Stephen A. Smith is a prominent voice in ESPN’s mixed martial arts coverage.
While he’s sometimes criticized by prominent MMA voices for his analysis, he nonetheless stands alongside the network’s combat experts as ESPN promotes and covers its UFC partner.
He made comments on Tuesday that are sure to generate turmoil within the UFC — especially among the women who put their bodies on the line to compete in the cage.
Smith goes on tangent in conversation about women in sports
Smith brought up the topic of women fighters Tuesday in a conversation with The Ringer’s Larry Wilmore on his “Black on the Air” podcast. The two spent the better part of an hour talking about Smith’s career at ESPN and Black issues in sports and sports media.
Toward the end of the conversation, Wilmore asked Smith about his thoughts on women taking more prominent roles as coaches and executives in men’s sports. He told Wilmore that “I love it” in terms of women taking those roles. He then launched into an unprompted tangent about his thoughts on women competing in combat sports.
That, he does not love.
‘Where I jump off the bandwagon ...’
“First of all, I love it,” Smith said. “I think that there’s an awful lot of women who are incredibly qualified to do the jobs they’re doing. Where I jump off the bandwagon is where they try to engage physically.
“For example, I don’t ever want to see a woman boxing a man. I don’t want to see that. I don’t want to see a woman in the UFC fighting a man — even though there are some women out there that will kick the dude’s butt.”
First of all, huh?
What does that answer have to do with the topic of women taking on leadership roles in sports? And why is Smith so concerned about men fighting women in the Octagon in the first place? This isn’t a thing that actually happens, as much as fight fans have pondered past and present how Ronda Rousey or Amanda Nunes would fare in the cage against a man.
But Smith wasn’t done. Not only does he not want to see women fighting men, he’s not into women fighting, period.
‘I don’t like seeing women involved in that at all’
“When I think about pugilistic sports, I don’t like seeing women involved in that at all,” Smith continued. “I just don’t like it. I wouldn’t promote legislating laws to prohibit them from doing so, but I don’t want to see women punching each other in the face. I don’t want to see women fighting in the Octagon and stuff like that.
“That’s just me.”
While it’s well and good that Smith doesn’t intend to introduce legislation prohibiting women from fighting, this is obviously a problematic take — in general, and for Smith’s role as a prominent voice for UFC’s broadcast partner.
Women have taken their seat at the UFC table
The women who compete in UFC have obviously earned their place. In 2021, there’s no need to explain why women at the top of their game are provided a venue to compete. Not only do the women of the UFC belong, they’re often among the sport’s top draws.
Nunes is one of the sport’s most feared and revered fighters. Women are regularly featured at the top of UFC pay-per-view cards and produce some of the most talked about fights. Two of the five bouts in last week’s UFC 257 main card featured women.
This isn’t an act of altruism by Dana White. These fights are featured because fight fans want to watch them.
Even if Smith doesn’t.
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