s rooting for Floyd Mayweather, it’s almost like ‘What kind of person are you!’ And when you feed into it by grasping what he says, it’s almost like ‘What kind of a person are you!’ I’m a guy that loves boxing.”
Here’s a longer 18-minute version of the whole segment, if anyone has the stomach to sit through it:
Smith’s comments here are so incredibly problematic that it’s amazing they didn’t get wider play sooner. (They popped up Saturday thanks to an odd series of events: NBC Sports Radio host Dave Smith (no relation) tweeted a reasonably-accurate paraphrase of Stephen A. Smith’s comments on Champion’s take being just because of her gender with a link to the April 8 SportsGrid piece with the video and transcript, which was then picked up by a lot of big sports media names. However, Dave Smith then deleted that tweet (but he’s kept his retweets of others complaining about Stephen A’s comments). At any rate, his tweet got people discussing these April 8 comments, which somehow seem to have flown mostly under the radar (beyond SportsGrid’s piece) until now. Yes, Smith and Bayless say dumb things on First Take daily, but this rises above (or is that below?) even their usual standard, and it deserves to be refuted.
Smith’s attempt to say that Champion’s problems with Mayweather are solely because she’s a woman is troubling on two separate fronts. For one thing, that’s an attempt to completely trivialize her opinion. For another thing, it implies that men shouldn’t take stands against domestic violence or those who commit it. If Smith wants to say that he believes no one should care what athletes do outside of the moments when they’re competing, fine; that’s a horrible opinion, but he can have horrible opinions. The problem here is that he’s claiming that women who don’t agree with him are doing so just because of gender. (It’s unclear how he’d dismiss male critics of Mayweather like Olbermann, but it probably wouldn’t be any more insightful.) It’s also notable that Smith is factually wrong here; not all of the charges against Mayweather are “alleged”, as he pled guilty to domestic battery in 2011 and served two months in jail for it. Mayweather’s domestic violence record is long and documented; it’s not something that should be passed off as just “allegations.”
Add these April 8 comments to the rest of Smith’s remarkable history of comments on domestic violence (blaming women for it in the Ray Rice case, blasting the National Organization of Women for criticizing Roger Goodell and more), and it’s clear ESPN should have kept him a long way from Mayweather rather than assigning him to interview someone with such a problematic past in that area. Smith has made it very clear that he has no issue with Mayweather’s life outside the ring. Fine, he can make that case on his show, and he can take the flack he should rightfully get for it. But ESPN’s decision to give him an incredibly prominent role in their coverage leading up to the fight is looking worse and worse all the time.