Stephen A. Smith, a Fresh Voice for Sports TV

The outspoken host of ESPN's Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith is a former sportswriter for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He's also a regular commentator on ESPN shows. He talks with Ed Gordon about his new visibility.

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Few sports journalists have seen the kind of meteoric rise as that of Stephen A. Smith. In a relatively short time, the boisterous 37-year-old has gone from covering Philadelphia high-school basketball to having his own show on one of the ESPN networks. But many wonder how the sometimes loud, in-your-face, love-him-or-hate-him journalist has become the modern-day Howard Cosell.

Mr. STEPHEN A. SMITH (Host, "Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith"): I'm a person that prides myself on being extremely honest. What you see is what you get. Certainly I think that when it comes to my new television show, I can understand people asking that question because there are things, Ed, that I'm learning that you've known for years, doing all the things that you've done. So sometimes I have to step back a little bit and I can't come at you with the level of momentum and sort of fiery personality that I'm accustomed to doing, but that's only because I'm learning a new craft. But essentially everything you see is me. What you see is what you get.

GORDON: Stephen, baseball, football, basketball--overwhelmingly brown, if you will, two of those sports, overwhelmingly black in this country, yet the people that report on sports still overwhelmingly white.

Mr. SMITH: Yes.

GORDON: You have been noted as one of those who is a breakthrough talent for black journalists, yet you are also often written about as, you know, the most hated man on radio and television. Yet if you talk to the black community, they love you. How much of that shows what we've been talking about over the course of the last of weeks in this country, and that is the different prisms, the racial divide that we see?

Mr. SMITH: I think it crystalizes it personally. I don't think there's any question about that. And I'm very happy that you brought that up. The fact of the matter is, you know, that doesn't mean that every black person agrees with every single thing that I say, or that everything I say, I'm speaking for the entire black community. But I do pride myself on representing my people in an accurate and upstanding fashion. The fact remains is that there's a paucity of African Americans in television in terms of power positions. There's certainly a paucity of African Americans from a columnist standpoint in the newspaper industry. There's very little room or there's very few of us that have a license to editorialize and to express the opinions and the beliefs of our community.

So when I've been put in that position, I've held it as a badge of honor and I'm not ashamed nor am I shy about pointing out the fact that I'm one of the few because I'm not proud of it. I wish there were more of us. There isn't. And that's the reality of the situation.

GORDON: Let me ask you quickly about the black athlete present day. And I know you've been very vocal in this. There are a lot of people who suggest, as you already said in your case, to whom much is given, much is expected. There are many who say that we are not seeing enough social consciousness from the black athlete today. How much do you buy that because of the podium that they are given based on celebrity, they need to do more?

Mr. SMITH: I buy into that heavily. I definitely believe that. I certainly don't believe that they need to step up for every single issue that occurs. I don't think that that's there responsibility on every occasion. But I do think that it's nice to see guys speak up. I certainly don't think that if you're Tiger Woods and you're broached about the issue of blacks participating in the sport of golf that you should be muted on that particular issue. I'm from that Jim Brown philosophy when it comes to that regard. I definitely think that a lot of these guys cower beneath the spotlight, and I think the biggest reason is is they don't want to interrupt the fact that they're accepted by the masses at large. And I think that's a problem.

The fact is is that when you're out there front and center, if somebody asks you a question, there's nothing wrong with you expressing what your belief system, what your value is, especially when you're making money off the backs of people by being marketed. If you're an athlete, people are still going to come see the show. Even if they're coming to see you to boo you and to hate you, they're going to come see you. And the reason why they're in the positions that they're in is because somebody stood up and fought for them to have the right to do what they're doing and to perform the way that they're performing. I wish some of them were more sensitive to that and stepped up to the plate and handled that challenge, because a lot of them, far too many of them, are too reluctant to do so.

GORDON: When you take a look at what's done road for you--I mean, you're doing radio now. You've got a radio show. You've got the television show. You're still with the Philadelphia Inquirer. You've become quite a cottage industry for yourself. But is there a method to your madness? What would you love to be able to do with all of this?

Mr. SMITH: You know, I dream of being one of the pre-eminent voices in the world of sports. And it's not just about being a great newspaper columnist or a great television host or a great television analyst or a great radio host. It's about making a difference. And if that means crystalizing some of the things that are not popular, that are relatively controversial or anything else, so be it. That's who I am and I'm not about to change. That's who I am.

GORDON: Good to hear that, Stephen A. Smith. The program is "Quite Frankly." You can see it on ESPN2 and you can read his column in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Always good to talk to you, man.

Mr. SMITH: Always good to talk to you, Ed. Thanks for having me on, man.

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