April 5th, 2022

Commentary From Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Bestselling Author of the Award- Winning Book “Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies” (Nicholas Brealey)

Actor Will Smith apologized to Chris Rock a day after he slapped the comedian in response to a joke about Smith’s wife at the Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood, California.

As angry as Smith was with Rock, he could have handled the situation better.

Brandy Aven is an associate professor of organizational theory at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. She said Smith’s anger was understandable, and he was fully entitled to it. “However, it is the expression of it that was not appropriate, and I believe he would agree.

“He escalated to violence when there were several other alternative responses that might have been more impactful. For instance, if he had emerged on the stage and demanded an apology that would have been far more appropriate to help Chris Rock and the audience understand how hurtful comments about appearance can be, especially if it is a known medical issue,” she explained.

Key Lessons

When faced with the need to apologize, company executives can learn the following lessons from Smith’s apology that he posted on Instagram.

Don’t Wait

  • Although Smith apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees when he accepted the Best Actor award last night, he made no mention of Rock.

Be Direct

  • He called his own behavior “unacceptable and inexcusable.”

Make It Personal When Appropriate

  • Smith said that, “I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris.”

Explain What Prompted Your Actions

  • In his statement today, Smith admitted that ,”…a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much to bear, and I reacted emotionally.”

Be Clear

  • Make it clear why you were wrong. Smith wrote that “I was out of line, and I was wrong.”

Express Embarrassment/Remorse/Regret

  • He pointed out, “I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be.”
  • Smith wrote that “I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us.”

Put Things In Proper Perspective

  • The actor said that “There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.”
  • He admitted that “I am a work in progress.”

Don’t Leave Anyone Out

  • He ended his apology by saying, “I would also like to apologize to the Academy, the producers of the show, all the attendees and everyone watching around the world. I would like to apologize to the Williams Family and my King Richard Family.”

Too Late To Matter?

Smith’s delayed apology might not be enough to save him from the consequences of his actions. Although Rock declined to press charges against the actor, he has six months to change his mind. He also has the option of suing Smith.

A day after the incident, Academy issued this statement: “The academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show. We have officially started a formal review around the incident and will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct and California law.”


While some on social media said they could understand why Smith got angry at Rock, few condoned his violent response.

On Twitter, Rob Reiner said that “Will Smith owes Chris Rock a huge apology. There is no excuse for what he did. He’s lucky Chris is not filing assault charges. The excuses he made tonight were [BS].”

“Let me tell you something, it’s a very bad practice to walk up on stage and physically assault a comedian,” Kathy Griffin wrote on Twitter. “Now we all have to worry about who wants to be the next Will Smith in comedy clubs and theaters,” according to ABC News.

People reported “Noting that she thought Will’s outburst was a result of “a lot of stuff built up,” including a joke that Rock, 57, made at Jada’s expense at the 2016 Oscars. Whoopi Goldberg added, “I think he overreacted.’”


Edward Segal is a crisis management expert, consultant and the bestselling author of the award-winning Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey). Order the book at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0827JK83Q/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

Segal is a Leadership Strategy Senior Contributor for Forbes.com where he covers crisis-related news, topics and issues. Read his recent articles at https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/?sh=3c1da3e568c5.