Will Smith Was Wrong to Slap Chris Rock | Opinion

The following is a lightly edited transcript of remarks made by Celeste Headlee during a Newsweek bonus episode of The Debate about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock. You can listen to the podcast here:

I do not want any man that I am in a relationship with making assumptions about what I can or cannot handle. Nobody's words or jokes are bad enough for me to require a violent response. If Chris Rock was physically threatening me and I have a larger, stronger person by my side, male or female, who wants to step in and take that punch for me? Absolutely. I'm a female journalist on Twitter. I get horrible abuse aimed at me every single day. I'm not saying that it's okay; I'm just saying that in terms of the level of injury, when you are in the public, mean words are aimed at you all the time. The right to free speech just means the government's not going to prosecute you for what you've said.

will smith slap vladimir putin wendy walsh
Following Will Smith's slap of Chris Rock, relationship expert Dr. Wendy Walsh apologized for a video she made comparing Smith to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty

It doesn't mean that if tell some woman that she's ugly, that her husband isn't going to punch you in the face. That's absolutely the case. You have to bear in mind that there are consequences to what you say. When you are somebody like Chris Rock, and you come out and you say nasty things or make bad jokes, you have to assume that there's a possibility of negative consequences. But is it okay for Will Smith to storm up on stage and not only smack Chris Rock in the face, and then sit down in the seats and swear on national TV? No, I don't think so.

Celeste Headlee is the Co-host of The Debate at Newsweek, and author of Speaking of Race: Why Everybody Needs to Talk About Racism—and How to Do It

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.