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The unexpected cost of an innocent ‘joke’

ESPN'S Stephen A. Smith crosses the line again

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in Office Communication,Workplace Communication

ESPN'S Stephen A. Smith is no stranger to controversy. He seems to have a permanent case of foot-in-mouth disease. Last year he came under fire for implying that women somehow provoke domestic abuse, and this month, he is at it again.

During a recent episode of SportsCenter's top 10 plays, featuring a goal by Norway’s Maren Mjelde, Smith commented that the German team gave up the goal because "They might not want to mess their hair up."

He went on to repeat himself just to make sure his "joke" was heard. It was a blatant sexist remark (he wouldn't have made the same comment about male soccer players), and people are up in arms over it. Once again, he has issued a public apology, all the while downplaying the incident as "fun."

And that might be what is so messed up about this situation. He doesn't see the seriousness of his comments, even after he came under attack for something similar just a year ago. His female co-workers have been outspoken about the ordeal, and he could potentially lose his job.

The Smith case definitely serves as a warning for the rest of us. Even those seemingly harmless comments we make in jest have the power to offend people in the workplace. If those comments are perceived as sexist, racist, ageist or prejudiced in any way, a dumb joke can turn into a lawsuit pretty quickly. Play it safe always and avoid any statements that could be deemed offensive. Hopefully, Smith will do the same going forward.

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