Dear Stephen A.,
Before we go off too deep in this open letter we would first like to say that we at The Shadow League respect you. Your bombastic, over the top style of commentating may be off-putting to some, but many of us know those who are as passionate as you when speaking about sports and other issues as well. Your tone and candor is reminiscent of the barbershop banter that many of us have grown up witnessing or engaging in ourselves. In addition, you’re one of the most visible African-American male sports journalists in the country. Although we may not always agree with your predictions and outlooks, your ability to break news is admirable. I’ll never forget how you got the scoop before everyone in sports − nearly a year before it actually happened − when properly predicting that LeBron James and Chris Bosh would eventually join Dwyane Wade in Miami
Getting one segment of the population or another riled up on a daily basis when appearing alongside Skip Bayless and Cari Champion on ESPN’s First Take, the subject matter is mostly sports related. However, when you and Skip discussed the punishment doled out to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice over assaulting his wife, the discussion spilled outside the lines and forced America to squirm uncomfortably in its seat until the segment was over.
This video shows how your mind was racing a million miles a minute, but it never stopped to remember that domestic violence is sensitive territory. When you brought up the word “provoke” millions of men across the nation sighed in unison. We knew what you were trying to say, but it didn’t come out right. As children, many of us who were raised in the inner city were taught to never let anyone put their hands on us without responding in kind. However, as adults we have to amend that rule by knowing when to exercise restraint in matters that involve women.
The more you got into your point, the more you stumbled and stuttered to get it across. But it was too late. Twitter was already in an inferno by the time you finished speaking. ESPN colleague Michelle Beadle tweeted immediately, like millions of other women across the country, who interpreted your comments as advocating violence against women.
While freedom of the press makes America a great place to live and work, the reality is that freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from the consequences of speech. This is nothing new to you, Stephen. You’ve experienced that dichotomy several times throughout your career. In 2007, you were demoted at the Philadelphia Inquirer, forbidden from writing columns, and named a general assignment reporter because of political views made on cable news stations and on your website stephena.com. You were only invited back after agreeing to cut the politics and focus on sports. Also in 2007, your show Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith was canceled after you made comments about how race effected the MVP voting process in MLB, but ESPN said it was because of poor ratings. In 2013, you made a ghastly journalistic faux pas when inaccurately claiming that the Chicago Blackhawks’ 14-game winning streak did not compare to that of the Miami Heat, because the Blackhawks had several tie games included in their record. You attempted to correct yourself by saying, "Excuse me, when it was 21 games it was really an eight-game streak. There are three ties. I'm sorry, that doesn't count. I'm not in to the tie business. This isn't soccer… I'm sorry, I'm not buying it."
But your facts were still wrong. The NHL abandoned the tie system in favor of the shootout almost 10 years prior to your statement. So this brief history alone illustrates the fact that at times you like to swerve like an 18-wheeler with nine flat tires.
Now, there’s your most recent gaffe.
And I heard what you said Stephen. At no point did you say it was okay to hit a woman. However, as is often the case when you speak, things get lost in translation. I know you were trying to be fair in an assessment of domestic violence from the point of view of men and some women like Whoopi Goldberg who defended you on The View. But she received her own share of backlash. And you, perhaps because of your less than clean slate at ESPN, were forced to apologize at the beginning of First Take the following day.
You looked contrite, you looked sincere, and you looked defeated. That’s not the Stephen A. Smith we know. The Stephen A. Smith we know would have reiterated his original point and reworded it as to not be so abrasive on the issues. But you’ve repeatedly professed your love for capitalism on First Take and it was a clear move to be protect your personal brand and bottom-line. I get it.
And I could absolutely go the black power Shadow League route on this and point out how ESPN is quick to fire and suspend brothers. Sportswriter Jason Whitlock once got the ax for “racially insensitive” comments. As did former ESPN commentator, WDFN AM Detroit radio host, and current Shadow League contributor Rob Parker after being accused of doing the same. Now, you’ve been suspended from duties on First Take for one week in light of your controversial Ray Rice comments.
But here’s the thing Stephen, ESPN is a Disney owned property. Remember? Political correctness and pseudo family friendly programming is their hallmark. Perhaps it would be in your best interest from now on to simply stay in your lane and stick to sports. That is, if you want to stay in Disney owned sports journalism. Because every time you swerve your mouth to social or political issues, the collateral damage is often astronomical, or a slap, depending on which side one stands.
Let us reiterate, Stephen A. We like you and it pains us to see you constantly give ammunition to your enemies. We know how difficult it is to censor oneself when the emotions are high, the cameras are rolling, and the subject matter is meaty. But it would do you a world of good to just shut up. Do what you know best: Sports. Swerving leaves you open to scrutiny. And as a Black man, we know that you know, this is rarely a good thing.