Stephen A. Smith, ESPN’s controversial host of “First Take,” made a joke on air suggesting female soccer players at the Women’s World Cup didn’t try to block a free kick because they didn’t want to mess up their hair.
The comment was made on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” live from Cleveland following Game 4 of the NBA Finals during the “Top 10” plays segment.
One of the top plays was a brilliant free kick by Norway against Germany in the Womens World Cup. Rather than praising the goal, NBA analyst Tim Legler pointed out that the German players forming the wall turned their heads and that was why the goal scored. Smith then joked that the players “might not had wanted to mess their hair,” and then repeated himself for good measure.
At best, this is an awful joke about female athletes that undermines the biggest all-female sporting event in the world on the country’s biggest sports network. At worst, it is a sexist comment that suggests female athletes are not as dedicated to their sport as men.
It’s difficult to give Smith the benefit of the doubt given his history.
Smith was previously taken off the air by ESPN for a week (a de facto suspension) for comments he made about Ray Rice’s domestic abuse case. In that situation, Smith suggested that some women provoke domestic assaults.
“Let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong action,” Smith said on air when discussing how he talks about domestic violence with women he knows. “We got to also make sure that you can do your part to do whatever you can do to make, to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Smith later apologised, calling the incident “the most egregious error” of his career.
We have reached out to ESPN and Smith for comment, and will update this post when they respond.
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