Muscle Sport Magazine

Stephen A. Smith Stirs the Race Pot – As Usual

ESPN (No) Personality Can’t Stay Away from Being A Rabble Rouser, Even After Being Sacked from Most Jobs

When you’re a one-trick pony, there should be no surprise that a lesson is never learned. Take Stephen A. Smith, for example. At one point in his career, he was writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and had his own radio and television show. All three have blown up in his face, and no matter what spin he may want to put on it, his controversial ways sealed his fate.

Smith has an uncanny ability to rub people the wrong way with his pro-African American views on everything in the sports world. Someone can be proud of their race and heritage, but when you’re supposedly doing your job – which calls for objectiveness – leave those ideas home. No one reading about a sports organization wants to hear which player is best black athlete. The old saying, “You root for laundry,” means just that – fans don’t care if the player is white, black, hispanic or other. We’re into the team because we grew up with them and cheer for the players wearing that jersey.

Because Smith turns off the majority of the audience – if you need me to spell it out, the white part of the audience – his ratings were not up to par and thus the reason for “Quite Frankly” bouncing around the schedule before being dropped a year and a half later. While the man knows his business, he loses a lot of his credibility by harping on social issues that have no correlation. A prime example is his latest “Up Front” column in the August 25 issue of ‘ESPN The Magazine.’ Calling himself an “angry black man” who has “no desire to be PC,” Smith sounds as if he were standing on a small platform in Times Square instead of sitting in front of a computer.

The title of this piece is ‘Thanks for Your Feedback. But Can’t We All Just Get Along?’ Smith takes on the people who allegedly responded to him, and uses a Rodney King reference to open up the show. First, he feels the need to remind us of his credentials, that he has been a journalist for 15 years and a beat writer for 10 of them. What he should have added was that he was let go by The Inquirer after they demoted him. He further described his arriving at ESPN was the result of “years of blood, sweat and tears.” Sportswriting should not be described as that. I’m sorry, but being in the field myself as a second career after finishing one that could coin that phrase, Smith appears even more short-sighted than before.

The column continues with Smith attempting to prove to a reader named ‘Josh’ that the black athletes of today have a responsibility to be activists, a la their brethren from a generation ago. Just exactly what Smith wants players such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to do to is a good question. What has held them back from becoming the best in the NBA and multi-millionaires? For that matter, the former NBA players he mentions that ‘cleared the path’ (Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabaar) didn’t exactly break the color barrier.

Taking exception to an e-mail from a reader named ‘Bryan,’ Smith attacks him when he points out that people such as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Smith are keeping racism alive by “bitching” about it. Possibly Stephen A. took exception by being lumped together with two people that have had their fair share of negative publicity, or maybe judging by his response he is proud of the association. He once again has to go back in time to make his point. He brings up the civil rights movement, and makes a reference of modern day oppression. At the end, he talks about “pimp-slapping.”

‘Eric’ from Utah gets on Smith’s good side because he tells him he’s white and looks at Tommie Smith and John Carlos as heroes, and that he is instilling into his two teenage children that “they have the privilege of deciding for themselves whether to follow the rules,” which makes Smith respond with a double “Amen.” I don’t know who sounds more clouded here – Dad giving the keys to his impressionable kids to run wild with his blessing, or Stephen A. finding some good in that. As if teenagers needed a reason or okay from a parent to break the rules.

Following a response where he says that he has “toned it down considerably” after being a “loudmouth windbag” in the past, Smith questions ‘Matthew’ when he has the gall to call Stephen A. out to write an article without the topic of race. How did he fire back? By telling the reader to look back at his material from the past, plenty of it which is not race-related. He then continues by describing his articles from his Inquirer and New York Daily News days as him “getting on one black athlete after another,” and then suspecting that Matthew would find that “perfectly okay.”

Let me back up for a second. Smith defends his not always writing about race by stating that he also rips black athletes? Digest that on your own.

Finally, when ‘Scott’ writes to Smith with a complaint of his “pomposity” and that he can’t talk sports without injecting his own agenda, Stephen A. tells him that he’s doing his job as a columnist, and that he has a “license to editorialize” and give his opinion. While I agree with him that it is his column and he can be as opinionated as he wishes, a sports column should be about sports, not social issues that took place in the South 40 years ago. Those articles may have their place, but it is certainly not between the box scores and game recaps.

Almost comically, Smith then tells the reader to “get rid of the Haterade.” He should practice what he preaches.

Sports is the one place to go to get away from everything that is wrong with this world. When issues that don’t belong are dragged into it and force-fed by people like Smith, it takes away the purity of the game. Anyone that knows anything will admit that Jackie Robinson was more than as baseball player, but when people like Smith try to make a comparison of what he went through in the 1940s to a teenage millionaire like LeBron James, it not only does a disservice to Robinson, but to James, as well.

On his personal website, Stephen A. gives us a little insight on his controversial ways. “My aspiration is to talk beyond sports, to use sports as a venue to talk about what really matters to so many people out there. I want the world, not just the sports world.” So, I suppose that Smith feels that sports doesn’t matter to people. Surely, not all will agree with him on that analogy. Maybe he should look into a job with Time magazine or CNBC. Quite frankly, I – along with many others – wouldn’t give a damn.

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