Professor of leadership and management: Will Smith should be stripped of his Oscar

Dr. Scott Warner

Assistant Professor

Dr. Scott Warner
March 30, 2022

Professor of leadership and management: Will Smith should be stripped of his Oscar

I was busy around my home when I first heard on the television that Will Smith had slapped Chris Rock across the face. My first thought was it must have been a staged joke or boys just being boys goofing off.

Later in the day, when I had time, I watched the video clip of the slap. I was shocked at what I saw. It was not staged or a joke, but a full outright assault on Chris Rock. It is my belief that Will Smith should lose his Oscar, otherwise the institution of the Oscars will lose its credibility and it will only highlight privilege for such an offense.

Although Chris Rock’s reference to Jada Pinkett Smith as GI Jane was intended as a joke, I give Will Smith an A for his devotion to his wife. But he deserves an F for the slap across the face of Rock.

After watching the video, from the point Rock made the joke, Smith had approximately 15 seconds to consider the actions he was going to take against Rock.

In class this week, after the Oscars had taken place, I discussed the assault during one of my lectures on power and influence in leadership. I timed and walked across my lecture hall the 15 seconds it took from start to finish, and there was a long uncomfortable pause. It was clear Smith had plenty of time to consider his actions. Had Rock been next to him and he immediately reacted, that would be one thing. However, it was obviously premeditated, which raises the consequences of his actions.

What would happen if I, as a professor, walked to one of my students and gave a full-blown smack across the face after they made an inappropriate joke or comment about my wife? There would be no question I would be fired and so would anyone else. I also wonder what the outcry would be if it was a white actor slapping Rock? Again, there would be outrage and an onslaught of legal and other consequences, possibly being stripped of the Oscar.

An ordinary person would face legal consequences for assault and battery. In Michigan, assault and battery is when someone allegedly “assaults or assaults and batters” another person. Under Michigan law considers battery as the touching of another person or something closely connected with them that is “forceful, violent, or offensive” in nature. My question is why should Will Smith receive a free pass for blatant assault and battery?

My wife is a survivor of violent assault. I take assault very seriously. Not too long ago, my wife’s cousin exploited my wife’s assault while running for political office. After numerous requests asking him to stop, he refused to take his postings off social media and to discontinue any further print advertisements that shamed my wife without regard for her emotional or mental health causing her to relive her assault in a public forum. I can relate to Smith, because trust me, I would have loved to have smacked my wife’s cousin. However, I did not do that because any reasonable person knows hitting another person is not a legitimate solution to resolving a problem. Physical contact should only be used in extreme situations of self-defense in life-and-death situations. That was clearly not the case for Smith. Smith could have waited until the Oscars ended and then written a strongly-worded press release explaining Pickett-Smith’s skin condition and asking for an apology. He chose violence as the solution.

In my classes, I teach my students to be the leader others would follow. What type of role model have we provided to the young and impressionable, that assault is valid when an inappropriate comment is made against someone we love? Will Smith is not only an actor; he is a leader. He is a role model in the black community and across the globe. He has founded The Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation and uses his capital as a celebrity to advance causes he is passionate about. During a time when we see coercive leaders using fear and intimidation to influence, it is imperative that we have leaders who are principled, ethical and compassionate.

After considering all these factors, I believe the only real action to match the consequence of the assault is for the institution of the Oscars to strip Smith of his Oscar. The Oscars need to declare physical assault is not OK in the situation that evolved between Smith and Rock. Prosecutors in that jurisdiction should file charges, even if Rock does not press charges. It was a violent assault on worldwide television and has been endlessly streamed since the assault.

Should all the good Smith has done be disparaged because of his harmful behavior? The answer is no, and I hope the public can give him a second chance, but that should not diminish the consequences that Smith should face for his premeditated assault. As a professor of leadership and management, I ask the Oscars to please strip Smith of his Oscar; and set an example that this behavior is never acceptable and will only result in harsh consequences.

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