Stephen A. Smith’s Ray Rice comments bring controversy to campus appearance


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Stephen A. Smith (left) was alongside his First Take co-host Skip Bayless when he made controversial remarks regarding the Ray Rice domestic violence incident.

Stephen A. Smith stirred public discussion when he commented that Janay Palmer must have “provoked” the Ravens’ running back Ray Rice into beating her. Video footage––released by TMZ––shows Rice punching Palmer in a casino elevator on Feb. 15, leaving her unconscious.

Smith is scheduled to present a lecture Thursday in Mitchell Hall entitled “Adversity: Keep Your Head in the Game,” sponsored by the Cultural Programming Advisory Board (CPAB).

Some students on campus, especially those involved in anti-sexual assault and anti-sexual harassment efforts, are not enthused by his arrival.

Sage Carson, a sophomore who aided in organizing the “End the Silence, End the Shame” rally, said Smith’s visit is questionable, and his comments clearly exemplify the prevalent issues surrounding domestic violence in today’s society.

“I don’t think that maybe [Smith] realized that he was saying that if you’re born into this world as a woman, you have to make sure not to piss someone off every single day of your life because you might get punched in the face,” Carson said.

CPAB President Georgina Class-Peters said that after polling the African-American student body, the students remain excited about his visit.

“Mr. Smith made comments about domestic violence for which he has apologized,” Peters stated via email. “His body of work expands beyond his remarks. We are excited for our lecture tonight and hope students leave feeling empowered and ready to face adversity.”

Three days into his week-long suspension from ESPN, Smith was seen on ESPN2 apologizing to viewers. Smith admitted what he said was the “most egregious error” of his 30-year career.

ESPN also published an apology for his statements.

“My words came across that it is somehow a woman’s fault, this was not my intent—it is not what I was trying to say,” Smith said in his apology. “Yet the failure to clearly articulate something different lies squarely on my shoulders.”

Smith goes on to admit his statement crossed the line, “sincerely apologizing” even though the apology “doesn’t do the matter its proper justice.”

Though his apology was a step in the right direction, it was not enough, said senior Kelly Scanlan, president of student organization V-Day.

“What is needed is him actually changing his views and realizing that he’s wrong,” Scanlan said. “Because I don’t know if he realized what he said was wrong or if he’s just trying to save his image.”

Jessica Schiffman, a retired women and gender studies professor from the university, said she thinks Smith is not actually anti-woman, but that he is grossly misinformed on the topic.

Amidst these ever-present intimate partner violence issues, Schiffman said within the past 20-30 years, societal sensitization to the issues as a whole has grown. However, it may take time before widespread attitude change takes hold.

“Social change isn’t immediate. it’s often very painful,” she said. “There’s still, I would say, a cultural reliance on the kind of ignorant response that Stephen was vocalizing, and we still have a lot of work to do.”

Both Carson and Schiffman stressed that although CPAB did not need to cancel the event, it is important for spectators to understand the situation that occurred in July and have the opportunity to discuss said comments during the question and answer portion of his talk.

For Students Acting for Gender Equity (SAGE) President Naomi Major, she would like to see Smith’s comments turn into an educational experience for the public.

“Because the people that are watching sports or paying attention to ESPN might not be very knowledgeable about sexual assault or domestic violence,” Major said. “I don’t want anyone in authority to keep perpetuating that ignorance.”

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