If you like coordinated apologies, you certainly enjoyed ESPN2 on Monday morning.
First Take host Stephen A. Smith, in a taped read at the top of the show he co-debates with Skip Bayless, offered an apology for his comments on Friday’s show. On that episode, in the midst of discussing the NFL’s adjudication of Ray Rice, Smith suggested that women should examine their role in provoking domestic violence incidents. This was not the first time Smith had traveled down such a road, as this piece and this piece highlight.
What turbo-charged an otherwise awful First Take show was Smith’s colleague and Sports Nation host Michelle Beadle responding to Smith’s words by sending a series of tweets decrying his take on domestic violence. Wrote Beadle: “So I was just forced to watch this morning's First Take. A) I'll never feel clean again B) I'm now aware that I can provoke my own beating" ... "Violence isn't the victim's issue. It's the abuser's. To insinuate otherwise is irresponsible and disgusting.”
On Monday, Smith apologized to the First Take audience.
“On Friday, speaking right here on First Take on the subject of domestic violence, I made what can only amount to the most egregious error of my career,” Smith said. “While elaborating on thoughts concerning the NFL’s ruling versus Ray Rice, following a domestic dispute with his then-fiancee, I ventured beyond the scope of our discussion by alluding to a woman’s role in such heinous matters, going so far as to use the word ‘provoke’ in my diatribe. My words came across that it was somehow a woman’s fault. This was not my intent. It is not what I was trying to say.”
In a rare occurrence for First Take, the show’s female moderator, Cari Champion, was allowed to offer an opinion. “Here’s the issue with domestic disputes, sexual assault, crimes that are intimate, you use certain trigger words, words like provoke,” Champion said. “All we hear is ‘provoke.’ I have not been a victim of domestic violence but I have seen it firsthand, and you can’t hear anything else after that. You just hear someone explaining it away, or perceived to explain it away.”
Ten minutes after Smith concluded his apology, ESPN PR sent out the following statement:
"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.”
ESPN PR said management would offer no additional comments on Smith. "No additional comments are planned at the moment," said an ESPN spokesperson.
Multiple sources told SI.com that the highest levels of ESPN management were involved in how the apology would play out – it was decided to tape it rather than do it live -- and that plenty of people weighed in on how ESPN should handle the start of the show.
Why not invite Beadle onto the program for some honest dialogue— as well as compelling television? It seems ESPN management did not want to risk such an unknown.
Upon conclusion of Smith’s apology, First Take went into a debate about LeBron James wearing the No. 23 jersey.
Beadle, according to sources, has not been disciplined for publicly questioning an employee. Previously, ESPN employees – including Bill Simmons – have faced social media suspensions for voicing an opinion on First Take.