When it comes to the consistency of their company policy on insensitive language, ESPN has a chink in it's armor.
Only months ago the network famously discharged a web-headline writer for a purely accidental gaff. In describing the woes of the New York Knicks and their young Asian point guard, Jeremy Lin, the young scribe simply used the wrong word . ESPN made it very clear at the time that, intentional or not, the carelessness the employee displayed was unacceptable and that their standards were far too high to allow such things to go unpunished.
The headline in that instance was seen only on the web and was removed from ESPNs site very quickly. The controversial headline was mostly seen on sports blogs and mostly after the fact.
Stephen A Smith's utterance of the word "nigger" on yesterday's live episode of First Take, however, was broadcast, live, across America on ESPN2.
He said it. The network can try to deny it - Smith can, too, but I saw that clip and so did millions of other people. Stephen A Smith said "nigger, please" when asked if he though Kobe Bryant would sit out the Lakers' season opener.
Personally, I couldn't care less. That kind of language doesn't bother me. Anyone who has listened to any of the 123 episodes of the South Stands Denver Fancast for even a few minutes knows that. Cultural sensitivity and political correctness mean very little to me. If anything I believe that our entire society is pussified beyond belief. People have undeniable cultural differences. We can choose to shun those differences or we can choose to embrace them. Part of embracing them is having a sense of humor when it comes to race.
But that's not ESPN's stance. Is it? Oh, hell no. ESPN made it clear when they canned that kid for the headline frap that they were not going to stand for insensitive language. Period. End of story.
Smith has gotten a pass because he's black. There, I said it.
If Stephen A's on-air partner, Skip Bayless, had been the one to utter the phrase "nigger, please" he would be suspended - if not terminated - immediately.
ESPN certainly would not have gone to the trouble to go back and edit the piece for re-broadcast later in the day (as they did on Smith's behalf). They would not have allowed Bayless the airwaves to make denials, either. But they let Stephen A do it.
Given a pulpit later in the day, Smith claimed that, as a New Yorker, he sometimes speaks "very, very fastly" and that viewers misunderstood him.
I have never watched First Take. I tuned in for a few minutes ONCE when the show was being shot in Denver last year during the Tebow craziness. I couldn't handle it. The show is the absolute worst thing on television as far as I am concerned. It sucks. Bayless and Smith are tasked with taking sports talk down to it's lowest possible form - shouting at each other, fabricating disagreements and taking hard stances on issues neither of them even care about. There's no discourse - nothing to be learned or gained from it. It's a cartoon show for grown-ups.
It's popular, though. In fact, First Take is the highest rated program on ESPN2. So the company doesn't want to put the show in harms way. By dealing with Stephen A Smith the way they would any other personality they would jeopardize the golden goose. Besides, it's not like a white guy said it.
ESPNs failure to take action against Smith demonstrates a dangerous double standard. It says that Stephen A, and other African-Americans, will be held to a different standard. That's more racist than anything.