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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