FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - A week after "The Punch" sent the Jets into a preseason tailspin the likes of which we've never seen in the NFL, there is a disturbing narrative that continues to persist and drag the conversation about Geno Smith into the gutter of human interaction.
It goes something like this: With Smith still recovering from surgery required to repair a fractured jaw he sustained after being belted by former Jets linebacker Ikemefuna Enemkpali, there are some who suggest that not only was Smith at fault for being on the other end of what appears to be a sucker punch, but that he actually deserved it.
It's the classic case of blaming the victim, something that often occurs when a confrontation escalates into violence. In this case, the two men were bickering over a $600 airline ticket that went unpaid because Smith couldn't attend Enemkpali's football camp earlier this summer because of the death of a close friend. After arguing about the situation, Enemkpali delivered a punch that knocked the quarterback to the ground and injured him so severely that he required corrective surgery last week.
While no definitive version of the events has been made public, there are two conflicting reports that now drive the dialogue about how the case should be viewed. Former Steelers safety Ryan Clark, now an NFL analyst for ESPN, suggested that Smith had put a finger in Enemkpali's face, told him, "You're not going to do anything about it," and that the linebacker then slugged him. A similar report surfaced from Buffalo, where Enemkpali was claimed on waivers, which backed up Clark's account.
Not surprisingly, the reports painted Smith in a decidedly negative light, and there were more than a few suggestions on social media and sports talk shows that Smith was asking for it. That he deserved the punch delivered by Enemkpali.
Deserved it? Are you kidding me?
Look, Smith is not without blame over the incident, and his inability to defuse the situation rests at least partly on him. But to leap to the conclusion that he deserved to be punched out over the incident is disturbing, to put it mildly. Two grown men in the workplace having an argument, and one of them deserves to be punched so hard that he needs surgery to repair the damage? That's just plain ridiculous.
Yes, it's Geno's fault the argument couldn't have been handled better. But to blame anyone other than Enemkpali for actually delivering the punch is shortsighted and just plain wrong. He alone is responsible for those actions, period.
The NFL is now investigating the matter, and there could be a resolution and potential discipline handed down within the next several days, although there is no definitive timetable. Perhaps Smith's silence on the matter, Enemkpali's public apology in which he doesn't directly address Smith and the reports about Smith putting a finger in the linebacker's face have driven the Geno-deserved-it narrative. Whatever the case, it's a misguided take on the matter, and it ought to stop.
Maybe if the NFL's investigation into the incident -- which will no doubt include testimony from Smith and Enemkpali, witnesses to the incident, and perhaps even video surveillance from the locker room -- offers enough evidence that Smith indeed sucker-punched and didn't physically provoke the violence, then there will be more clarity. And now that Brandon Marshall has broken his silence about the incident and said Smith "didn't do anything wrong" -- which essentially debunks the finger-in-the-face story -- then perhaps that will change the conversation.
My sense is that the Jets are comfortable that the version of events squares more with Marshall's assessment than with Clark and the unnamed Bills' staffer. And if that indeed turns out to be the case, Smith could then make his return to the field without the cloud of controversy that might otherwise have followed.
Rex Ryan thumbed his nose at his old team by claiming Enemkpali on waivers, but there is a very real chance that the second-year defender might not see the field any time soon if a suspension is handed down. At the very least, there is almost certain to be a fine. But with the NFL's increased focus on violence you can expect a strong sanction if the facts bear out Marshall's contention that Enemkpali's actions were unwarranted and perhaps unprovoked.
As the league's wheels of justice grind toward an inevitable conclusion, we should at least dispense with the twisted logic that Smith actually deserved the punch that put a temporary -- and perhaps even a more lasting hold on his career.