Ray of darkness: The chilling effect on Black men of Stephen A. Smith’s suspension

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile—hoping it will eat him last.”Churchill

When a man can be put in the stocks for saying “punches may lead to punches, so let’s not punch anyone” on a male-targeted show, fem-centrism has reached critical contaminant stage.

Mix in a White woman and a little The Birth of a Nation–style racial dog-whistle blowing and we’re at 28 Weeks Later territory, complete with mindless zombies who make the sane among us tiptoe in fear, afraid to sneeze lest we be relieved of sentient existence.

I speak, of course, of the reputation-lynching of First Take analyst Stephen A. Smith.

The comparisons are inexact, but he can reasonably be called the Digital Dick Rowland, having accidentally stepped on Sarah Page’s foot, causing her to cry out when he meant nothing by it. His colleague, SportsNation host Michelle Beadle, may reasonably be called Sarah Page, a mob summoned by her wails to go on a rampage.

It all started with this exchange with his co-hosts, Skip Bayless and Cari Champion: the pertinent part in the clip above; the context framed by the quote below.

Smith (to Bayless)—“You say you don’t care if she hit or not. Let me make everybody uncomfortable by saying I DO care. But let me tell you why. It’s not about him then. It’s about you. And here’s what I mean by that. We keep talking about the guys. We know you have NO business putting your hands on a woman . . .”

The foregoing is an adequate qualifier for the “provoke” discussion that followed. There is your “outrageous” statement, that if the first blows were struck by Janay Palmer and not Ray Rice, that makes a difference. After all, if a punch, or series of them, is not “provocation” to a fight, then the word ceases to have meaning. On the other hand, in a world where domestic violence is now refusing to give your girlfriend money, it’s easy to see how Smith’s measured and innocuous words became “EAT THE CAKE, ANNA MAE!” Nevertheless, it’s no less disconcerting to those of us with third grade listening comprehension skills. Unfortunately, the mob of online drones who responded to the Twitter dog-whistle of SportsNation host Michelle Beadle couldn’t be bothered to look that far, or to listen that closely.

Even if I were inclined to give Beadle the benefit of the doubt that she was apparently unsure whether Smith was saying that words are provocation enough, maybe she owed her colleague the courtesy of a direct call or message to discuss the matter privately before putting the matter on blast. After all, it is a matter of company policy. I’m not so inclined, of course. Beadle’s white female privilege was offended, so she took to Twitter to publicly clutch her pearls . . . and wave her panties, primed to play the Pavlovian card every White woman can wield as easily as Eragon summoning his dragon. Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, her virtual notes took wind, a siren song calling her minions to come in hordes to save her from Da Big Black Victim Blamer, punctuating her tune with this discordant note.

When Black men in America implicate violations of a White woman’s sexual chastity, they know all too well what comes next when her distress signals, authentic or not, reach a critical mass of White male ears. More White women amplify the signal, it becomes a feedback loop, and men are driven to action.

And act they did in the instant matter, nearly collapsing the Internet with the predictable bottleneck of rage, climbing over each other like mindless Orcs scaling a castle wall, with slings, arrows, and axes of ad hominems, angry ripostes, and name-calling. The hounds had been released, had followed the scent, and were not going home without their quarry. All that was missing were the words “GIVE US THE NI***R!”

Faced with a binary choice of “hanging together” with Smith, the Sheriff, ESPN chief John Skipper, opened the cell door and looked the other way.

Of course, the ultimate action taken against Smith was not as final as those taken in Black Tulsa, Scottsboro, Duluth, or Mississippi, the process that led to his suspension certainly mirrored it. Beadle cynically played on this archetypical relic, the “Sexually Aggressive Sub-Human” Black to amplify what is actually a legitimate concern. Her tactics were egregious, however, but they guaranteed that her redress would be fast-tracked and her pound of flesh delivered via the express lane of mob justice. Beadle’s indignence turned a man who for 10 years has repeated, ad infinitum, “It is NEVER OK to put your hands on a woman” into an enabler of back alley rapists, and laughed at the carnage she wrought, as did the women who posed gleefully aside the charred and limp swinging Black bodies, as if they were trophies.

Ironically, Smith suffered pseudo-proxy violence while nobly issuing preventive measures to forestall the need for the real thing.

See, I know what I’m gon’ do if someone touches a female member of my family . . . I know what my boys gon’ do . . . I’m gonna have to get law enforcement officials because I’m a have to remind myself that I work for [ESPN] because of what I’m gonna be tempted to do . . . But what I’ve implored the female members of my family . . . let’s make sure we don’t do anything to PROVOKE wrong actions . . . because even after . . .


The implication, in context, is unambiguous. Chivalrous males like Smith will always reflexively avenge a physical attack upon a woman they know. Because of that, if a woman starts the physical component of the partner dispute, she’s setting in motion a chain of events that puts her and, ultimately, her man and the men who come to her defense in harm’s way. She must understand, once events are set in motion, those events are in the driver’s seat, not her. “At LEAST give me the piece of mind that I’m not whupping some guys ass in vain,” Smith seemed to say, on behalf of men everywhere.

The falsity of an accusation may not be discovered until it’s too late for the accused or, in some cases, the White Knight himself. It certainly came too late for Daniel Cicciaro. He heard the damsel call that a friend had been threatened with rape by a Black boy at their prom. Gathering a mob of like-minded Italians, they set upon the boy and gave chase to his home. By night’s end, the Black boy’s father, John White, was in a jail cell, having ended the chase at his home by sending young Daniel to the morgue with his pistol. The rape threat was a hoax, of course, but the damage was done.

We know that questioning the gender narrative prompts any man to be purged in this age. That risk is amplified for a Black man who offends a White women with rape anywhere in the field of discourse. While many brothers spoke up on Twitter and in the blogosphere, many likely will keep proverbial “doors locked” for the time being to rational but uncomfortable discussions on the matter of violent women, feeling as unsafe freely exploring the issue as Black men felt looking askance at a White woman in the wake of a fresh crop of “Strange Fruit” blossoming fetid from trees, let alone stepping on their feet.


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LSBHtaeVs4&w=560&h=315]

While crafting this piece, starting Tuesday, I harkened back to this December 2012 Rational Male post about the first time Smith dispensed red pill wisdom, in the video above, this time after an appearance by NFL pariah Chad Johnson, an actual batterer. Smith spring-boarded to a broader, tangential issue, that of men compelled by circumstance to “fall on their sword” at the expense of “the whole truth,” often in matters of infidelity. Indeed, when a female reporter asked Rice Thursday, during public mea culpa #2, “What actually happened in that elevator?” Rice knew his duty and charge. It was to be both take ownership of his substantial part, but also to play sin-eater. “My wife can do no wrong. She is an angel.” If that sounds familiar, we heard it from the most famous male domestic violence victim five years ago—Tiger Woods.

There was also another sin-eater in this episode, albeit force-fed. That Smith was not upbraided for and exiled to broadcast “time out” for the 2012 segment, but was for last the July 25 segment, suggests that the outrage over the “suspension” is a smokescreen. Chad Johnson suffered the trifecta for his crime: jail time, divorce, and the loss of his NFL career. Moreover, that segment was many months after the punishment. Rice suffered none of these, the wound was still fresh, and the mob fury needed an outlet. In this case, it was a whipping boy—Smith.

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