An Open Letter to Stephen A. Smith  

First Take

Dear Mr. Smith,

I have spent the past few days entrenched in the media coverage of the 2 game suspension of Ray Rice. I am a sports fan, and I am a survivor of dating abuse. I am outraged to hear your comments on First Take, to read about your subsequent tweets, and to see that you read a scripted apology rather than address your problematic thinking from the heart.

Here, I am making no suppositions about your employer, ESPN. I am not making presumptions about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision-making process in coming to a 2 game suspension. I have no personal attacks to offer you.

I only want to share with you what I understand to be true. I only want to ask you some questions.

Once, I was knocked unconscious by my boyfriend.

I woke up bruised, cut, and scarred from being physically assaulted by someone whom I loved, someone who had told me he loved me.

Over and over again, I went through the details of that evening that made me question myself. I went through hypothetical after hypothetical in which some small action I performed could have prevented the scars that developed on my back where he kicked me into the wall. I wondered if there was something I had said that would have prevented the small bone on the top of my forehead from jutting out, where he banged my head into the wall. I wondered if there was a point where I could have run away. I wondered why I didn’t see it coming.

Eventually, however, I learned how to stop torturing myself with these hypotheticals because I began to understand that if I truly believed that violence was wrong, then I had to accept that the person who had abused me was the one who was wrong.

When you say there is no excuse to hit a woman, that violence is wrong, I hope you’ll see how hypocritical it seems to suggest that women should be held accountable for the “provocation” of violence against them. If there is no excuse for violence against women, Mr. Smith, I hope you’ll recognize the accountability should rest on the person that chooses to be violent. Preventing violence should never be a questioning of victims, it should be a questioning of perpetrators.

I believe that Ray Rice’s use of violence had much more to do with his understanding that there would not be punishment. I believe that a 2 game suspension, relative to other suspensions Commissioner Goodell has recently handed out, suggests to Mr. Rice and other NFL players that domestic violence is not as severe a crime as smoking marijuana or taking a fertility drug. I believe Mr. Rice would have been less likely to be violent if he lived in world that did not tolerate violence against women. I believe Mr. Rice would have been less likely to perpetrate domestic violence if he was not given the opportunity to offer an excuse that he was provoked.

Given this understanding, please answer me the following questions:

If someone steals your car, Mr. Smith, would you ask yourself why you bought a nice car? Would you ask yourself if you had chosen the right color for your car to make sure no one would want to steal it?

If someone uses racial epithets to disparage you, do you question what you did to provoke their use of the slur against you? Do you believe you can prevent racism by wondering how you provoked a racist?

I want you to understand, Mr. Smith, that when you suggest it is justifiable for you to use violence against someone who physically harms the women whom you love, you are arguing there is justification for violence. When you suggest that young men can be provoked into using violence against women, you yourself are condoning violence.

I would like you to know that I once asked myself what I had done wrong. The most difficult challenge I have ever faced was teaching myself that being physically and emotionally abused by someone I loved was not my fault. It has been and will remain the most difficult hurdle I have had to or ever will overcome. I could only come to that understanding when I truly accepted that violence and abuse are never justified. I hope someday, you’ll recognize that, too.

Jean Sung