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ESPN Suspends Smith Over ‘Provocation’ Remarks

ESPN Commentator Stephen A. Smith
Stephen A. Smith attends the Paley Prize Gala honoring ESPN's 35th anniversary presented by Roc Nation Sports on May 28, 2014 in New York City. Photographer: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Paley Center for Media

Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN sports network suspended commentator Stephen A. Smith for a week over remarks he made about domestic violence on the program “First Take.”

“Stephen A. Smith will not appear on ‘First Take’ or ESPN Radio for the next week,” the network said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “He will return to ESPN next Wednesday.”

Smith, a featured commentator on the ESPN2 show, set off controversy last week when he and fellow personality Skip Bayless were discussing the National Football League’s two-game suspension of Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice over domestic violence charges. While he said the suspension was too short and that domestic violence should never be condoned, Smith also said women shouldn’t do anything to provoke it.

“In Ray Rice’s case, he probably deserves more than a two-game suspension, which we both acknowledged,” Smith said on the show. “But at the same time, we also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation.”

Those statements were immediately criticized by another ESPN host, Michelle Beadle, on

“Violence isn’t the victim’s issue,” she wrote. “It’s the abuser’s. To insinuate otherwise is irresponsible and disgusting.”

Smith apologized on the air on July 28.

‘Egregious Error’

“I made what can only amount to the most egregious error of my career,” Smith said. “My words came across that it is somehow a woman’s fault. This was not my intent. It was not what I was trying to say. Yet the failure to clearly articulate something different lies squarely on my shoulders.”

The NFL should do more to prevent domestic violence that has involved players on 21 of the league’s 32 teams, according to a petition that has garnered over 37,000 signatures.

Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said Smith’s suspension doesn’t go far enough.

“I don’t know why he wasn’t fired,” O’Neill said. “I don’t know why Ray Rice was not fired.”

Rice and his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, were arrested in February after an altercation in an elevator at Atlantic City’s Revel casino, according to the Baltimore Sun. Video posted online purported to show Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of the elevator. They have since married.

Charges against Palmer were dropped and Rice accepted an intervention program that allowed him to avoid jail, the newspaper said. His suspension from football begins on Aug. 30 and will continue until after the team’s game Sept. 12.

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