We live in an age where reason, subtlety and nuance are frequently disdained and ignored in favor of exaggeration, caricature and manufactured outrage. Every incident is the worst someone’s ever seen or heard until the next one occurs, and there’s seemingly a group of folks whose sole duty in life is to constantly tweet about this or that, even before they really know what happened, or when they’re eager to blow things out of proportion. But there’s nothing that can be done about the online world. It’s a totally different thing when highly paid professional broadcasters deal in linguistic excess and make statements that are questionable at best, and highly inaccurate and inflammatory at worst.

Last week multiple fights broke out during the Los Angeles Rams‘ joint practice with the Cincinnati Bengals. The worse featured Aaron Donald swinging his helmet at opposing players. That wasn’t and isn’t right, and anyone who spoke out to say that is 100 percent correct. But what the punishment for his actions should be is at issue, particularly since the NFL doesn’t have any rules established for conduct during these joint practices. When the video surfaced, several NFL analysts called for Donald to be suspended. Those calls triggered a different controversy, as First Take’s Stephen A. Smith publicly questioned the motives of these reporters.

“Well I think it’s important to highlight what RC (Ryan Clark) just said. We got some (expletive) people in the media,” Smith declared. “Let’s just call it what it is. You got cats that played in the league and then all of a sudden, they get into this realm and they forget what transpired in that locker room and between those lines.”

Smith was referring to the following comments by Ryan Clark, which the former NFL safety and current ESPN analyst made on First Take.

“I saw what Geoff (Schwartz) tweeted yesterday,” Clark said near the start of First Take. “We start getting into where Adam Schefter is saying ‘assault,’ where all of these people are saying these things are criminal. To me, that puts these players in a position where you’re making them or you’re putting them in a category with people that rob, with people that steal, with people that assault, with people that commit domestic violence. And we have to be very careful when we start to toe that line.”

Now some websites have cited the NFL rule book which includes this line: “A player must not use a helmet that is no longer worn by anyone as a weapon to strike, swing at, or throw at an opponent.” But said rule book and stipulation applies to things that happen during games, not in practices.  “I appreciate the fact that RC reminded the world that when you’re labeling guys like that and accusing them of criminality with the verbiage that you use, that’s a problem,” Smith said. “And we should have a heightened level of sensitivity to that as Black men.”

“When you got white analysts talking that way and using that language about Black dudes, that’s another level. And that’s why I appreciate RC bringing that up,” Smith continued. “I’m not accusing any analyst of racism or anything like that, I’m just telling them how we take it. Now what I want to do, if I’m looking at whoever sent that tweet out, I forgot his name, it was Schwartz or whomever, but it doesn’t matter. Whoever sent that tweet out and whoever thinks like that, now I want to see if you say that about the white dude that does it. Because if I don’t hear the same verbiage, if I don’t hear the same language if something like that happens with somebody white, now I’m looking at you with a raised eyebrow and saying, ‘what the hell you trying to say?’”

Now no rational person thinks swinging a helmet at another player is a good action. Donald was totally wrong in doing that and the Rams should, at minimum, fine him, if not let him sit out some practices. But calling for a suspension seems excessive, and using the term “assault,” which refers to criminal actions or behavior, is way out of line. Whatever else Donald was doing, it’s doubtful that his actions were either malicious or planned. They were spontaneous, and certainly wrong and potentially dangerous. However, equating them with criminal behavior is unjustified.

Now whether there is or was racial bias or intent in the rhetoric of NFL analysts calling for Donald’s suspension is also difficult to assess. Without knowing anything about past behavior or comments, it’s unfair to label something racist out of context. It IS fair to ask whether these analysts believe that anyone who does what Donald did in a supervised practice should be suspended, or whether any white players in similar altercations have ever been suspended. If they answer no to either question, then it is fair to question their motives.

But the far more important issue remains the accuracy of language and the tendency for those in prominent broadcast positions to make overly broad and often inaccurate statements regarding actions and behavior. If anything can be learned in this instance, it’s that people need to think before they speak and not simply react as though they’re part of some unthinking online mob.