ESPN's Michael Smith Tour de France Crash Comments Spark Debate | Robert Littal Presents BlackSportsOnline

Do Twitter and Freedom of Speech go Hand in Hand?

by | Posted on Thursday, July 14th, 2011
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Michael Smith, ESPN senior writer, has found himself in a little hot water after his comments regarding the Tour de France crash on Around the Horn, the half hour sports roundtable, that aired on Tuesday.

In the ninth stage of the Tour de France, Dutch cyclist Johnny Hoogerland, was clipped by a France Televison car that was attempting to avoid a tree. Hoogerland then tumbled into a barbed wire fence resulting in injuries that required 33 stitches. Flecha from Spain also incurred injuries including gashes and whiplash. During Around the Horn Michael Smith found and expressed his humor about the crash and followed up by discussing the comments on Twitter.


Smith tweeted:

For real, am I wrong for laughing at that Tour de France crash? Can’t get over the driver speeding off as if he didn’t know he hit someone!

I’m sorry that crash is hilarious. Every. Time.

There were a series of follow up tweets that eventually ended in an apology from Michael Smith that seemed a bit scripted but it was an apology nonetheless. Unfortunately, the apology wasn’t enough to appease the vocal cycling community. Today, the offended have started a petition and are calling for ESPN to take action against Smith and what seemed like a lack of contriteness following his appearance on Around the Horn and subsequent tweets.

Let’s get down to what’s important. First and most importantly, it’s Twitter. It’s not Psychology Today, The Intellectual Activist or The New York Times. It’s Twitter. I’m quite over celebrities and athletes being crucified for having an opinion and expressing it. I’m over the masses feeling entitled enough to disrespect celebrities, athletes and those in the public eye simply because they now have access to them via Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Tout, Google+, etc. I’ve watched (read) the famous get verbally attacked, cursed and their families disrespected simply because the fans don’t like the way a game was played or because they disagreed with a sports comment. Yet when those same fans are offended they want action. (Insert angry faces and fist pounding). We’re in an age of hypersensitivity. Every statement isn’t a personal attack against YOU. Every tweet isn’t meant to offend your sensitive nature. Get. Over. Yourself.

Secondly, while ESPN is a sports network, their on-air personalities are just that…personalities. ESPN stands for ENTERTAINMENT Sports Programming Network. Their analysts, anchors and writers are experienced journalists but their job is to entertain. What we witnessed from Michael Smith on Around the Horn and was no different than the entertaining appearances that we’ve seen from him in the past. Smith’s tweets were no different than what we typically see from him and more than 95,000 people enjoy them. He’s frequently irreverent, naturally clever, humorously forward, refreshingly honest and always brilliant. He knows sports, he knows how to connect with his audience and until this very moment, has been incredibly popular. Yes, I’m a fan and enjoy Michael Smith’s work. I’m also smart enough to understand that it’s only entertainment and that he’ll occasionally offend. It’s not personal.

So, how did I feel about the Tour de France crash? I’ll throw myself on the sword and say, in the moment, while watching Around the Horn, I saw the humor in it. That’s not to say that I don’t understand the backlash. Hoogerland’s injuries are nothing to laugh at, BUT in an 5 second clip, in the YouTube age that glorifies the Jackass crowd, I saw the humor. Maybe that makes me a jerk. Maybe it makes me less sensitive than the masses. Maybe it simply makes me human and less inclined to raise a stink over a few comments.

I find this situation to be a glowing example of overreaction. I truly don’t believe that Michael Smith meant any harm, he has apologized and was doing his job, a job that he excels at. Let’s move on people.

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  1. Steve says:

    Did you laugh when the world trade centers got in the way of 2 planes? by your neanderthalic knuckle dragger response acquitting a “famous person”(hopefully not for long since hes famous for…talking? wow.) laughing at a hardened athlete who is trying to earn his living by how well he performs. ANY crash can mean he’s out of work permanently if severe enough. and he also works more on his “off” days than anyone i know, or the author knows. REALLY? to be knocked out of an event with such repercussions as the TdF is NO laughing matter. Would you laugh if your significant other was hit by a car? and afterward thrown into barbed wire? I hope not. you should be disgusted that you dismissed this as nothing. I hope the driver is charged with attempted manslaughter with a deadly weapon. I hope the people who hired the “entertainer” realize that serious bodily injury is no joke, and fire his sorry ass. I hope the author of this gets on a bike once and tries to ride 100 miles in one ride. my guess is the writer is a slob who considers typing an aerobic activity. either way, finding enjoyment in others’ pain has two career possibilities. Guantanamo bay, or serial killer. quit typing. and to the anchor, QFT. STFU. quit. And dont raise offspring as twisted as you are.

    • JayP says:

      A bike crash and 9-11 don’t compare at all… I agree that the driver should have to face legal action, I don’t think they were trying to hurt anyone on purpose but it was reckless none the less…but the rest of your comment comes from the depths of your moistarity…The authors picture is posted, do you really think she’s a slob? Have you took a 100 mile bike ride? Guantanamo bay, or serial killer? Wow… And ESPN isn’t going to fire a popular member of their staff for ONE mistake that he apologized for…QFT. STFU. quit.

    • You comparing 9/11/01 and the TdF crash does not allow me to take you seriously. When those that jumped from the towers put their shoes back on and walk away, we can discuss.

      • Charles says:

        While this persons response is obviously ridiculous I feel that its ok to be offended by Michael Smith’s comments. I will not compare cyclists to athletes in any other sport, but I will say this: ESPN’s coverage of cycling is insufficient to the point that the only time I can find coverage is when a horrible crash happens. If ESPN gives cycling the sort of coverage that Bob Saget used to give to home videos. In the clip Michael Smith talks about the Tour being a joke because of steroids and EPO’s as if these elements are completely absent from all other athletic endeavors. The clip is ridiculous, ESPN’s cycling coverage is ridiculous, and Michael Smith is ridiculous. Hoogerland is a bad ass.

        Have fun writing fluff for the BET of internet sports coverage.

        • A2R says:

          Charles, I find it interesting how you in one keystroke complain of the lack of coverage for cycling. Then take a jab(or what you preceive as) at writing for the BET of the internet sports coverage. Is the “BET” audience any less deserving of service? Surely you jest? IF you feel you are a demographic that is ignored, use your voice and money to push your interest. SO should I follow your thought pattern, this is what I come up with: The “BET” of the internet and ESPN is a better demographic, and your beloved cycling is just a clip used for fodder….YOU ARE what you COMPLAINed about. Should I mention that you are here on the “BET” spot leaving your OPINION, and not on the cycling website!

  2. Lown says:

    shut up steve. by the way your wife says hi

  3. BillG says:

    >Maybe that makes me a jerk.Maybe it makes me less sensitive than the masses.<

    It definitely does at that.

    Your comments expose an ignorance or lack of caring about the nature of being hit by a 2 ton automobile traveling at 30 mph. It also shows a callous disregard for the very serious nature of the injuries and just how close this came to being a fatal accident.

    In fact your blog on this subject may very well expose a lack of inquisitiveness into what caused that 'accident'. If you had bothered to inquire just a smidgen further or actually try and understand what you were listening to on the TdF feed you would have known that the car (and those following it) had been told by race officials NOT to pass the break away group as the roads were TOO NARROW. They choose to do so anyway, and that sir, is the crux of the outrage in the cycling community. The driver of that car made a decision that they were more important than the cyclists in front of them. They were ignorant of the very real consequences of their actions and choose to go full speed ahead anyway. In most jurisdictions that type of attitude, when it results in an injury, can be a criminal matter.

    Cyclists are tired of the type of motorists who are ignorant of the fact they're piloting lethal weapons and think they're more important than a cyclist who is sharing the road with them. That's what the outrage is about and there's nothing funny about the carnage that results from ignorance, bad judgement and occasionally outright malice.

    • What I did was understand the context of this particular situation. A 5 second feed on a program that is meant to give quick sound bytes on daily sports happenings. Could I have applied the research and include the tragedies of cycling? Yes. Would it have applied to this? No. At no point did anyone disregard the dangers of the sport or dismiss the challenges that cyclists face.

      Your anger SHOULD be directed toward the driver, the TdF and not a writer/analyst doing what he was supposed to do in that particular format.

      The ignorance lies in the fact that many have taken this as a personal attack on cyclists and it’s hardly that.

      • BillG says:

        I understand your point, but respectfully disagree. You choose (and you’re free to do so as it IS your blog after all) to address this as primarily a Freedom of Speech Issue. I’m not arguing that Mr. Smith doesn’t have the right to say stupid lame things. He’s free to do so and he did. His series of tweets and the comments made on ESPN’s Around the Horn show he’s quite capable of being ignorant and heartless. 5 second feeds with serious injuries aren’t matters of derision nor humor and people need to accept the consequences of their statements on a public forum. No one expected Mr Smith to comment on the carnage (literally) that occurs on American roads every year in auto-bicycle accidents. What we have every right to expect is that a 5 second feeds such as this are not treated a s a comedy segment. If he’d simply commented “Can you believe that driver just kept on going?” he’d not be absent from Twitter today and not facing such a storm of controversy.

        There was nothing funny about the accident. And am I angry about the driver? of course. But I’m also angry the Mr. Smith thinks this is funny. He’d be howling in outrage if another ESPN commentator made the same comments about an illegal chop block in football that resulted in a broken leg. The best he deserves is some unpaid time off.

        • BillG says:

          For the record, the last year there were statistics, 2009, the number was 760 fatalities in such interactions.

          • I’m not a cycling fan so thank you for the stats. That’s a horrible stat and I truly understand (better since my conversation this afternoon) the harm that cyclists face.

  4. Aart says:

    This again shows the disrespect a lot of US citizens have for other sports than American Football or Baseball. Quarterbacks are sissies compared to soccer players or cyclists. American Football players are protected all over their bodies. If they would be real American heroes (99% of Americans are heroes if you watch the news….) they would refuse to wear these pads. Hoogerland is a real hero. 33 stitches and still cycling over 120 miles every day. -By the way, this morning I heard the democrats and republicans have an argument whether the cutbacks should be 2.000 billion US dollars or 4.000 billion US dollars…. The rest of the world just laughs at you!! Stop being so arrogant.

    • So does your comment judging every American stereotype make you less arrogant? Think before you comment.

      • Aart says:

        I know it’s hard to read but I didn’t write “every American” but “a lot of US citizens”.
        I visited the US 10 times, 9 months altogether and my best friends live in the US.
        I have heard the story so many times that soccer isn’t a real sport etc… etc….
        You should come visit Europe or other parts of the world for a couple of months and collect some opinions about the U.S.
        Most Americans I spoke never even left the country and probably if they have to point out France on a map they will point out China.

  5. Eric says:

    Ya know the funny thing, If Michael Smith was hit like that in a football game and injured the way Johnny Hoogerland was, he’d have laid on the field til the brought a golf cart out to take him to the hospital. Hoogerland got back on his bike and finished the damn stage…and is still in the tour today. Not one acknowledgement of that by Smith or any of his ESPN pals. Okay, so he finds the accident funny but c’mon, acknowledge what it took for the athlete to keep going. I can’t see any football, baseball or basketball playing doing that.

  6. TG says:

    What I’d like to ask Michael Smith (and this blogger) is if they find humor in a baseball player getting hit by a pitch? A quarterback getting leveled by a sack and taken off the field on a stretcher? A racecar crashing and bursting into flames? There is a line between humorous mishaps and frightening mayhem. Michael Smith doesn’t seem to know where it is.

  7. Sam says:

    that crash was indeed no joke, crashing is a very serious thing in cycling, I suppose you have to be a cyclist to understand how unfunny something like that is. All it takes is some driver not paying attention for a split second and your dead or you’ll never ride again. The “jackass crowd” gets paid to look like idiots, this was a professional athlete that has been preparing his whole life to ride in a race like the TDF and came close to being killed. Americans see cycling as a joke and I really don’t mind because as an american I can look down on everyone who has no idea how great the sport really is. I don’t mind football, baseball, hockey, that are so big in america, but to be honest its like comparing fast food to filet mignon. like eric said if some football player got hit hard like that in a game, everyone would be taking a knee and concerned, not saying how funny they thought it was.

    • Sam, I can absolutely understand the dangers of cycling. What I struggle with are the what ifs that are being applied. We can agree that had anyone been killed, this would not have been a joke by any means.

      Yes, the Jackass crowd gets paid to look incredibly stupid. My reference was more about the Jackass audience that enjoys watching people being being tazed, falling off their skateboards and yes, getting clipped in the TdF. Is it right? No. Is it the norm? Yes.

      What I also struggle with in what I’ve seen so far is the minimizing of other athletes. Do you think that a football player sits on the sofa until football season? Do you believe that their jobs aren’t physically demanding. There is a level of elitism about this entire scenario that is problematic for me.

      Again, from what I observed, it was never the intent of Michael Smith or ESPN to make light of the injuries that Hoogerland incurred or the dangers of cycling. That is what’s being lost in translation, in my opinion.

  8. Ann says:

    First of all, “Freedom of Speech” refers to government regulation of speech. Obviously, the government is not involved here. Private entities can hold individuals accountable for things they say that reflect poorly upon the company. Happens all the time in the media, where a news anchor gets canned for an outrageous comment. Secondly, you have your facts wrong. The car clipped Flecha, who then careened into Hoogerland and sent him flying into the barbed wire fence. I assume you fancy yourself to be a “journalist,” so that fact could have easily been discovered.

    Sports reporters should be aware that most cycling fans are also themselves cyclists and therefore have been hit or have been close to being hit or know someone who was hit by a car. My personal experience: I have been buzzed by cars several times; also, our family doctor’s son was hit by a car while he was cycling and died. So yes, maybe we are a little sensitive on this issue. However, you don’t have to be a cyclist or a cycling fan to realize that there is absolutely no humor whatsoever in the video footage of the TdF crash that caused severe injuries to Hoogerland and affected the outcome of the race (a stage win is a very big deal in cycling, in case you are unaware, which I will presume your ignorance is glaring). Do you laugh when a football player lands on his head and becomes paralyzed, or when a batter gets hit in the head by a ball and gets knocked unconscious? If you do, then I can see where you would find the crash footage amusing. And if you do, then there’s something seriously wrong with you. It makes you inhumane.

    • I could be crass and say that I don’t care how the crash happened and who was hit in what succession. And since you utilized your Google abilities, maybe you fancy yourself a “researcher”. Let me help you. That wasn’t the point nor was it to debate the specifics of “Freedom of Speech”. The point that seems to be completely lost on everyone that has taken this as a personal attack on their character is 1. The context and 2. the intent.

      You’ve almost been hit by a car. Ok. So have I. I have a relative that has been leveled by a schoolbus. I did not assume that Michael Smith was taking a personal shot at her. Call me crazy.

      Thus far, I’ve seen this crash, were everyone has lauded Hoogerland for getting up and continuing, compared to 9/11/01 and an athlete never being able to walk again. if you cannot see the difference here, then this dialogue just moved from the ridiculous to the sublime.

      • Ann says:

        I watch every stage of the tour and saw the crash as it happened on live TV, so I didn’t have to Google the details of the crash, although maybe you should have. I also saw the end of the race when Hoogerland came through the finish line and his father was in tears. And since I do have my law degree and have a couple of published papers in a Law Review, then I do fancy myself to be a researcher and thus I also know a thing or two about the nuances of freedom of speech. And it simply doesn’t matter that Hoogerland was able to continue riding. The fact is, the footage, as it is happening, is not funny! It is horrific. If your relative being leveled by a schoolbus had been caught on video, I would find that equally horrific, even if your relative had been able to walk away. I do not compare what happened to 9/11 (agree that is an outrageous comparison). Why compare it to anything at all? Standing on its on, it is no laughing matter.

        • I’m not a cyclist nor do I watch the TdF. I didn’t even know who Hoogerland was until the firestorm came about in the cycling community. Doesn’t change anything. Congrats on your published work, degrees, etc. That doesn’t change anything either.

          Hoogerland continuing certainly does matter if it’s pointed out in every comment. It also matters because I seriously doubt that a network such as ESPN would air the clip otherwise.

          Do you know what Smith’s comments were on Around the Horn? He was incredulous because he couldn’t believe that the driver of the car continued on as if nothing happened (clearly not knowing the rules/guidelines during TdF) That was his point. He did get defensive via Twitter at a later date but most people do when they feel attacked. Not an excuse. Simply a fact.

          Again I say, I still do not feel as if there was bad intent.

          • Ann says:

            Actually, I DID watch that episode of ATH (I am a sports fan generally and usually have ESPN on in the background); Michael Smith was laughing harder than Plaschke, Paige, and Cowlishaw. I would not say that he was incredulous. Smith called the TdF itself a “joke”, Plaschke called it a “cartoon”; it’s obvious from all their comments that they do not respect cycling as a legitimate sport. And that’s fine. I get it. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. And the fact that the car did not stop may have been why Smith found it funny; but why is that funny? Please articulate the reason why it’s funny and maybe I can laugh with you and Smith.

            The fact that Smith was forced to tweet a formal apology and the fact that his original tweets about how hilarious the footage is have been deleted tells me that at least some executives at ESPN agree with me. It’s also remarkable that he has not tweeted anything at all in the last couple of days. I do not think he should be fired or even suspended as most of my fellow cyclists are demanding, but a more sincere apology, perhaps on air, would be appreciated. So even if he had no malicious intent in his original reaction to the crash, his inability to see the offensive nature of his remarks points to his arrogance. I follow Smith on Twitter and saw the entire thing play out. I even had an exchange with him via Twitter where I expressed my objections. So I have a full grasp of the situation, I’m highly educated, and I feel very close to this issue. Don’t patronize me by congratulating me on my degrees, etc.; I’m only letting you know that I am fully capable of an intelligent and well-informed conversation even if most are not.

          • You pointed out achievements that, I assume, were meant to lend to the argument (much like your most recent statement) that you are an authority on the topic therefore I felt compelled to address. Much like your statement that you are highly educated……which still means nothing as this is a matter of opinion. In the past 2 days, I’ve come across just as many people that found the clip funny as those that found it horrific.

            You don’t find it absolutely ridiculous that the car didn’t stop? Put yourself in the shoes of the casual observer/non Tdf fan.
            As a sports fan and ATH watcher, you should understand the format of ATH. Was the response any more out of line than some of the other things that you’ve seen on there? And would you be as invested if it were, say, a basketball player?

            Unlike you, I don’t follow Smith on Twitter. My pretend journalism does cause me to delve into the Twitter accounts of those in the sports world resulting in this particular conversation. As a Smith follower, I would ask if you feel as if his response were out of character for him. From what I’ve seen, he’s frequently irreverent.

            Yes, the apology seemed forced. What, if anything, would have appeased the cycling community? I had a very good Twitter convo with a member of the community and I wonder if his resolution would be good enough for the offended.

            I continue to stress the point that I do not feel that Smith was making fun of or light of Hoogerland’s injuries or intended to be offensive.

          • BillG says:

            There was no place for the car to stop immediately following the accident. That was also why the driver of that media car was told not to pass the break away group because the road was too narrow. After the accident the car had to keep moving until it was safe to do and then pulled over. I don’t find that ridiculous, I find people who think the accident and the cars behavior funny to be a sorrowful lot.

            So once again Mr. Smith didn’t bother to look beyond a 5 second news feed. I think if he ever does commentary on 5 second news feeds again he needs to put up a disclaimer first stating he hasn’t bothered to look into anything about this at all and is just shooting his mouth off.

  9. Oscar says:

    Your defense is that it was a 5 second clip?!? How does the length of the clip decide if it is funny. Anyone, including by 8 year old son, knew IMMEDIATELY the serious of what happened. It really show you disconnect from reality and complete lack of empathy. The fact you find it funny begs me ask what you would think if you hit a cyclist? Since you would only see them for 5 or so seconds going down as you look in the rear view mirror, would that classify as funny? Sorry, but as a cyclist I cannot separate the two events. It was during a sporting event, but your attitude and Michael Smith’s attitude shows an alarming attitude toward cyclists in general.

    • OH. EM. GEE. Yes, I would try to YouTube me mowing down a cyclist. Matter a fact, I’m going to make sure that I add it to my calendar tomorrow. Preferably someone under the age of 10 to add to the comedic value. Are you even listening to yourself?

      Why is there no outrage when the panelists on Around the Horn joke about an athlete in another sport under similar circumstances? Because you’ve taken this personally which does not allow you to have ANY objectivity. You didn’t even have to state that you were a cyclist. This isn’t about YOU or any cyclist in general. It was a shortened clip that the panelists commented on. I had to google the outcome to gain an understanding of what Hoogerland’s injuries were. The point is the format and context of the show.

      I think that I’m done responding. First the September 11th comparison and now this…..

      • Oscar says:

        The point is there is nothing funny about a anyone being hit by a car at speeds excess of 30 mph. Mr Michael Smith’s inability to see how serious it was and the injuries involved shows not only immaturity but lack of empathy.

        • You’re certainly entitled to your opinions and point of view. As is he. As am I.

        • There has been some very insightful dialogue here. There’s also been some absolutely ridiculous statements made which I will ignore.

          Good to hear the points of view of cyclists. In all seriousness, ESPN (as far as I know) is a reputable company that would never intentionally anger any sporting community. Michael Smith (to my knowledge) is a respected, respectful journalist that very likely meant no harm with his comments.

          Good talking to you all.

          • Oscar says:

            I think to make your point you have misread some comments. Granted the crash should never be compared 9/11. I however was not saying that it was like hitting a child. I was pointing out that a child could easily and quickly see the serious nature of the accident. Also, please understand what I am about to say, and don’t jump to conclusions. I only use it as example, I am in no way saying they are equal or the same. But you say as a cyclist I cannot be objective about comments made against cyclists. Does that mean members of other groups cannot decide when a slur is being stated against them? Maybe being outside the group you don’t understand what a cyclist goes through on a regular basis. I am a competitive cyclist. I have to train on roads that are open to traffic. This touches home in ways I think you can’t imagine. I have had friends killed by cars. The bigger point of cyclists is how Mr. Smith continued to throw it in there face. Free speech? Sure. But he was tweeting under his personality account. ESPN should take responsibility for that. Of course things if I say something at home in private I would not expect the same response as if I was saying something on clock, representing my employer.

          • I see your points. To answer your question, I don’t think that athletes within their sport can be objective about their sport. It’s somewhat natural.

            I have a VERY close friend that’s a competitive cyclist and I plan to talk to him about this to gain a better understanding.

            My line of work absolutely requires me to agree with how you represent yourself and your employer. What I would ask is if you feel that this was unusual for Around the Horn, ESPN or Smith.

          • john larscheid says:

            what makes Mr. Smith’s actions, and your defense of his actions so reprehensible is that this conversation did not take place around a bar over a few beers. This happened over national cable show, a worldwide twitter account and now numerous blogs that have a public following. There are two threats that are rapidly increasing for today’s cyclists: inattentive driving caused by people texting and hostile drivers who are emboldened by hearing “hate” speech and feeling they have a right to force cyclists off the road. Both of these behaviors are life threatening to cyclists, life changeing to the driver and carry no humor what so ever.

          • If you feel like ATH was a hate speech that encouraged drivers to mow down cyclists there isn’t much more that I can say to you. Thanks.

          • BillG says:

            Johnette, I live in Hawaii on Hawaii island. Around here I am the ONLY cyclist who has never been hit by a car (yet). On an island with an entire population of slightly more than 100,000 I can no longer count the number of times bicyclist in bike lanes and stopped at stop signs have been hit. Then we see a race with a serious injury and people make fun of the accident? We have permanent roadside memorials to those killed out here. We have triathlons for a few of them. Real cyclists (and I don’t qualify there, I’m a triathlete) are very sensitive to this and rightfully so. The deaths and injuries are far more numerous than football, baseball or soccer.

            And for the record ESPN has a track record when dealing with comments by commentators about cycling and it’s not a good track record. Google/Bing will show you just what I’m talking about.

            That’s my last comment. Nothing more will be served by continuing this here. I still think he should be on unpaid leave for awhile.

            Aloha.

            Aloha

  10. MC says:

    This situation is not about freedom of speech… it’s purely about a idiotic sports commentator having no common sense or respect for other professional sports. Recent deaths in cylcing make this a very emotional issue.

    Michael Smith is supposed to be a pro. He not only displayed incredibly bad judgement, he carried on doing so after! How stupid can one be?! Johnette, you too have shown to not understand the gravity of such insensitivity.

    When Kevin Everett got injured did he laugh? Imagine you found out that an English sports commentator laughed when he saw the tackle? Maybe he did laugh but I’m sure would’ve never tweeted about it.

    This is the sheer ignorance and arrogance by someone who should know better. It’s a real shame Michael Smith is playing into the stereotype mentioned previously. Of course this stereotype is not true but boy did he set this argument back!!

    ESPN is an international organisation, who have a presence in Europe. As a media company, they have a duty to uphold certain moral standards. Michael Smith has shown the worse of it’s kind. And anyone who fails to see this shows their ignorance as well.

    • MC, very valid points. Do you truly believe that there was intent to minimize cycling tragedies?

      • MC says:

        I will state that I don’t believe Michael Smith is a person who wishes death on another human being. Also, I’m not sure what his intent was (and I’m sure his big ego made him very defensive by the backlash) But he DID belittle cycling tragedies by carrying on tweeting insensitive another 3 times!! IMHO intent was there, but he wasn’t bright enough to understand the consequences.

        So I grant you. This is a stupid man. So maybe we should feel sorry for him… That aside, Michael Smith represents ESPN. Most of his twitter followers are based on his work at this media company. Therefore I believe ESPN have a right, and a duty, to punish such behaviour from their employee…. who, I repeat, is supposed to be a professional sports journalist.

        • MC, well stated and I agree with most of what you’re saying. If there is a problem with the entire scenario, it could be the tweets post the show.

          The other part of my article is the one way street that social media seems to provide. I’m checked Michael Smith’s timelime and there were some very inappropriate, inflammatory, personal attacks made on Michael’s character, his children were being attacked and people were wishing him and his family bodily harm based on the comments made on Around the Horn, not the tweets. And if I’m not mistaken, Michael was relatively calm in the initial responses. I don’t know if that justifies what can be seen as an escalation but I certainly understand how it got to that point. I don’t believe that punishment is appropriate largely because this wouldn’t be an issue if it were a defensive lineman, 3rd baseman or point guard. An apology may be in order and one was made. Maybe an apology in a different forum. That I can understand.

          At this point, it’s become a bit of a tangled web for me. I reached out to one of my very best friends who is a competitive cyclist for insight and I’m going to attempt to put it to paper. Thanks for your insight. Much appreciated.

          • MC says:

            I have to say, it says a lot about you in terms of the responses you give. With the hacking scandals in the UK by many journalists leaving bitter tastes in the mouths of the public, you show immense humility and intent to understand so I applaud you. Apologies if that may sounded patronising as I mean only respect!

            Any response to Michael Smith’s tweets which makes personal attacks on his family etc is just stupid on stupid… ie hypocrisy.

            On the point of punishment, I will agree to disagree. I don’t mean firing. He needs to learn a lesson… both as a professional journalist and as a human being!

            I very much look forward to your conclusion after your talk with your cyclist friend.

          • Not patronizing at all. :-) I hope to have my follow up on paper this weekend. Thanks once again for the dialogue.

  11. stefaan says:

    Hey,

    This clip isn’t much different from some of the clips you see on America’s funniest home movies.
    The difference is that this accident happened to somebody who has cycling as profession and not to somebody who is dumb enough to do something stupid on his own.

    I can understand that somebody who doesnt know anything about cycling found it amusing, especially because is only a 5 seconds clip and you don’t see what happened after the accident.

    People who watch the whole Tour de France know that cycling for 7 hours each day isn’t easy. Every sportsperson will have to sacrifice some things to gain the top and stay there, my personal opinion is that cyclist have to give up a lot compared to football or baseball players.

    What i haven’t read in several blogs is the fact that in the big race before the Tour de France, (the Giro = Tour of Italy) a Belgian cyclist got killed while descending a hill in one of the stages. With that in mind I understand why cyclist doesn’t understand the ‘funny’ comment of Smith.

    I wish i was more fluent in English to express better what i mean ;)

    Greetings from Belgium (where cycling is the nr 2 sport)

    • Thank you for your perspective! Incredibly insightful and makes 100% sense. (Your English is perfection, by the way!) You have absolutely seen both sides that I attempted (badly, maybe) to address.

      There has not been much written about the Belgian cyclist that was killed and that is unfortunate. I do think that there should be light shed on the difficulties and tragedies of the sport and am considering doing so myself. I plan to speak with one of my best friends who is a competitive cyclist about this.

      Thank you once again!

      • MC says:

        If I may add here, the tragedy of the Belgian cyclist (Wouter Weylandt) was foremost in the minds of every cyclist and cycling fan in the world, as TdF is the biggest event in their calendar…. and the horrible event only happened a few weeks ago in May. He leaves a wife 6 months pregnant.

        The emotions of Johnny Hoogerland (the cyclist who was thrown into the barb wire fence) at the post interview, totally expressed the fear and sadness of such a recent event.

        As a person who is not even into cycling, but just a sports fan, I had some inkling of concern. I expect more from the professionals.

        Well said Stefaan.

  12. Ann says:

    In response to your last post (the reply option was not available), I just have a few more things to say and then I am done:

    1. I do not think that the fact that car stopped is ludicrous in an amusing sort of way. I gasped when I saw it happen live and my first response was to hope & pray the rider was alive. You ask me to step into the shoes of a casual observer, and I still do not find it funny. But personally, I do not find similar videos funny, especially when you know the severity of the outcome. The problem is you are not a cyclist and you are not a cycling fan. I’ve told you why I do not find it funny and you seem to be unable or unwilling to empathize with me. I can accept that and move on.

    2. Anyone who finds the video hilarious, whether a sports reporter or one of my close friends, I would have to reconsider how much I respect you as a person. Laughing at other’s misfortunes is appalling to me. This was not America’s Funniest Videos or a comedy routine; it occurred in a very difficult competitive event. Yes, as another person pointed out, another professional cyclist had just died in the month prior to the TdF, but there was also a female professional cyclist who was hit by a car during a training ride in Italy and died from her injuries just last week. If that particular collision had been caught on video, would you find that 5 second clip hilarious too? I hope not. But just because Hoogerland was able to continue riding does not then make his 5 second clip any more amusing.

    3. Now to Mr. Smith. He is a professional sports reporter/writer. Yes, I watch him on ATH and I know he & the other panelists often point out the humor in serious situations. In the 7/11 episode of ATH, it was obvious to me that none of the panelists respect cycling. As I said, that’s fine with me also. But he is the only one of the 4 who went on to tweet about the video, several times at that, so I guess he really wanted to make his point clear. Several cycling fans immediately responded to object, and Smith at that point should have realized that as a professional and as a representative of ESPN, maybe he shouldn’t have said what he did. But that’s not what happened. He continued to dismiss and patronize the cyclists who responded to him, until the next day. I read some of his tweets and he even told one cyclist to “go play in traffic.” Granted, he received several rude comments and was called names, but he is the professional here. His apology was forced and insincere. The issue with Smith is not so much that he laughed at the video, but (a) it was unprofessional of him to tweet about it and (2) he failed to realize his unprofessionalism until he was forced by ESPN to apologize.

    Thanks.

    • Ann says:

      Ooops, I meant, did not stop in my first point.

    • You’ve mistaken me maintaing my point of view and opinion for lack of sympathy or empathy and I can’t help you with that. I said from the very beginning that the injuries were no laughing matter and I understand why the cycling community is upset. It you don’t understand that I’m not sure what else I can say.

      Your moral code is admirable. I clearly tend to socialize with either a bunch of idiots or mere humans unlike you.

      Regarding the tweets post ATH (because that is a valid discussion), I see your point. I took some time to try to follow the chain and how Michael got to the point of being defensive. There were tweets wishing bodily harm to him, his children and he was being personally attacked for “pointing out humor is a serious situation” which, as you stated, happens often on ATH. Again, mere humans here. Is that an excuse? Maybe not. But I certainly understand. What you’re asking for and expecting is my primary challenge with social media.

      I responded out of order. Sorry. I appreciate the dialogue.

  13. Ann says:

    Okay, one more thing, and I did have to use Google on this one. I was trying to come up with a more persuasive comparison and I recalled the Olympic marathoner who was pushed off the road by a crazy spectator. It was in the 2004 Olympics and Vanderlei de Lima was on his way to the getting the gold when he was pushed into the crowd by a spectator. There is about a 5-second clip available on YouTube. Other people had to pull the crazy guy off Vanderlei and he was able to finish but ended up with the bronze medal. I do not find that video remotely amusing although I could see where others may. I think if any reporter on ESPN had responded to this event in a similar fashion as Smith on the TdF crash, they would have been promptly dismissed. Now please tell me how this is any different.

    • You’re asking for speculation which isn’t going to serve any purpose. I’ve referred to the context of the situation, the format of the show and I stand by that. You stated that some would find a similar clip funny and they probably would. I do not, however, feel as if a reporter would be fired if they commented similarly.

      I talked to a very good friend of mine that is a competitive cyclist to gain insight outside of the fervor that I’ve experienced thus far. I’m working on putting it into words. AGAIN, I don’t disregard the challenges that cyclists face and I think that I may possibly have a better understanding of why this has created such a storm within the community. It still stands that there was no bad intent on the part of any parties when the comments were made.

      • Ann says:

        I have enjoyed the dialogue and I look forward to reading your follow up article. I apologize if I came off as snarky in my first comment. I re-read it and I should have waited a few minutes rather than immediately reacting. As one friend pointed out, people can’t help their immediate reactions, which might explain Smith’s comments on air, but we should all reflect on the next course of action. No one ever really *intends* to offend a segment of the population. I truly do not wish for his dismissal because I find him and the other guys on ATH entertaining. But maybe he should take pointers from you and at least attempt to understand the backlash by having conversations with professional and recreational cyclists and then decide to offer up an apology because he wants to and not because he has to. Thanks again.

        • Much appreciated. I hope to formulate my thoughts coherently this weekend for the follow up.

          Question for you. What do you think would (for lack of a better term) appease the cycling community? Would a more heartfelt apology work? A sit down interview with Hoogerland? Just wondering. The passion that I’ve seen from the cycling community is like none I’ve ever witnessed thus by interest in the situation. Is there redemption for Michael Smith at this point?

          • Ann says:

            Sadly, it appears that the majority of my fellow cyclists would accept nothing less than Smith’s resignation or dismissal from ESPN. I follow several cyclists on twitter and there is a lot of outrage mostly from the recreational ranks but no response from the professionals as far as I could tell. The only thing I saw from the pros was from Johan Bruyneel, the manager of Team Radioshack but his only comment was something like, What is the matter with people? The online petition for Smith’s firing has more than 1000 signatures (I did not sign the petition). Some people have mentioned that he should interview Hoogerland and Hoogerland’s father. Others have spewed hate and said maybe he should get clipped by a car (the personal attacks on twitter are embarrassing and give the cycling community less credence in my opinion). For me personally, I would appreciate a thoughtful reflection on air (he can use his 30 second face time on ATH) as to why he angered so many people and then admit that he should have been more professional. And then let’s all move on for the love of the sport.

          • I still don’t feel as if resignation or dismissal is a solution. This could be a way to raise awareness. Just my opinion, though.

            Completely agree on the personal attacks.

            Facetime is a really good suggestion but I think that a longer segment would be a better platform. Maybe Sports Reporters.

            You’ve been great. What’s your Twitter name? I’d like to follow.

  14. Jimmy says:

    Smith was an insensitive jerk in two broadcast media and was taken to task for his statements.
    Some of those people responding were also insensitive jerks.
    He’s a public figure and them’s the breaks.
    As for Michael, if he’s smart he’ll learn from this to think a bit more before he speaks.

    Publicly ragging on an internationally popular sport is really asking for it. That disrespect compounded by dismissal/disregard of the injured in an accident video and interpreted as comic, is a pretty good guarantee that you’re gonna get attacked.

    Duh. What did he expect?

  15. Ann says:

    Thank you, I am flattered :) I’m annhatley on twitter, but I don’t ever have much interesting to say. I use it mainly to get breaking news (sports & otherwise), and stalk professional cyclists. I am now following you. I also visited your blog and I enjoyed the few entries I read.  I see you also had a conversation with UCI Overlord. He entertains me, especially his rants against Lance. I am a Lance lover myself. Maybe I will start using twitter more to unleash my frustration with the Dallas Cowboys (I bleed blue & silver). Thanks again.

    • Thanks about the blog. That’s truly my outlet to say useless things.

      Oh boy…..New Orleans Saints fan here and NOT a Cowboys fans. We’re destined to get along wonderfully! :-)

  16. Tom says:

    Johnette
    I think we have the context wrong. Imagine the scenario where Smith is viewing the film clip of Joe Theisman’s leg being broken in the 2007 Giants Redskin game (www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHCXNt4P8X). The visceral reaction should be the same as a biker being throw into a barbwire fence at 30 mph. Now imagine Smith’s comments to be “that’s hilarious” Want to guess what the reaction of the fans/viewers would be? Smith needs to resign.

    • 1.) This is a tenured journalist without a mar on his record (as far as I know). 2.) I question whether you or any cyclist would be up in arms had it been some other sport. 3.) We (meaning ESPN and viewers) have celebrated bone jarring hits in multiple sports for years. Your awareness and investment is because you’ve personalized it.

      There is a fine line here that continues to be crossed. With that said, he does not need to resign so we’ll agree to disagree.

      • Tom says:

        Johnette
        To respond to your numbered comments:
        1) What difference does it make if he is a “tenured” journalist? He made a grievious comment and then defended it in a arrogant manner. His response would indicate he has a lot to learn beyond the U.S. mainstream sports and calls into question his empathy/understanding of professional sports and athletes.
        2) We disagree. I would be appalled if he found Theismans broken leg “hilarious” and I would be writing the same comments. Along that vein, why do you presuppose that I’m a cyclist? If there a bias here? It seems the defense of a fellow journalist may be coloring your arguments.
        3) True, I myself love nothing more than watching reruns of the Chicago Bears 1985 defense. But that is a sport in which hard hits are expected and celebrated. Also, the equipment used is a bit more substantial than Lycra. That level of designed mayhem has nothing to do with cycling.
        I fail to understand the fine line you refer to, but I want to thank you for responding to all of these comments, pretty courageous.

  17. Harry says:

    Enclosed is a less sanitized version of the twitter feed which will help to reinforce the angst that we as cyclists feel when peopple appaer to be a mused by a process that kills hundreds and injures thousands yearly

    In his feed at http://twitter.com/#!/MrMichael_Smith for which he has 95,225 followers, on July 11, 2011:

    It started with this, concerning a crash in which a cyclist was hit by a speeding car and another thrown into a barbed wire fence:

    http://twitter.com/#!/MrMichael_Smith/status/90532487813537792
    “For real, am I wrong for laughing at that Tour de France crash? Can’t get over the driver speeding off as if he didn’t know he hit someone!”

    and he followed up with discussions with several outraged people, and defended his statement with:
    http://twitter.com/#!/MrMichael_Smith/status/90539435388715008
    “I’m sorry that crash is hilarious. Every. Time.”

    then he dismissed numerous objections with a cavalier:
    http://twitter.com/#!/MrMichael_Smith/status/90606872075321344
    “It had far been too long since I’d angered an entire community. Today I’ve managed offend cyclists everywhere. Guess what? It’s still funny.”

    Finally, he issued this pathetic faux apology:
    http://twitter.com/#!/MrMichael_Smith/status/90613389457502209
    “i’d like to apologize to cyclists, people who ride bikes, people who know people who ride bikes, and even paperboys. Happy? I miss anybody?”

    Totally and completely unacceptable behavior by an ESPN employee and spokesperson.

    The subsequent apology composed by ESPN legal somehow rings hollow in this context.

    As far as I am concerned Disney the parent company needs to do something because I would not be surprised to see this not go away and to be picked up by the cycling press at large which will be a PR DISASTER for their brand.

    • I’ve seen Michael Smith’s twitter feed. I’ve also seen the feed of the cycling community since. I’m less than impressed with both and the cycling community is pulling ahead in the disappointment column. I will also refrain from stating my thoughts on how much of a non-disaster that would be because that’s not the point.

      The point is that this is the equivalent of Jacked Up or airing a dugout clearing fight over and over again. All considered entertainment like it or not.

      And Hoogerland wasn’t killed. There is a call for sympathy for Hoogerland because of the crash. There is call for a standing ovation because he continued. Is he a victim or a hero? You’re hearing frustration here because I’ve gone over this time and time again in my comments below. No matter the response, there will be a lack of satisfaction much like the response to Michael Smith’s apology so I’ll stop talking about it. Good day.

  18. rick says:

    the guy was hit by a car going 30mph. the car drove away.

    at what point did a hit and run become even remotely amusing? to hail with what sport it is, to hail with people being up in arms. the guy was hit by a car and the car drove off. whether the driver was aware of the hit or not, that’s called a hit and run. last i checked a hit and run is not in the “amusing” category under any circumstances.

    as for mr. smiths response to the tweeters attacking him, this is the big leagues. in the big leagues you know this is going to happen and you respond professionally regardless of how personal the nut jobs get. you know they’re out there and you don’t give them ammo. it’s part of the package. you rise above it and stay there.

    • 1. Casual observer of the sport = surprise at NOT stopping when you hit someone.
      2. “Big leagues” is no excuse for some of the tweets that I’ve seen.
      3. I’ve never believed that celebrities should be anyone’s pinata so we’ll agree to disagree.

      • rick says:

        what does no. 1 even mean? casual observer equals surprise at some level? a close observer wouldn’t be surprised? a casual observer is more likely to find it amusing?

        no 2. the nut jobs aren’t in the big leagues, you can read their kind of nonsense everywhere, against little leaguers as well. mr. smith is the one in the big leagues and the one who should rise above it, no matter how out of bounds they are. hail, out of bounds is where these nut jobs live. you don’t give them ammo.

        no 3. that’s nice and i agree but our beliefs don’t really have much to do with the reality of the web where anonymous vitriol is the rule rather than the exception. reasoned debate is in short supply. exactly what are we disagreeing on?

  19. Lenny Todd says:

    Would this have been so funny if Yohann Gene, the first black rider in the Tour de France been Johnny Hoogerland? I didn’t think so. Of course we all know if ESPN was covering the Tour, this incident would have been over analyzed and discussed for days. But because this is a non ESPN event, ha ha ha

  20. A2R says:

    What I find most interesting is debating something so subjective as a persons sense of humor. Bottom line is Smith works for a private company subject to it’s viewers opinions. The viewers and advertisers rule in this instance. Indeed he does have the right to say/feel/laugh however he(Smith)feels. Under the guise of his job, he is at the behest of his employers. His intent and that of the show maybe taken into account by ESPN when deciding how to deal with this matter. I think that twitter is a great marketing tool, however it is the devil for celebrities sharing their personal thoughts(PR persons nightmare). I do believe it’s a double edged sword when you hire someone to give opinions. Is it only the opinions you agree with that matter? Or do you take the good with the bad(also matter of opinion)? I am a woman who loves sports, sports talk radio, ESPN. ect. There are many things said that I don’t agree with,so I take it with a grain of salt. THe diatribe has to be most egregious (still a matter of opinion) before I complain. How do I complain? Change the channel. Please forgive any errors, I don’t have multiple degrees and such, just an opinion.

  21. Flunkie says:

    Here’s a Funny photo.

  22. Rodman1_r2 says:

    I understand the points in this opinion piece, but the reason so many are offended by what was said and the reason that his comments are a problem is that for many they represent an attitude present in the society that shows disrespect and a lack of understanding in regards to the dangers cyclists face every day.

    I am a cyclist myself and have nearly been hit and killed by negligent and disrespectful drivers on several occasions. While the vast majority of drivers give you space, there are always those that get too close, or because you’re a cyclist, don’t bother to be cautious around you.

    Plenty of people simply do not respect the lives of cyclists, and that is disturbing. Michael Smith’s tweets repeat and represent that attitude.

  23. WestbyNorthwest says:

    Do you know why Mr. Smith deleted his tweets? I’ve asked him but he doesn’t respond. Also, what would have appeased me (as a cyclist; however, I also am a fan of other sports, including football) would have been an interview conducted by Mr. Smith with Mr. Hoogerland about the crash, an interview with Joey Harrington (who was recently hit by a car while cycling), or a segment where Mr. Smith goes for a bike road with Dhani Jones.

    Thanks.

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