The necessary takeaway from the Will Smith-Chris Rock kerfuffle

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; March 29, 2022)

Are we still so culturally backward that men have to defend the ‘honor’ of their wives when verbally attacked? Are we still in the Miocene epoch? Are we living in Saudi Arabia?

Insult my wife. She can defend herself.

Women aren’t property or frail flowers who need men to defend them. Frankly, the women in my life are especially adept at using words to turn their antagonists into puddles of feeble mush.

Too much has already been written and broadcasted about the now infamous Will Smith slap attack on comedian Chris Rock during the 2022 Oscars awards ceremony.

Apparently, Smith thought an insult by Rock directed at his wife — Jada Pickett Smith — warranted a face slap before an international audience.

Lacking any quantitative data at this point, my impression is that public opinion is evenly split as to whether Smith’s actions were justified (or, at least, understandable) given the meanness of Rock’s joke about Smith’s wife.

Shocking to me, however, is the number of celebrities and pop culture commentators who offered their support to Smith, none more surprising than British TV personality, Piers Morgan, who opined:

“Making fun of a woman who’s losing her hair isn’t funny, it’s just unkind.

As for Will Smith, as the cancel culture mob race to destroy him, hysterically demanding he be stripped of his Best Actor award and charged with assault, I find myself moved to defend him.

He was standing up for his wife, the woman from whom he blew off the dust when she was going through a rough time, and said he was going to make shine, and created a safe space for her to get healthy and to grow and define herself.

In previous eras, he’d have been saluted for defending his girl, not savaged by an overly sensitive snowflake society.

And I say that as someone who was once punched in the head by Jeremy Clarkson at the British Press Awards in 2004 after publishing something embarrassing about his private life, and I have no problem with what he did.”

Morgan may not care that he was physically assaulted for something he wrote, but I do.

If someone says something cruel or unfair about your spouse (or anyone else), you do not have the right to physically assault them. Period. There is no gray area here.

“I know we’re all still processing, but the way casual violence was normalized tonight by a collective national audience will have consequences that we can’t even fathom in the moment,” tweeted Janai Nelson, president and director-counsel of LDF, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.

While acknowledging that Rock’s throwaway joke about Pinkett Smith was “beneath him,” Howard Stern, one of our nation’s most important cultural interpreters, made clear that the more urgent problem was with Smith, not Rock: “He (Smith) clearly has an emotional problem. Here’s Hollywood that’s so outraged by every little thing — not one person got up and said, ‘Hold on, we’ve got an out of control situation here.’ How this guy was allowed to sit there for the rest of the awards, and he’s laughing it up and having a good time with his wife… he just assaulted Chris Rock.”

I, too, didn’t think Rock’s joke about Pinkett Smith’s shaved head was funny or comprehensible (GI Jane? Who gets that reference?). But that is not the paramount issue surrounding Will Smith’s unhinged reaction to it. The issue is (and must be) whether it is acceptable for someone aggrieved by a comic’s joke — no matter how cruel — to use physical violence to relieve their anger (or appease their spouse).

Was this a criminal assault or civil assault or both? The law is unequivocal on these questions.

“The answer to both questions is ‘Yes’,” according to Drew Page, co-owner and partner of Randall Page, PC, a Virginia law firm. “In criminal law, assault and battery assault is a harmful or offensive touch of another with the intent to create reasonable apprehension of imminent harm. Will Smith went up to Chris Rock with the intention of creating a reasonable apprehension of imminent harm and actually completed that by smacking him in the face with a harmful, offensive touching to his face.”

Should Smith be arrested or possibly go to jail for this act? No. As human beings, we have to accept our inherent flaws and allow for a certain margin of error when it comes to individual behavior. While we can’t criminalize all aspects of human nature, we should always be pushing ourselves to follow “the better angels of our nature,” particularly when our instincts plead otherwise.

Smith committed a crime on an international stage, and he is unlikely to face civil or criminal charges for it because of the good nature of the man he assaulted and the complicity of the industry he works in, not the righteousness of his act.

  • K.R.K.

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