Smith, Stephen A.
Stephen A. Smith
Journalist, television and radio commentator
Stephen A. Smith is a print journalist, television and radio commentator, and blogger known for his outspoken views on the world of professional basketball. Called by Richard Sandomir in the New York Times "a fierce, confident, at times bombastic presence," Smith is valued particularly for his ability to engage readers and audience members, even those who disagree with him. As Mark Shapiro, an executive vice president at the sports network ESPN, was quoted by Sandomir as saying in 2005 on the launch of Smith's television talk show, "People like him and dislike him, but they still watch him. These days, it's hard to find a talent who strikes a chord that way."
Born Stephen Anthony Smith on October 14, 1967, in Hollis, a diverse neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens, Smith attended local schools before entering Winston-Salem State University, a black-majority school in North Carolina, where he played basketball and wrote for the school newspaper. As he was finishing the coursework for the bachelor's degree he received in 1992, he took the first in a series of newspaper jobs, working as a reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal. He then spent a year at another North Carolina paper, the Greensboro News and Record, before moving to the New York Daily News, where he focused on high school sports. In 1994 he moved to the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he would remain for fourteen years in a variety of capacities. Hired as a general sportswriter, he received several promotions, becoming, in succession, the newspaper's primary reporter on the '76ers, the city's professional basketball team; its NBA columnist; and, in 2003, a general sports columnist, with the ability to cover any sports-related topic. According to Smith, his 2003 promotion made him one of only twenty-one African Americans in the country with a general sports column.
Smith's rapid rise at the Inquirer came to an awkward end, however. In August of 2007 he was abruptly demoted back to a general-assignment sports reporter. Despite widespread speculation in Philadelphia, both the paper's management and Smith himself were reluctant to discuss the reasons for the demotion. Unnamed sources told the Philadelphia-based news blog Phawker, however, that editors felt Smith's numerous television and radio commitments were distracting him from his responsibilities at the newspaper.
Less than six months later, in January of 2008, his relationship with the Inquirer ended altogether. In a statement issued through his lawyer on February 1, 2008, he called the newspaper's treatment of him "malicious, intentional, and vindictive." As of June of 2008, a union grievance filed on Smith's behalf was pending, and there was a hint on his blog that further litigation was planned. "I positively pray that one day I'll have the opportunity to express precisely how I feel … about the stripping of my column by the Philadelphia Inquirer," Smith wrote on April 15, 2008. "(I have lawyers for a reason, folks!)."
As his relationship with the Inquirer deteriorated, Smith concentrated on his television and radio appearances. His career in radio began in 2005, when he became the host of a two-hour "sports talk" show on New York's WEPN, a station affiliated with the national network ESPN. Smith's show proved popular with listeners, and in the fall of 2007 ESPN announced that it would begin broadcasting the show's second hour nationwide. In April of the following year, however, the network announced the immediate end of The Stephen A. Smith Show. ESPN explained its decision with notable reticence, saying only that it wanted to allow Smith more time to concentrate on his work for the network's television division.
Smith has appeared frequently on television, primarily on ESPN. His first recurring role on the network came in the fall of 2003, when he was hired to analyze professional basketball on the program NBA Shootaround. While Smith also made frequent guest appearances on other ESPN programs, including Sports-Center and ESPNews, it was Shootaround that established his reputation as a vocal, sometimes brash, commentator unafraid of controversy or dispute. Critics of his loud, aggressive style have sometimes referred to him as "Screamin' A. Smith," and Smith himself has acknowledged that he can be impatient when forced to listen to opinions contrary to his own. In those situations, Smith told Sandomir in the New York Times, "I'm struggling with the reality that I feel differently, that I have a minimal amount of time to express what I want to say. Somebody is saying something I don't agree with and I have 45 seconds." While some critics found his on-air persona distracting, even irritating, ESPN executives liked the energy and enthusiasm he brought to Shootaround, and in 2005 they offered him his own nightly talk show. Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith premiered in August of that year and would remain on the air until January of 2007, when it was canceled because of low ratings. While Smith had previously expressed some frustration at what he saw as the network's failure to promote his program sufficiently, he took a more conciliatory stance in a New York Daily News interview just after the cancellation was announced. "I don't look at that as anyone else's fault," Smith said of the show's demise. "The reality is you are here to generate viewers and to make sure they are watching. I didn't do a good enough job of it."
There is little doubt that the cancellations of his television show, radio show, and newspaper column were significant setbacks. As of June of 2008, however, Smith continued to play a prominent role in American sports journalism, with a new column in ESPN The Magazine, another on ESPN.com, and regular guest spots on a number of ESPN television programs. He also maintains a personal Web site and blog, where he has frequently discussed his ambition to move into fields beyond sports, notably politics. "My aspiration," he writes on his Web site, "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."
At a Glance …
Born Stephen Anthony Smith on October 14, 1967, in Queens, NY. Education: Winston-Salem State University, BA, 1992.
Career: Winston-Salem Journal, reporter, 1991-92; Greensboro News and Record, reporter, 1992-93; New York Daily News, reporter, 1993-94; Philadelphia Inquirer, reporter, 1994-2001 and 2007-08, columnist, 2001-07; WEPN-ESPN 1050, host of radio program The Stephen A. Smith Show, 2005-08; ESPN Television, sports analyst, 2003—, host of talk show Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith, 2005-07; ESPN The Magazine, columnist, 2008—; ESPN.com, columnist, 2008—.
Addresses: Web—http://www.stephena.com. Blog—http://stephenablog.typepad.com/. Agent—William Morris Agency, 1325 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.
New York Daily News, January 13, 2007.
The New York Times, July 31, 2005.
"Biography," The Official Site of Stephen A. Smith,http://www.stephena.com/html/bio.html (accessed June 2, 2008).
"Exclusive: Stephen A. Smith Stripped of Column," Phawker, August 21, 2007, http://www.phawker.com/2007/08/21/exclusive-stephen-a-smith-stripped-of-column/ (accessed June 2, 2008).
Prince, Richard, "Stephen A. Smith Slams Inquirer," Richard Prince's Journal-isms, Maynard Institute, February 1, 2008, http://www.maynardije.org/columns/dickprince/080201_prince/ (accessed June 2, 2008).
Smith, Stephen A., "I Haven't Gone Anywhere, People!" The Official Stephen A. Smith Blog, April 15, 2008, http://stephenablog.typepad.com/ (accessed June 2, 2008).
—R. Anthony Kugler
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