A Hater? Bike Crash Remarks by ESPN Commentator

Last week, we reported on the heavy dose of crashes and mishaps that have plagued the Tour de France this year. One crash in particular has captured the attention of even the non-cycling public largely because of the insensitive comments of ESPN sports commentator Michael Smith. From Bike Snob’s post on Bicycling Magazine’s blog to a “Fire Michael Smith” Facebook page, and even a petition set up on Change.org for this very incident, the Web is buzzing with banter and calls for Smith’s resignation.

Michael_Smith.jpg

ESPN commentator Michael Smith

The following is a series of Twitter posts from Smith in reference to the gruesome wreck of Johnny Hoogerland, which left the rider entangled in a barbed-wire fence after a car hit his group of riders in the Tour de France:

“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.”

Really? Has Smith ever been in a wreck? I have, and they certainly are not funny. The tweets continued:

“It had far been too long since I’d angered an entire community. Today I’ve managed to offend cyclists everywhere. Guess what? It’s still funny.”

Then, after a ton of blowback from sane people the world over, Smith issues a mea culpa of sorts:

“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?”

This is the one that really got blood boiling. I’m not sure I’ve heard a more insincere apology than this one ever.

Finally, see the tweet below. The public gets what sounds like an honest apology, but I can’t help but feel like this is an “if you value your job, you better make this right” sort of order from the brass at ESPN.

“I apologize for my insensitive remarks re: the TdF crash. I recognize my comments were inappropriate given the serious nature of the crash.”

Hoogerland_stuck.jpg

Hoogerland tangled in barbed wire

With good reason, Mr. Smith’s comments have angered the cycling community and sparked debate about whether or not he should be allowed to continue as a reporter at ESPN. For now, it seems that ESPN is happy to let this blow over.

I’ve never expected people outside of the cycling community to share my level of concern for a safer, more pedal-friendly world. But when a major spokesperson for a major sports network can get away with these types of comments, it feels like a setback. Whether this is a simple one-time lack of class and tact or a sobering look into the mindset of some of the drivers we share the road with, Mr. Smith’s Twitter dialogue will have me looking over my shoulder a lot more this summer when I ride.

What do GearJunkie readers think? Is this a one-time mistake that should be pardoned, or a serious blunder that merits action from ESPN? A legitimate exercise of freedom of speech, or an ugly act of prejudice by an apparently biker-hating media figure?

T.C. Worley

Posted by dk - 07/18/2011 12:40 PM

You would never hear an ESPN analyst say how funny it was to see a baseball player get beaned in the head. You would never hear an ESPN analyst say how funny it was to watch Theisman’s leg get broken. You would never hear any of these comments because they know those sports. He knows nothing about cycling. None of the talking heads on ESPN do. Make him ride a bike for a while and he’d never think it was funny again. ESPN needs to recognize that pro cycling is a sport and stop asking people who know nothing about it to comment on it. They had (and still have to a large extent) this problem with soccer coverage as well. They would never hire anyone who said that the popular ball and stick sports are not worth their time to cover because of all the drug abuses, either. Get a clue ESPN. Respect all sports. You’d think they’d have learned this by now.

Posted by Lance Perry - 07/18/2011 12:42 PM

In my younger days I was an avid rider. People outside of the bike community just don’t get biking. I was often almost hit, yelled at, laughed at. One time somebody actually threw something at me from their moving vehicle.

I think the overall sentiment of non-bikers was shown by this bozo from ESPN.

Posted by Mike - 07/18/2011 01:10 PM

He’s not sorry, you can easily tell that. To have SO many tweets on the subject, that last one seems extremely scripted so his job is saved.

I’ve had people yell at me and throw things at me while cycling and totally minding my own business. My brother even got hit in the helmet (you do wear a helmet don’t you?) with a bottle some college kids (we were younger at the time) threw at us while they drove by.

For some reason, motorists think cyclists are put there for their amusement, placed just below traffic cones on the value of striking.

Posted by Matt - 07/18/2011 01:12 PM

Why do we care what this guy says, let alone what he tweets? I wouldn’t spend three minutes talking or listening to someone who follows the NFL for a career. In the end, the comments just make him look like a tool.

Posted by T.C. Worley - 07/18/2011 01:15 PM

I was the victim of a drive-by-shooting last week – luckily it was a refreshing squirt from a water pistol. Dern kids!

Posted by Sue - 07/18/2011 01:34 PM

I got hit by an SUV while on my bike back in December…and was really fortunate with minor injuries, so I can relate to Johnny Hoogerland. The overweight, under-educated ESPN commentator needs to lay off the donuts and get some exercise before he can offer anything worth listening to in the sports world.

Posted by MTBradley - 07/18/2011 01:38 PM

Let’s be clear: Smith’s comments were in reference to a sporting event in which a car involved in coverage of said event hit an athlete. They were not “It is so funny when a guy riding his bike to work gets hit by a careless driver!” If Hoogerland had died or been permanently incapacitated as a result of the accident Smith would have been way out of line. But the accident resulted in injuries to the tune of 33 stitches. Sports reporters do in fact make light of incidents which result in injuries of that level of severity; for any other sport Smith’s comment would be perfectly acceptable in the culture of American sports journalism and would not be taken as “an ugly act of prejudice by an apparently biker-hating media figure.”

Posted by Desert Dude - 07/18/2011 02:33 PM

I was considering giving Micheal Smith the benefit of the doubt but then I watched the video of the crash. Oh My God! What an idiot! I don’t think there’s anything remotely funny about that. It’s like making a joke about the guy who fell off the second deck at the Ranger game. Highly insensitive and ignorant.

That said, a lot of cyclists have misguided anger at drivers. I rode my bike twenty miles to work daily for a couple years and never had an issue with drivers. Not one. However, I see cyclists riding two and three abreast into the main flow of traffic quite frequently. There are bike lanes and if they rode single file they would be well away from traffic. I see many more inconsiderate cyclists than motorists. Cyclists really need to police themselves more.

Posted by Sal Ruibal - 07/18/2011 03:23 PM

Based on his photo, looks like Mr. Smith could benefit from some cycling. Maybe he and Tony Kornheiser can get a tandem. Better yet, maybe he and Tony should go to the Tour de France and see how dangerous it is for those racers every day. I would offer to “guide” them down the descent of the Tourmalet.

Posted by Joey - 07/18/2011 05:26 PM

This whole thing is gay and blown out of proportion. Let it go for F sakes, its a cyclist that crashed and it was funny!

Posted by miss vegemite - 07/18/2011 09:38 PM

Are you joking? This guy should be sacked! Car vs. bike is not an issue this ignorant dope should even open his mouth about.

Posted by TCOPE - 07/19/2011 03:42 AM

he’s fat, a moron, and likes baseball…. what more did you expect from ESPN?

Posted by pioneerscheers - 07/20/2011 01:25 PM

There was a blowhard named Mike
Who didn’t like people on bikes
When Johnny hit the wire
He laughed, so please fire
and tell him to go take a hike

Posted by Dennis - 07/20/2011 07:11 PM

Smith definitely needs to spend some time learning about pro cycling. The skills and stamina required to ride in the Tour put pro football players to shame. I watched the video of the crash. The cringe wasn’t just because I’m a cyclist; I’m an active person who’s gotten dinged a lot of different ways, so I can empathize about most injuries. BTW, I disagree with MTBradley’s comment about sports journalists joking about such injuries in other sports. And Smith just kept doubling down on his original comment, not like he can take a hint or anything. Should he be fired for this? I don’t know, but I’m certainly not watching his show again.

Here’s my dirty little secret: I’ve been known to watch “Whacked Out Sports” and laugh my ass off at skateboarders having gonad-destroying encounters with stair railings, snowboarders catching big air and ending up in the branches of pine trees, snowmobilers blasting up hillsides to set off avalanches that bury their sleds…. How is that funny? Because I think they’re morons for even trying such stunts, does that give license to laugh at their near-misses? Would it still be funny if the avalanched snowmobiler died in the slide?

Maybe we should cut Mr. Smith a little slack. But really, somebody get that guy out on a road bike on some hills. Then we’ll see who’s laughing..

Posted by Paul - 07/20/2011 11:32 PM

I occasionally get harassed (buzzed, honked at, flipped off) by drivers when I’m doing absolutely NOTHING wrong! Single file, IN THE BIKE LANE (!), holding perfectly straight line, etc. Happens to others, too, based on numerous conversations. So much for the cyclists-get-harassed-for-being-inconsiderate argument. So of course I disagree with “Desert Dude” above. Correction, D.D.: just like motorists, SOME cyclists do risky or “inconsiderate” things. Don’t make the same mistake this ESPN talking head whazhisname did by generalizing about an entire group. Cycling is one of the most popular activities/sports on the planet, and cyclists come from all walks of life. Don’t paint with such a broad brush, “Dude,” because only ignorant people (like this ESPN clown) do that, and you’re not like that, right? (Oh, and OF COURSE he should be fired. People are fired for less than that, especially in the journalism field.)

Posted by Jason - 07/21/2011 09:09 AM

I don’t see what the big deal is. No one was seriously hurt and we live in America, therefore he has the right to point out the fact it is pretty funny that someone who is knowingly driving a car during a BIKE RACE hit a BIKE. Had any riders been seriously injured it would be a different story.

Bottom line is this is American coverage of a largely European sport, if you want proper coverage move, until then shut it and watch ESPN cover a sport they know nothing about.

Posted by Jim - 08/03/2011 02:15 PM

Jason, the “big deal” isn’t that Mr. Smith’s remarks were patently offensive (although they surely were). The big deal is his comfort diminishing an entire group of people. With far too many drivers unwilling to share the road, it’s a dangerous environment out there for cyclists. Mr. Smith’s comments certainly won’t help. More likely, his words have made things worse.

Posted by Ian Cook - 06/05/2012 10:07 AM

Ok old news I know, but first time I am seeing any of this. Why? Because I am not much of a sports fan outside of cycling and the minimal coverage on ESPN gives me the lack of enthusiasm to even watch other segments than cycling. That said, what had me wrapped up was the fact that these drivers have little regards for other racers on the course other than their own. Its bad enough they the racers deal with many natural elements from weather, terrain, and other racers. However to have to avoid contact with support vehicles is simply uncalled for. I have watched the video of the crash several times and tried to put myself in both the riders and the driver of the cars shoes. Sorry road bikes are just not nimble machines and to avoid what was certain doom was near impossible, even if it was on most any other bike. As for the driver, it is still a bit hard to tell if he had a brief thought he might hit a tree or another rider and swerved to avoid it, or if he intentionally tried to spook/hit the racer. When you have potentially thousands of dollars on the line as a racer to maybe not necessarily win but at least perform well…this is not the type of obstacles that a racer should have to cope with. I blame the event for letting it get like that. I know this is not the first case but it should be the last. Now for this JOKER on ESPN…Really? Sportscasters have developed over the years a penash for being jerks. Statements like this fly every day all day (which is another reason I dont watch sportscasting shows post event) Its all a marketing ploy, a way to be the “BadBoy” and ruffle a few feathers to gain some extra spotlight time and create a name for themsleves. And sadly it works. This was just a form of very poor execution of trying to be funny. Ask that racer who had possibly big money on the line how he feels…

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