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Silencing the 'debate'

Embrace Debate. That's the alleged deal here, right?

It's the hook from which ESPN has hung its most ill-conceived and laughably executed contrivance, First Take, in which Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless (and other Worldwide Leader yapping poodles) "debate" the hot topics of the day with opinions that may or may not be wholly genuine. And woe betide the yapping poodle who doesn't yap loudly enough, because, really, debate abhors whispers, and also nuance.

The problem with that: Sometimes nuance comes in handy.

And so we come to the curious case of Stephen A., who last week wandered into the thorny topic of domestic violence (see: Ray Rice) and became irretrievably lost.

Somewhere in what was largely a wasteland of incoherence he managed to convey the message that women should be careful about "provoking" their men to anger, which of course made him look like just another testosterone-fueled male jackwagon, of which there are apparently many in Bristol.

Then he made matters worse by trying to explain what he meant, the explanation coming off even more incoherently than the original "take." A firestorm ensued, and ESPN eventually responded by suspending Smith for a week.

Here's the problem with that: You can't encourage your poodles to Embrace Debate and then punish them for it when they Embrace it a little too awkwardly. Sends a mixed message, you know.

But that's exactly what ESPN does. It wants us to Embrace Debate, but it really doesn't. It requires its pundits to, when necessary, contrive that debate with "edgy" opinions, and then reacts with horror when those opinions become a little too edgy.

Sorry, ESPN. But you can't hate firestorms and court them at the same time. That's never gonna work.

Ben Smith's blog.

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