I understand. Stephen A. Smith is a necessary annoyance on the sporting landscape. He provides comic relief and “shock value” to a large number of fans who eat that kind of stuff up. It’s not my thing, but okay, late him and ESPN treat each of his opinions as if they had just been delivered from on high. It’s annoying, but it’s not hurting anyone.
But let’s not confuse it with this crap Smith continues to pull — and get away with — on First take when, without being asked, he starts talking about his female colleagues’ views on the air.
Smith, whose track record when it comes to issues surrounding women is more than spotless (see here and here as just two examples), recently crossed the line on Wednesday First take. As a conversation between Smith, Kimberly A. Martin, Chris “Mad Dog” Russoand Marcus Spears was headed to a commercial break, Smith inexplicably launched a public service announcement aimed at guys he knows who want to date Martin.
“To the guys out there, you can’t have her. You’re bums,” Smith said as he interrupted Martin. “You know your dogs. Stop texting me about trying to get with Kimberly Martin. It’s not happening!”
The uncomfortable look on Martin’s face, as she seems to be doing her best to go along with “Stephen being Stephen,” says it all. But to make matters worse – and it takes some work here – Russo sits back and lets Martin take the brunt of this mess, while Spears starts agreeing with Smith!
“I’m so glad you said that,” Spears told Smith. Martin then rightly and incredulously asks Spears: “Why are you happy?” To which Spears replied, “Because people ask me.”
All the while, the thrust of the exchange, though clearly uncomfortable for Martin, is framed as one of humor and kindness, and Martin is forced to do her best to “play along.” And that’s the crux of the problem here: That’s what women in these workplace situations have been – and still are – forced to do: Play along. It’s just boys being boys. They’re just giving you a compliment, honey.
Somehow, though, the misogyny here is even more coded and insidious. Why do Smith or Spears feel they have to be the gatekeeper of who Martin is or isn’t “with?” She is a grown woman who does not need their “protection”.
I think it should surprise no one that this is the environment promoted and tolerated by ESPN, although it is no less terrible. If this is the threshold of sexual harassment allowed on camera, imagine what the hell goes on in Bristol when the cameras are off. Actually, we don’t have to imagine. The problems on this front at ESPN is well documented.
Nor is this the first time Smith has been guilty of this unprofessional creepiness. A few weeks ago First takeMolly Querim took exception to the changed tone Smith used to address Martin when she agreed with one of his points.
“You know you can just say I agree with Stephen, there’s no crime in that,” Smith said in a bad sort of Barry White intonation.
Querim shot back, “Why do you have to say it in that tone though?”
Smith went on to joke about how his voice is always sexy, but the problem is, none of it is funny. JJ Redick is a cool guy who has appeared on First take often, yet we don’t see Smith or Spears randomly start talking on air about how hot he is and how so many of their friends want to “get to him.”
And guess what? If they did do that to Redick, it wouldn’t be acceptable either, but here’s the difference: The inherent power differential that exists, both physically and socially, when a woman is subjected to that kind of objectification wouldn’t come into play not. So, Redick can shrug it off or even take it as a compliment and then return to his life of a man and not a sex object. But for a woman it is almost impossible to do because men in our society are conditioned to view women as physical objects/possessions first, and as sentient beings second.
None of this is revelatory, but bears repeating over and over again, because so-called “developed” and “educated” men like Smith and Spears – and Russo, tacitly approving with his silence – continue to think that this kind of behavior is harmless and acceptable.
It is not. And for all the big talk of “being an ally” and “supporting women” that has come from recent movements like #MeToo, the fact that this behavior is viewed by most men with a shrug or as “Stephen A. is a clown and not worth the attention” is equally unacceptable. And that attitude is a big reason why women in sports media – and society in general – still have to deal with their bodies being superior to their brains.
Hey, guys, it’s 2023. Can we please pick our knuckles off the ground and start acting like it?