In the wake of yet another tragic and senseless school shooting, there’s a duty of care that comes with the language those on television use, even when not specifically discussing those events. And while certain politicians don’t seem to care, the hosts of ESPN’s First Take took the time to acknowledge that on Wednesday.
With little desire to stick to sports, Stephen A. Smith and Chris Russo opened Wednesday’s First Take with impassioned pleas for gun control and proactive measures to protect Americans. Soon after, discussions returned to the world of sports, specifically Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference Finals, in which the Dallas Mavericks staved off elimination against the Golden State Warriors.
During that discussion, as it would most days, terms such as “shooter” and “sniper” were thrown around to describe basketball players.
“I’m not gonna sit up here and say their chances at multiple championships are better than those snipers in the Bay Area,” said Smith, defending the Mavericks in response to JJ Redick. “I‘m not going that far, my brother. And I’m shocked that a sniper such as yourself would actually go against your own brotherhood.”
While a quick search of Twitter didn’t reveal many, if any, complaints about Smith’s usage of the term “sniper,” he would later apologize for using the term at this time.
“We were talking about basketball and I used the word sniper,” said Smith. “That’s inappropriate on a day like today, so I apologize for that. That was insensitive on my part. I just got excited talking about basketball. That’s my mistake, so I own that. I apologize for that.”
Right after, Molly Qerim added a proactive apology of her own, also on behalf of Redick, presumably for use of the word “shooter.”
“JJ and I also had a poor word choice there, and it was in a sports context,” said Qerim. “And we never, ever want to be insensitive to the tragedies that have happened. So I just want to be clear on that and we will be much better moving forward.”
If your reaction to their preemptive apologies is to bemoan it as some kind of capitulation, you’ve already missed the point.
Yes, discussions around basketball routinely and commonly include the terms “shooter” and “sniper” much in the same way terms related to warfare are often deployed around football. As noted, there was no groundswell of anger on social media calling for their heads and demanding apologies. The cancel culture boogeyman did not cause this.
The hosts apologized simply because it felt like the right thing to do in the wake of such a monumental tragedy, and it errs on the side of kindness.
God forbid we share a little bit of that on a day like this.
Does apologizing for using these common terms solve or change anything? Of course not. But while we wait for the people in power to do something, literally anything, acknowledging the sensitive nature of the moment is the very least we can all do.