ESPN, format of debate shows bear some responsibility for Smith fiasco

My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana examines the sports talk/debate culture that likely contributed to Stephen A. Smith’s deplorable comments on domestic violence.

From the column.


It now is several days removed, and I still am astounded about what Stephen A. Smith said on “First Take” Friday.

How can anyone go on national television and suggest that women should be careful not to “provoke” men to the point where the situation could get violent? I mean, is he insane?

If you talk about domestic violence on TV, you never come close to your comments being misconstrued. It’s wrong, end of discussion.

I know Smith apologized profusely for his comments on “First Take” Monday. Following the apology, ESPN issued a statement saying, “As his apology demonstrates, he recognizes his mistakes and has a deeper appreciation of our company values.”

Oh, I’m sure when your career flashes before your eyes, you get a deeper appreciation of company values.

Yet upon more reflection about Smith’s comments, I wonder if something more is at play here. Now, in no way am I letting him off the hook. Let’s be clear about that. However, let’s just throw out the possibility that ESPN bears some responsibility here.

It isn’t just ESPN, per se. Rather, it is the sports talk radio/debate genre of programming that are driving the engines on many platforms.

In order to generate ratings, the personalities on these shows need to stand out to get noticed. They have to be edgy and controversial. If you’re predictable and middle-of-the-road, you won’t last long in these formats.

The idea is to generate water cooler talk where a viewer tells the gang, “Hey, did you hear what (fill in the name here) said last night…?”

There is an expectation, if not pressure, for these personalities to push the envelope, to take things to the edge.

Yet as Smith showed Friday, when you teeter on the edge, sometimes you fall over the cliff.


One thought on “ESPN, format of debate shows bear some responsibility for Smith fiasco

  1. Ed:

    As I’ve said in the past, this is the unspoken truth that the networks and talk shows really don’t want out there, The fact that they actually WANT garbage like this out there to drive ratings, to get page hits…the hell with quality, with journalistic principles, things you know that they consider “outdated.”

    Good job in taking them to task for their hypocrisy.

    If they really cared about upholding time honored journalistic principles would individuals like Colin Cowherd, Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless and Jay Mariotti even be on the air in the first place?????

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