“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”—Voltaire
Last month’s events surrounding sports journalist and radio host Stephen A. Smith, where he told an inconvenient truth about domestic and spousal abuse and was pilloried and punished for it, is important for two reasons:
- Because it highlights yet again the Power of the Cathedral; and
Because it points to a very powerful truth that never gets to see the light of day.
I want to discuss both of these points in more detail, but first, a bit of indulgence on my part about Stephen A.
Though born and raised in New York City, Stephen A. is considered a homeboy here in Philly since he made his career in sports writing with the Inquirer, Philly’s biggest newspaper. I came to know of him in the latter 1990s, when he would appear on WIP, the city’s flagship sports talk station. Not only was I proud of him for being a Brotha doin’ the darn thing in a White Guy–dominated field, but I also admired him for not being afraid to speak unmentionable truths about life both in and outside of sports—even when it cut against the “post-racial” grain of the conceit that is de jour for our current society. Unlike other Black talkers on WIP whom I will not name, Stephen A. stood out as a Black man who called it straight down the middle, no matter who didn’t like it. That took guts—I mean, come on, let’s face it, WIP wasn’t exactly the most welcoming to People of Color, and it’s mostly White Philly Guy audience was known for being a bit rough around the edges, especially whenever anything coming close to race came up. But Stephen A. held firm on those occasions, and refused to back down not just from his own take on things but also more importantly from the truth of things. For many Philly Brothas like me, Stephen A. was an inspiration.
So it was with both a profound sense of relief and pride when Stephen A. told the truth about the Ray Rice alleged spousal abuse situation that took place earlier this year, where TMZ released video of Rice dragging an unconscious fiancé out of an Atlantic City elevator—that it could very well be possible that said fiancé could have provoked Rice to act. Men all over the country knew exactly what Stephen A. was talking about, Black men especially. I knew the minute he said those words what was to come next—and, boy, the Cathedral didn’t disappoint.
After Stephen A.’s public flogging by both close colleagues and talking heads from around the media, ESPN2 announced that they were suspending him for a week—this, after Stephen A. capitulated to the Cathedral and offered an apology for his statements of truth. At any rate, several days after his “suspension,” it was reported that Stephen A. was going to satellite radio—good for him!—and perhaps the last holdout where men can speak truth to power.
I think Stephen A.’s critical flaw was in offering an apology—for, in doing so, he gave his enemies the ammunition they needed to excommunicate him from the Cathedral. It highlights the fact that this is the price any man—but especially a Black man—must pay for the privilege of being part and parcel of high-profile, high-prestige society: you must fold your hands, cross your legs, and do the Oprah Nod solemnly whenever issues like these come up; you must indict the (Black) man in question no matter what the circumstance or situation; and you must never, ever, “blame the victim”—the (Black) woman.
Stephen A.’s comments on July 25, 2014, reveal and corroborate something that not only scores of Black men in particular know all too well, but also what I’ve previously written right here on this website about far too many Black women themselves—that they not only disrespect a Black man’s boundaries, but they can and often will provoke a fight to ensue, if not outright being the aggressors of same. The world saw clear and present evidence of this only a few months ago, when Solange Knowles, sister of famed pop diva Beyoncé, viciously attacked Bey’s husband, rap mogul Jay-Z. Nor is this the first time something like this has happened in full view of the public eye. Years ago, R&B diva Mary J. Blige punched her husband in the face for what she thought was his “roving eye”—and then asked, “What are you going to do, Chris Brown me?”
And since this is an essay that is at least partly involving the sports world and in particular the NFL, a few years back there was another story where a Black woman went “HAM” on her Black NFL partner, and of course nothing came of it—no female sportscasters were to be heard calling for the offending lady’s head on a pike. (Editor’s Note: Check out the O-Man’s take on this here thing here.)
Neither Knowles nor Blige was charged, or punished in any way, or even publicly censured—in fact, in both cases, people, women especially, have openly speculated as to what the men in those instances “could have done to provoke” said ladies into violent action and response. Indeed, men being abused, often times grisly so, is grist for the Yuk-Yuk Mill, as women as notable as Sharon Osbourne openly laugh at the abuse and mutilation of men at the hands of their female spouses and domestic partners.
The real issue that Stephen A. brought to light—informed by his own experience of having been raised in a household full of Black women (a far too common occurrence for far too many Black men) of course—is the fact that spousal abuse is an issue that is nowhere near as one-sided as many of its professional detractors try to make it out to be. Indeed, there have been all manner of studies and reports that clearly show the numerous times when women themselves have been the provocateurs and outright aggressors in domestic and spousal abuse situations, and these findings have been suppressed by the aforementioned Doing Good (TM) crowd—the researchers derided for being knuckle-dragging misogynists hellbent on forcing women back into the kitchen barefoot and pregnant. Yet, the evidence—thanks to a combination of the increasing availability of video technology and sheer hubris on the part of today’s women—speaks for itself.
Here’s another bit of both. A very powerful social experiment was conducted by John Quinones’s ABC program Primetime: What Would You Do?, where a couple are sitting on a park bench and the woman begins berating her male partner. Slowly escalating the abuse like the proverbial frog in hot water, the goal of the experiment was to see who, if anyone, would intervene. The woman in the couple went from shouting and verbally abusing her boyfriend to outright physically beating him up, and not only did 163 people, men and women alike, walk on by, but there is actual video of several of them pumping their fists in classic “You Go, Girl!” fashion—one woman even aped Rocky, throwing punches in the air as she passed. And an off-duty police officer merely shrugged his shoulders, thinking (and saying) that the guy must’ve “deserved it.”
Now compare and contrast that to the same WWYD? social experiment, where it is the man of the couple abusing his female partner. The response, on the part of both men and women alike, is swift and certain.
If that isn’t enough evidence to convince you that Stephen A. wasn’t on to something, nothing will.
An Unlikely Ally
In the days following Stephen A.’s truth-telling comments, Ms. Whoopi Goldberg launched a vociferous defense not just of Stephen A., not just of men, but of Justice itself, saying that if a woman raises and puts her hands on a man, she can and should expect him to strike back. She did this despite being ganged up on by the rest of her The View colleagues and, unlike Stephen A., stood her ground—and note the reaction of the virtually all-female audience—nothing but roaring applause. Again, let the detractors consider this piece of admittedly anecdotal evidence for a moment. It reminded me of Nixon’s “silent majority” concept.
And let us consider something else: Goldberg made her bones in no small part due to her involvement with the film adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple, a story that to this day a not insignificant number of Black men see as a hatchet job on Brothas writ large. And unlike Black women in our time, there was no one around back then, or now, to wage a counter-campaign against the book or the movie, which was critically acclaimed. So for Goldberg to come out in defense of Stephen A. really says something. I know it does to me.
One other point: There has been a powerful debate raging in the manosphere about the role of women in its ranks. While there have been some who have been outright dismissive or at the very least wary to ambivalent about them—and I include myself in the latter cohort—others have argued that things will only change when women themselves become part of the fight for the human rights of men. I try to live my life based on the time-honored ideals of reason and evidence. Goldberg’s impassioned defense, along with those of many lesser-known and even unsung ladies in the ‘sphere, has won me over.
(Female) Size Matters
In his excellent column on the matter, Paul Elam, editor-in-chief of A Voice for Men, notes his physical stature—at 6’8″ and 285 lbs, he says that he cannot guarantee a woman’s safety were she to attack him, despite the great physical disparities between himself and the vast majority of women out there. Fair enough because, let’s face it, the physical disparity argument is one that is accepted as the gospel truth when this topic comes up.
So, I’d like to take what Elam said a step further.
I am 5’8″ and (last I checked) 170lbs—the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. I am a full foot shorter and more than 100 lbs lighter in weight than Elam. Not only that, but I guess you could say that I’m a friend of the Amazon ladies—I’ve dated quite a few, and my current lady stands at 5’10″ (the tallest I’ve ever had was 6′). And because Black women in particular are known for being a bit fuller figured, you can imagine that these ladies were far from beanpoles.
Now, I’ve never been a victim of spousal abuse, thank God—nor have I ever put my hands on any woman, regardless of her size. But it is not at all impossible, or uncommon, for larger ladies to treat the men in their lives like the proverbial punching bag. In Black America, it’s a lot more common than we may want to openly admit. Given the fact that “Jack Sprat” pairings are very common in Black American life, it would be astonishing if such abuse didn’t happen. After all, Mrs. Ray Rice freely admits that she had a hand in what went down in that elevator on that fateful Valentine’s Day weekend in Atlantic City, and she’s noticeably smaller than her hubby—imagine what a larger lady could do to a guy not as buff as Mr. Rice.
If there is anyone out there who doubts what I say, all they need to do is hit up the nearest Martin Luther King Boulevard and see for themselves. Black women are easily among the most violent, and abusive, people in the Black community—not just abusing Black men, but also abusing each other, and Black children. Indeed, on that score, the sheer totality of abuse that so many Black women visit upon their own children is utterly heartbreaking to witness—especially Black boys. On the streets of Black America’s ’hood, one can see and hear Black mothers berate and outright beat their Black sons senseless. It is a well-known and accepted fact that today’s abusers were yesterday’s abused. In Black America, that maxim could not be more true.
We Need a (New) Resolution
A generation ago, a powerful made-for-TV movie was broadcast called The Burning Bed. It was a “message” drama that dealt with the very real issue of spousal abuse and domestic violence—and in the years that would follow, other dramatic portrayals drove the point home, like Sleeping with the Enemy and Enough. They, and many other media efforts, did a good thing in making the case that violence and abuse has no place in a civilized society, that problems can be worked out peacefully and with dignity and respect.
We are now at a time when another media effort is called for, one that builds on the efforts and successes of the previous era, with an urgent call for relevance in ours—that violence, no matter what gender engages in it, has no place in a civilized society—or in a relationship.
Not only can men be hurt too, but they also have the right to defend themselves.
Thank you, Stephen A. Smith, for telling the truth and for being you.