“I Speak The Way That I Speak” | Stephen A. Smith Says Those Who Criticize His Debate Style Never Have A Problem When White People Yell

ESPN talking head Stephen A. Smith doesn’t like the way Meadowlark Media’s Dan Le Batard has framed him and his fellow talking head personalities like Skip Bayless. Smith thinks there’s a racial component to the critiques, but regardless says he will continue to do what he’s aways done because his shows do numbers that nobody else in the industry can touch.

Slow News Period

It’s late August, which means sports media companies are looking for content to go viral. To be fair, that’s always the goal. But the late summer months are particularly rough. College football hasn’t started yet, we are a couple weeks away from the NFL regular season, these are the dog days for Major League Baseball and the NBA season is two months away.

Manufactured beef between Smith and Le Batard ahead of the new season of Smith’s show “First Take,” with new guest Shannon Sharpe, already has high anticipation. It will be even greater now that people will tune in to see if he goes at Le Batard on the ESPN airwaves.

Smith’s “beef” goes back to an interview he did with Le Batard earlier this year where told Smith he hates what he and Bayless have done to sports television. Le Batard blames them for what he calls the “dumbing down” of sports journalism with fake debate.

At the time Smith responded by asking Le Batard who he thought he was to question Smith when Smith’s style is extremely successful and has paved the way for more sports television programming.

Last Friday, Smith decided to bring it up again on his eponymous show and go at Le Batard.

“Respectfully, Dan Le Batard, you know good and f****** well this is how I talk. Sometimes lower, sometimes higher, but I always talk like this. It ain’t performative, it’s me. It’s insulting for you to imply that. And I’m sick and tired of being hit in the back with implications from someone that’s supposed to know me.

“I speak the way that I speak,” Smith continued. “What do you mean, performative, like I’m trying to put on a show? I’ve talked to you on the phone when nobody’s around, when nobody’s listening, when nobody’s watching, the exact same way. This is the b*******. Another network might capitulate to all that, and I hope they don’t, I love competition. Don’t bother me at all. It makes the world go round. Let’s get it on.”

Le Batard also called Bayless a “plague” and said Bayless gave Smith the chance to do a “white man-black man” thing and all the “dog whistles” that come with it.

“That is incredibly, incredibly insulting, more so to Skip Bayless,” Smith said. “A ‘plague’? Because he wants to hate on LeBron? And people debate him? And it’s usually somebody Black sitting across from him? Well, white people have debated Skip Bayless. They didn’t rate. The art of television is that ratings and revenue do matter, they do count. So let’s get that out of the way.

“Secondly, I’m not going to apologize for being somebody who appreciates the opportunity that Skip Bayless gave me, because he was a white man in that position,” Smith emphasized. “And that was something that he didn’t have to do, but he elected to have me as a debate partner. And although my career has taken off and I’ve been blessed and fortunate to be No. 1 ever since, knock on wood.”

Multiple Things Can Be True At Once

Yes, it is television. Ratings and revenue are the bottom line. To that end, hosts and producers will push the envelope to ensure high ratings, which leads to ad revenue.

Given who this country is, seeing a Black man and a white man argue about sports and lean into the requisite dog whistles rates very high. It’s just a fact.

Smith and Bayless’ “embrace debate” ethos is performative. The histrionics and exaggerated sighs and eye rolls are done for effect. They want more viewers. Conflict, real or manufactured, draws people in.

It is also true that what Smith and Bayless do is extremely popular. There’s a reason why they are among the highest-paid people in the industry, and why their shows do monster ratings numbers. A lot of people want to tune in and consume that type of programming.

Does it dumb down overall sports discourse? Yes.

Now, if you are someone who prefers emotional arguments about sports and likes to make judgments on players and teams based on personal preference and aesthetics, that’s totally fine. This is sports, not geopolitics. If you just want to laugh or be entertained, then what Smith and Bayless do is right up your alley, and it works.

But if you’re curious about why teams do certain things, or why player X is better than player Y, despite popular opinion, then you might need to seek that type of content elsewhere. And that’s OK too.

There is room for everyone to enjoy sports the way they want.

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