Email Exchange: Stephen A. Tells Women Not to Provoke Anger, Provokes Anger


Today’s article: “Second Take,” Will Leitch, Sports on Earth

Michael Rosen:

So this is a welcome back of sorts for a lot of people within the Why Oh Why? community. First, and most importantly, I’d like to welcome back all of our readers, who’ve sent uncountable quantities of emails into my inbox, begging for the Email Exchange to return. So here we are! Welcome back to our readers, and welcome back to the Email Exchange.

Oh, and I guess welcome back to you, too, Cam. How was Amsterdam? Weirdest thing you saw? Still jet-lagged?

And another question: how plugged into sports media were you? Because some real shit has been going down over the last two weeks, and the most outrage-inducing shitstorm undoubtedly has centered around our favorite television program, First Take. (Editor’s note: not actually our favorite show.) First, town idiot Skip Bayless and town crier Stephen A. Smith attempted to take two sides in the debate over whether it was okay to be distracted by Michael Sam’s sexuality, I think? I was unable to actually watch the video, but Barry Petchesky did a great job breaking down how this insistence on seeing two sides to literally every issue is a destructive notion that reinforces bigotry. So, basically, a run-of-the-mill day on First Take. This didn’t incite too much outrage.

Well, at least compared to Smith’s comments a couple of days later, which near blew Twitter off the face of the Earth. Smith, who wasn’t exactly clear with his words, said essentially that women share some role in their abuse by men. Which, wow, what a fucking piece of shit.

So that brings us to the piece we’re discussing today, where Will Leitch makes his argument for why Michelle Beadle’s stance against her coworker (Smith) on Twitter is one of her great professional achievements.

It seems like quite the claim — that a few 140-character posts can rank among the greatest things you’ve done in a long career in sports media — but I think he’s right: the outrage shitstorm doesn’t reach max capacity without her criticism, and therefore the conversation about Smith’s shitbaggery/First Take’s uselessness/the NFL’s hypocrisy. I know I’m still thinking about it.

Anyway, I’ve done a lot of the background/summary here, so I guess I’ll turn it over to you for some analysis. There are so many layers to this story, it’s hard to address it all. There’s the obvious initial layer of Ray Rice beating the shit out of his fiancé and dragging her unconscious body through a hotel, but then there’s the NFL’s completely underwhelming suspension of Rice, and then the First Take reaction, and so on and so forth.

I have some questions for you: do you think the whole First Take controversy drowning out anger at the NFL is a beneficial thing? As much as Ray Rice has stayed in the news, it feels like less people are pointing out that, uh, Josh Gordon might be suspended 8x as long for smoking pot. I wish the NFL were getting more heat, I guess, especially since it seems nothing will be done about First Take or Stephen A. Smith.

More questions: how do you think ESPN ought to proceed with Smith? How about the NFL with Rice? And, the most pressing question of our time: why the fuck does anyone watch First Take?

Cameron Seib:

I crossed nine time zones in traveling to/from Holland and got back Thursday, which, according to Dr. John P Cunha, means I shouldn’t be over my jet lag for another week to week and a half. But guess what? I already feel over it. Everything we once thought to be true about the human body’s physical capabilities, I’ve proven wrong.

The weirdest thing I saw was teenagers lighting up cigarettes with their parents. Yes, this happens frequently in Amsterdam. I don’t know if Europeans smoke more than Americans, but they certainly don’t attach the same stigma to tobacco that we do. Which means you’ll frequently see Marlboro-induced bonding between young family members and their elders. Timmy Sr. and Timmy Jr. just finished picking up the latter’s school supplies for the year? They’re probably gonna celebrate with a cigarette. Jennifer Jr. craving that post-meal stogy? Just let Jen Sr. pay the bill, then she’ll be there to provide wind protection while Jr. sparks up!

Oh, another weird thing I saw: a city that was safe, economically thriving, and beautiful, DESPITE having legalized weed. Crazy!

Amsterdam was awesome.

Okay, so back to sports. I kept up with all the headlines while abroad, but didn’t read much about what the various sports minds were saying. Which, just now hearing of this First Take debate on Michael Sam, makes me kinda happy. I’m not even going to look up the segment – I had a two-week mental break, I can’t afford anymore deterioration at this time.

There really is a lot to get to with this Stephen A. debacle, and I don’t even know if I’m going to be answering your questions. Personally, what I couldn’t stop thinking about through this all, was just how greasy of a corporation ESPN is. One of their anchors spews ignorant, bigoted, dangerous views on domestic violence, and all the Worldwide Leader does is promote the dude’s next show. And though I agree Beadle’s tweets were courageous, I think they were largely seen so because ESPN usually punishes any employee who so much as jokes about a problem within. Doesn’t matter if you’re promoting a worthy cause with sound logic, as Beadle did: ESPN cares more about saving face than saving women.

I know you have to get going soon, so I’ll throw this back to you. Want to answer any of your own questions?


WAIT, WAIT, WAIT: So you’re telling me legalizing marijuana…doesn’t turn a country into a chaotic state of immorality, despair, and economic depression?!? I have a really hard time believing that.

I don’t know why, but the image of, like, a 13-year-old puffin’ on a cig with his pops is too goddamn funny. Especially the wind protection part. Do they usually share one cigarette, or does pops just pull out a pack and distribute individual cigs amongst the family? These are burning questions.

The greasiness of ESPN is in no way surprising to me. I knew from the very beginning of this whole story that nothing concrete would actually happen to Smith. When multibillion dollar corporations are faced with the question of making the morally sound decision of cutting ties with an asshole or sticking with him because he’s a main reason for one of your big moneymakers, the answer they’ll come to is so obvious it’s not even worth talking about. First Take is a zombie, in more ways than one.

Ugh, no, I don’t want to answer my own questions, that’s why I sent them to you. I’m a little bit more awake than when I drafted them, though, so I guess I’ll give it a shot. As to why people watch First Take: I have a friend who is a recovering First Take watch-er. To be fair, he was in high school, so I’ll give him a little bit of a break, but I think it’s a show for people who are only capable of taking what people on television say at face value. If you exercise an iota of critical thought toward First Take, it crumbles immediately. It’s clear it’s manufactured bullshit for the lowest common denominator. But if you’re either young or stupid, the artifice is shiny, flawless. And therefore, the banter about these issues is, perhaps, entertaining? If one can accept the premise that arguing over whether LeBron James has the “clutch” gene is an actual thing worth debating, then it follows that one would find the ensuing argument — filled with inane logic and shouting — a pretty sweet deal.

I don’t have enough time to answer whether I think First Take drowning out the NFL’s own controversy is a good thing, so I’ll sidestep it for now. To quick hit the other questions: personally, I think Smith should be fired, and I think Ray Rice should’ve been suspended for the year. But that’s in a world where there’s a moral precedence over all, and such a world only exists in the mind of First Take watchers.


Hmm, so now I’m going back and trying to remember the ESPNers that have been fired. Harold Reynolds was, and though ESPN didn’t announce an exact reason, rumors suggested “a pattern of sexual harassment.” Sean Salisbury was also fired, and for similar reasons, though his harassment came via soliciting dick pics, whereas Reynolds was the victim of “misinterpreted” hugs. Jay Mariotti was fired amid, what do you know, domestic violence charges. Those are probably the three most high-profile cases, but ESPN has also given the pink slip to former First Take member Rob Parker for questioning RGIII’s “brotherness,” the dude who wrote the “Chink In The Armor” headline for a Jeremy Lin article, and sadly, for budgetary reasons, The Schwab.

Considering these cases makes you wonder why we can feel so certain of Stephen A.’s safety. It seems that ESPN has at least some moral threshold it would allow to be breached, and has specifically shown it has standards regarding domestic violence. And no, Smith didn’t actually hurt his partner, but he essentially offered a free pass to any man that has. So why will he remain employed while someone like Mariotti was (rightly) terminated rather quickly?

I think it’s a matter of money. Surprise, surprise.

Reynolds, Salisbury, and Mariotti were all relatively well-known personalities, but each was mostly a beneficiary of the programming on which he appeared. Reynolds had the network’s flagship baseball program, Salisbury its never-ending NFL coverage, and Mariotti the wildly popular, and admittedly entertaining, Around the Horn. None of the three were ratings-drivers in themselves, they merely boosted the ratings of already popular shows. Compare this to Smith, who is undoubtedly a “destination personality.” Viewers don’t flip to ESPN to watch First Take, per say, they do to listen to Stephen A. and Skip. Remove someone like Reynolds from Baseball Tonight, and he loses all desirability to viewers. But put Smith and Bayless anywhere and they’ll still draw hordes of idiot fans.

Which, relating this to money, is essentially to say ESPN will fire someone for detestable behavior, so long as that person isn’t too important to the company’s bottom line. It’s a simply cost-benefit analysis, I suppose. Reynolds probably boosted ratings to some extent, but he was ultimately a net cost to the network, as his personality didn’t outweigh the detriment of having an accused sex offender on staff. The same can’t be said for Smith. Unless he did something really, really bad – like actually punching his wife and blaming her for provoking the attack – Stephen A. will always be a money-maker for ESPN. Some people will stop watching the network because a backwards-thinker like Smith remains on air. But even more people would stop watching were he to leave ESPN.

I guess ESPN isn’t so much about saving face as saving profits. Kinda disappointed I did all this writing only to arrive at such an obvious conclusion.


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