After several weeks of dodging controversy and being suspended due to his comments on ESPN’s "First Take" regarding the Ray Rice domestic violence incident, Stephen A. Smith has come out on the other side of this firestorm shining brighter than ever and with more opportunity to express himself by leaving ESPN radio and joining the uncensored airwaves of Sirius XM as the first “worthy” black host on the Mad Dog Radio channel.
He will take over the same 1-3 pm time slot for Mad Dog that he currently holds down on ESPN radio.
Russo, you'll recall, went on a prolonged rant in May about how he had not yet come across a black host “worthy” or capable of hosting a sports show on his station. TSL took him to task for that absurd and disrespectful take on black sports journalists. We called for his head. Then we blasted MLB Network for continuing to support this joker by airing his show daily.
Russo survived that minor backlash and months later he has chosen to rectify it by hiring the most notorious and celebrated African-American, sports talking-head in existence. You have to give Mad Dog credit. If he was going to put a brother on his channel, he wasn’t pulling in some middle-of-the-road, conservative cat that’s afraid to shake things up. He kept his business gangsta and brought in a guy who lives for ratings and spewing ready-rock at any sports junkie who wants a ride on the wild side.
Smith is from the Chris Russo School of blow hard broadcasting and attack-mode-verbals. With more freedom to express himself than ever, Russo is probably counting on Smith’s cult-like following to back Super Steve and line Mad Dog’s pockets with some of that urban loot that Russo can’t relate too – and until now – never even acknowledged was important to him.
Sources extremely familiar with Stephen A. and his situation say this was in the works before he had his little hiccup on the increasingly conservative "First Take" show. And honestly speaking, word on the streets is that as a “brand” Smith has grown beyond the confined walls of ESPN’s Bristol Palace.
He’s a celebrity, and while sports journalism may have been the catalyst to his enormous success, his opinion on all matters (religion, race, politics and more recently domestic violence) is obviously valued in society and incite great emotion in viewers from all sides. Smith’s become a taste maker. His words count and therefore should cost more. I’m still very interested to see how uninhibited and brutally honest Stephen A. will be. The fact that he can curse without ramification doesn’t mean his show will be better. Some have lauded this move as genius on Smith’s part and another potentially huge stepping stone for his career, as SiriusXM will give Smith a new, national soapbox to spout his opinions without FCC restrictions.
He embarks on this opportunity while still keeping his ties with ESPN. In fact, ESPN will be producing Smith’s show and he will continue to be a prominent and highly visible figure on "First Take" and other ESPN programming, which brings into question just how much freedom Smith will truly have on Mad Dog’s channel, especially if ESPN is still involved with the production and management of Smith’s show.
If it’s ratings they crave, adding Smith to the roster can only help. Russo’s channel hasn’t exactly been a ratings bonanza. Smith has made a career out of being the “voice of black people,” largely due to his position as one of the few major black radio sports show hosts on the planet. He plays the position of angry black man to perfection and it creates enthralling television when he and Skip play off of each other in every stereotypical way possible in their daily duels on a wide variety of sports and pop culture topics. The racial undertones and visuals have captivated people of all ages and created a legion of fans that tend to side with one or the other host, but all faithfully watch the show.
Russo is probably hoping he and Smith can create a similar stir as their daily shows will follow each other. There are endless possibilities and directions that Mad Dog can go in with this.
None of which I see as bad. Smith is verbal gunslinger who would be best served in the Wild West of satellite radio. Free to spit his opinion no matter how politically incorrect, without sponsors and women’s rights groups asking for his head.
In June of 2013, with Russo’s contract set to end, Bob Raissman of the NY Daily News suggested that ESPN create a Smith-Dog team. He said, it “would be unpredictable. It would have passion, commitment, energy, sheer talent and marquee value, giving 98.7 the best chance it ever had to surpass Mike Francesa in the ratings race.”
I’m sure all parties agreed that one radio show isn’t big enough to happily and cohesively fit the mad mouths of Mad Dog and Super Steve, so ESPN passed on its chance for that potential ratings rush. Then Mad Dog inked a new deal with SiriusXM and MLB Network that August, totally sinking any chance of him jjoining Smith as a sports talk Super Group.
Maybe we will see an even more expressive Smith (if that’s possible) on SiriusXM. This kind of situation tends to weed out the people who watch you because you are on must-watch TV from the ones who really cherish your daily grind and are faithful followers of your movement. Viewers and co-workers that despise you most likely won’t purchase your satellite package and therefore aren’t forced to listen to you or even acknowledge your existence.
Now, Smith will find out who his real friends (fans) are.
Smith’s SiriusXM show would be on opposite the same time slot when his ESPN Radio New York program aired. Currently, Smith co-hosts a show with Ryan Ruocco right after his “First Take” gig on ESPN2. He and Ruocco will probably become competitors. At first glance, it seems like more of a business move benefitting ESPN, Russo and Sirius/XM, with Smith as a secondary beneficiary – some may say pawn – in this deal. Did Smith make a deal with the devil? Or did he make a power move that will be lauded and celebrated years from now.
From his days of covering Allen Iverson’s tumultuously terrific NBA career for the Philadelphia Inquirer (in essence, documenting the rise and fall of America’s first hip-hop NBA superstar and having a direct link and front row look at the rising impact of basketball, marketing and branding on our culture) to his short-running, late-night TV show "Quite Frankly With Stephen A. Smith," to his daily wars with Skip Bayless, Smith has always been a game-changer.
This might be his most boss move yet. His new name should be “The Barometer,” because he’s setting the standard now. Let’s see what he does with it.