How do you take an ugly story, a viral video of a football player punching a woman in the face at a bar, and make it even uglier? If you're MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, you throw in some weird observations about the "profile" of the victim.
On Monday, video emerged of now-former Florida State University quarterback De'Andre Johnson punching a woman in the face at a bar two weeks ago, for which he was arrested and thrown off the team. According to Johnson's lawyer, the woman hurled racial epithets at his client, kneed him in the groin, then struck him before Johnson responded by punching her in the face.
In the video, you can see both of them trying to squeeze in at the bar, and the clip is consistent with what Johnson's attorney told NBC News. She starts jawing at him, raises her fist, he grabs her, she thrusts her knee at him. hits him, and then Johnson punches her in the face and walks away:
Johnson was charged with misdemeanor battery, released on $500 bail, and suspended indefinitely from the football team. His lawyer says Johnson regrets not simply walking away immediately, and that he's now volunteering at a battered women's shelter.
On Tuesday morning's Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough and the gang did several segments on the newly-released video, and amid the commentary in their first segment was this odd notation by the host:
"What about the culture that would have a guy thinking he could get away with punching a blonde woman who, like, uh, the other alleged victim, at the bar..."
The "other alleged victim" to whom he was referring was the woman who accused another former FSU quarterback, Jameis Winston, of sexual assault in 2012. No charges were filed in that case, and Winston was selected first in the 2015 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The reference to hair color struck me as odd, really odd, but I figured maybe it was just a random brain fart. But then an hour later, he did it again, and more pointedly:
"Jameis Winston, according to the alleged victim, allegedly punched and sexually abused a woman who fits a profile, blonde college student, it looks like from that video, his alleged victim. Now, why would you think that you could get away with that?"
In both cases, Scarborough is clearly dancing around the point he's really trying to make, as he is wont to do when he knows he's talking shit but just can't help himself, but there's really no good answer for why he would choose to point that out repeatedly. The best case scenario is that he's really talking about hair color, and his implication is that another hair color would make the assault easier to get away with.
The more likely explanation is that he is haltingly using blonde hair as a stand-in for "white woman," and asking how these two black football players thought they could get away with assaulting them, as opposed to a black or brown woman. As steeped in Southern culture as he is, Scarborough is surely aware of the role that this dynamic played in the stereotypical narratives around lynching, stereotypes that persist to this day.
Scarborough, unfortunately, didn't explain what his point exactly was, instead letting the inference dangle. It would have been interesting to hear why he thought it mattered. Would the incident have been treated the same if Johnson had punched a black girl? Would the police have released the video? Would this be national news? What if Johnson was white?
Instead, viewers were left with the impression that Joe Scarborough is either oddly fascinated with hair color, or that there's a pattern of behavior between a certain type of athlete and a certain type of woman. Maybe he'll explain it all tomorrow.