What if Stephen A. Smith Wasn’t Completely Wrong?

I had a temper problem as a child. To some extent, I have a temper problem as an adult. I’ve never as an adult hit anyone, man or woman, adult or child, but I’m aware that I am vulnerable to someone “pushing my buttons” and getting me to react emotionally, not rationally.

It’s axiomatic in sports that in a fight, the person who responds is far more likely to be punished than an instigator who provokes a response. Some team in sports purposefully employ such instigators to get in the mind of an opponent or even just to send a poor free throw shooter to the line. “He started it,” is never a good defense, but it doesn’t mean it’s never the truth.

When Stephen A. Smith on ESPN spoke of women provoking domestic violence, I wonder if he had some history with deliberate provocation in mind, either consciously or subconsciously?

I’m not talking about innocuous behavior that an aggressor overreacted to; I’m referring to deliberate attempts to make someone lose their temper. This isn’t a woman wearing a sexy dress and some stranger taking it as an invitation to violence or violation; this is a person picking on an intimate, trying to get them to yell or worse. It’s probably impossible to recognize in any single case; it’s best understood as part of a long pattern of behavior, if ever. .

This, by the way, is one of the reasons I’m not a parent. I have too many memories of classmates entertaining themselves by provoking me and watching my futile, angry reactions. I expect kids to push limits with parents and others; I just don’t expect it to end well when someone tries that crap with me, because it’s too closely tied with hostility and humiliation years ago, ingrained in my psyche. So, I avoid the situation, for that reason as well as for other reasons.

Cries of “Don’t blame the victim,” are like slogans that, “the customer is always right.” They might be nice to hear, but they’re not always appropriate. Sometimes the victim really was a provocateur, and sometimes the customer is an entitlement-minded jerk who isn’t worth the effort, and in neither case are they likely to recognize that about themselves.

I’m not saying that professional athletes or other celebrities who are domestic abusers are themselves victims or shouldn’t have to account for their activities. I think Ray Rice’s punishment for the domestic abuse he committed is laughable, especially when compared to drug abuse suspensions that are twice as long or more. But maybe, just maybe, in some cases of temper or assault, there’s more to the picture than is front-and-center in our perception.


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