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Legendary sports commentator Stephen A. Smith goes one-on-one
By Brandon I. Brooks, Managing Editor
Published April 5, 2017
Bristol, CT - October 4, 2016 - Photo Studio: Portrait of Stephen A. Smith (Photo by Chris Beauchamp / ESPN Images)

Stephen A. Smith (Photo by Chris Beauchamp / ESPN Images)

When it comes to the world of sports commentary, few voices, faces or names are more recognizable than that of Stephen A. Smith.

Better known to many sports fans as Stephen A., the edgy and opinionated sportscaster, can be viewed mornings on the hit ESPN television series, “First Take.” If you miss the telecast, you can listen to Smith daily on his nationally syndicated sports radio show, “The Stephen A. Smith Show,” which airs on 710 AM ESPN Los Angeles and SiriusXM’s ESPN Channel 80. Smith can also be seen regularly on ESPN television, giving commentary for primetime N.B.A. and N.F.L. games, and he even appears on commercials as a spokesperson for Oberto All-Natural Beef Jerky. Smith’s busy workload is the reason many in the broadcast industry consider him to be the hardest working man in sporting news.

In recent years, his status has grown from well-known to high profile celebrity, as his face and name are more recognizable than many of today’s popular athletes. You know a celebrity’s popularity goes up a notch when “Saturday Night Live” does character impersonations of them. Smith has even extended his career to “part time” actor, having guest starred in a reoccurring role on ABC’s soap opera, “General Hospital,” which happens to be his favorite show.


With a career spanning over 20 years, Smith has developed great personal and working relationships with many of today’s top-tier athletes. For example, he exclusively interviewed boxing legend Floyd Mayweather before Mayweather’s highly publicized match versus Manny Pacquiao, who Mayweather went on to defeat. Smith was able to gain private access to Mayweather’s home and daily routine for an in-depth look behind the scenes into the boxing legends lifestyle. Smith’s interview with “Money Mayweather” is considered to be the most memorable interview the boxer has given throughout his illustrious career.

Stephen A’s celebrity was capsulized with public affection when NBA Hall of Famers Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson mentioned Smith during their Hall of Fame induction speeches. Smith is known for having a great friendship with both O’Neal and Iverson but none more personal than with Iverson, who Smith considers to be “a little brother.” Smith and Iverson developed a tight bond during Smith’s days covering the Philadelphia 76ers, working as a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. When asked on how he felt about being mentioned by the two legendary players during their biggest post playing moments, Smith shared that the moment proved to be “one of the most humbling nights,” of his life.

Born and raised in Hollis Queens, New York, Smith’s humble beginnings were rocky as he suffered from dyslexia which attributed him academic struggles.

“I got left back in the third grade because I had a first-grade reading level,” said Smith. “I got promoted at the end of the summer back to my right grade, which was the fourth grade; went through the 4th grade, got left back again because my reading was still at the first-grade reading level.”


Stephen A. Smith (Photo by Valerie Goodloe for Sentinel)

Smith recalls his peers making fun of him which motivated him to seek help and educate himself. He buried his head in books and mastered the art of reading comprehension.

“Ultimately, I tried to read more and more significantly, which obviously elevated my level of knowledge,” said Smith. “I could always talk. As my mother would say, I came out of her womb talking. So, the combination of the two, combined with my basketball background, I ended up going to Winston-Salem (State University) after being at FIT, which was the Fashion Institute of Technology. People use to laugh and talk about [Fit] ‘that is a junior college, what are you majoring in, sewing?’ I majored in advertisement communications, but what people did not realize was that we were 35 and four, ranked fifteenth in the nation as a junior college (basketball team). So that ultimately led me into getting into Winston-Salem.”

Smith credits his transition to a Historical Black College and University (HBCU) to a man by the name of Harold Kitt. Kitt arranged for Smith to have a basketball tryout with Hall of Fame coach Clarence Gaines. During the basketball tryout, Smith hit 17 straight three pointers impressing coach Gaines enough that Smith was signed to a scholarship on the spot.


In his first year at Winston-Salem State University, Smith cracked his knee cap in half and would never be the same player. His basketball playing career was pretty much over but the injury is what led him to start working and writing for the school newspaper. Smith continued to play basketball while also working as a disc jockey at the school’s radio station. He took 18 credit semester hours and worked weekends for the Winston-Salem Chronicle. He later transitioned to a daily gig with the Winston Daily Journal.

“That ultimately parlayed into internships in Atlanta, and back in Winston-Salem and for the Greensboro News and Record,” said Smith. “I landed a high school job at the New York Daily News. Parlayed that 14 months later into a job at the Philadelphia Inquirer, where I got promoted like 9 times in 11 years. After that, everything just took off when I ultimately did television for CNN/SI, during the [NBA] lockout short season in 1998 and 1999. I went from that to FOX Sports, then went to ESPN from there in 2003 and the rest is history.”

Smith’s primary goal while climbing the ranks in the newspaper industry was being able to editorialize and be a respected columnist. In 2003, at the time Smith became a general sports columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, he was the 21st African American in the country’s history to hold such a position.


Stephen A. Smith (Photo by Valerie Goodloe for Sentinel)

“You didn’t have Black sports editors, you didn’t have Black columnists, so you weren’t having Black reporters being elevated to that position where they had the opportunity to express themselves,” said Smith. “So, it was always my goal and the fact that I was able to parlay that into doing this, that’s why it is a very big deal to me because others have the luxury of being around at a particular moment in time where they get the license to do that. Me, I had to work my way up through the trials and tribulations, that minefield of journalism to elevate to the point where I had an opportunity just to give my opinion. You had to work back in the day to be licensed to do that, now you don’t.”

Smith continues to push for diversity, being a vocal advocate for Black coaches getting a fair shot at being hired in college and on the professional level. Smith shared that his most popular line is, “I am not just a Black man, I’m a brotha. I love my people, I’m not anti-anything. But I’m pro-Black and I’m not apologizing for that to anybody. That’s who I am.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t hold our own accountable, because there are standards that we have to meet just like everyone else and it’s pretty hard to tell other people what they need to do for us, if we’re not willing to do things for ourselves.

“So, to whom much is given, much is required. To be blessed to be in the position that I am in, it would be a crying shame if I got here and all I thought about was me, and I didn’t think about the brotha’s that I could help and the sista’s I could help. Now I will extend my hand to White folks, to Latino’s and everybody. Anybody that wants it bad enough. I’m a God fearing individual and I’m going to do what my soul tells me to do, so it’s not just about helping Black people, it’s about helping people period. But I make no apologies that some of them people, damn sure are going to be Black. I’m not going to be somebody that doesn’t extend a helping hand.”

Smith is also an advocate for diversity in the sports and entertainment industry and proud that the ESPN show, “First Take,” has two Black men behind the scenes pulling the strings. David Roberts works as Vice President of Audio Network Content for ESPN and Antoine Lewis, works as Coordinating Producer for ESPN’s “First take.”

“Dave Roberts is a different beast,” said Smith. “Yes, he’s a Black man, yes that matters, but Dave Roberts is the greatest boss that I ever had. Our sensibilities are locked step.

Bristol, CT - October 4, 2016 - Photo Studio: Portrait of Molly Qerim, Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman (Photo by Chris Beauchamp / ESPN Images)

(L-R) Molly Qerim, Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman
(Photo by Chris Beauchamp / ESPN Images)

“He is not just somebody who oversees me on television, he’s the boss of radio and he has been in television for over two decades; a lot of people don’t realize it because he is the general manager of the audio division. This dude has an extensive television background but he is a phenomenal boss who cares about promoting Black folks who are worthy. But he doesn’t limit it to just them just as I don’t.

“We’re about mass appeal, we ain’t about Black appeal. Black appeal, I absolutely mandate that comes with it; I don’t want mass appeal at the expense of the Black community but I’ll be damn if I just want to appeal to the Black community. I want appeal that resonates nationwide, if not globally. That’s who I am, that’s what I am about. The wider my voice ranges, the better it is for everybody because I’m confident that I’m going to have the sensibilities necessary to contribute to uplifting my community. Again, I’m not against anybody, I love my people and I’m not just one to think about elevating myself by leaving us behind.”

Smith spoke on his controversial remarks regarding Black Lives Matter and wanted to clear the air on allegedly speaking out against the movement.

“I never spoke against Black Lives Matter,” said Smith. “What I asked was, are you doing something that is constructive?  If you refuse to shake the hand of a Bernie Sanders, while at the same time protesting Donald Trump, well who’s on your side? You’ve alienated two extremes. Somebody’s going to be President. You’re going to need somebody’s help. You have to take a side. You can’t just be down the middle and say I’m not taking any side when you have a cause.

“When you look at it from that perspective, those are the kind of the things that we have to think about. Me, I am registered Independent, that’s not necessarily taking a side, Republican or Democrat. But what I do strive to do, is take the side of the truth or what comes closest to it. This makes sense. What are we doing? Are we doing things that are beneficial and productive to our community? Those are the kind of things I pay attention to. But I pay attention to it for our community. I got mine, I’m alright. I’ve got a television show, I’ve got a national radio show. I making good money, I’m in a position to take care of my family, I’m okay, so why am I doing it? I’m doing it because I got a love for us and I want to make sure that while I’m climbing, there are others that are climbing with me. That’s my purpose and I am not apologizing for that to anybody.”

As for his legacy and how he hopes to be remembered after his career, Smith shared he wants to be remembered as somebody who was just as real and straight up as he could possibly be. “Someone who cared about people and cared about being fair. That’s it.”

Categories: Exclusive | National | News (Sports) | Sports
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