Commentary: Why Stephen A. Smith Deserves Forgiveness

ESPN personality stands up and apologizes for defending men who batter women.

Posted: 07/30/2014 10:45 AM EDT
Stephen A. Smith

Should women (and men) forgive a man who has surely sinned in what he said about domestic violence?

Forgiveness is becoming less a part of our DNA than it had been during our yesteryear, and some sins simply aren’t forgivable.

In his commentary on the Ray Rice saga, I don’t know if what Stephen A. Smith, the smack-talking media celebrity, said about women last week falls into the unforgivable category. Rightly denounce what Stephen A. said, but to stand him in front of a firing squad isn’t a punishment that fits his sin.

For Neanderthals like Stephen A., teachable moments help them find a better perspective on contemporary life, and surely his views were out of reality if he ever thought accusing women of being provocateurs in domestic violence spoke to how American society views brutality against its women.

To side with Stephen A. isn’t possible, particularly when the man advances a thoughtless commentary about why men beat women. Explain that tall tale to all the women who end up in emergency rooms or on a coroner’s table because the man whom they loved was provoked into beating them senseless.

Try telling that lie to Rihanna and Tina Turner, two high-profile women who have had a man take a fist to their face. They will dispute any suggestions that what they did or said deserved what their lover did to them.

Stephen A., whom ESPN suspended Tuesday, seems willing to stop telling the lie.  

“My words came across that it is somehow a woman’s fault,” he said on First Take. “This was not my intent. It is not what I was trying to say. Yet the failure to clearly articulate something different lies squarely on my shoulders. To say what I actually said was foolish was an understatement. To say I was wrong was obvious. To apologize, to say 'I'm sorry,' doesn't do the matter justice, to be quite honest. But I do sincerely apologize."

What we’ve come to know about Stephen A. is what we’ve also come to either love or loathe about the man — no middle ground here. He speaks frankly, and it should surprise no one that other men do think as Stephen A. suggested in one of his commentaries.

Time and again, we hear stories about domestic violence, and we also hear how some men think about women from popular music, which finds a ready audience for its rhythms and its chauvinistic lyrics. Too much of it abases women in ways that should unsettle all of us.

To offer a public defense of men who harbor such views, as Smith voiced, does no one any good. But to overly dwell on a sin and not be willing to consider forgiveness is unconscionable. The question that those who have heard Smith’s apology must ask is was it sincere.

I know a legion of men and women will step forward and say Stephen A. was sorry only because he was looking to halt the damage to his ESPN career. He didn’t mean the apology, they would tell you.

Let’s stop trying to peel away the layers of a man’s heart, because we’ll never get to the core of it — ever. We must look straight into a man’s eyes and then make our own judgments from what we see.

What I saw and what I heard was a man who did see his sin. Maybe he should have seen it before he uttered the words he said, words that some people will never forgive:

“Now you got some dudes that are just horrible and they’re going to do it anyway, and there’s never an excuse to put your hands on a woman, and that is obviously a very real, real issue in our society … I think that talking about what guys shouldn’t do, we got to also make sure that women do their part.”

Men do horrible things, yes. Men say horrible things, too. But real men are secure enough in themselves to admit mistakes — to acknowledge their moral sins.

Stephen A. Smith, his face a mask of contrition, did the latter. He got suspended for his callous comments, but what more should any of us demand of the sinner — his blood?

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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