Stephen A. Smith takes many questions from listeners — the kind of questions some might not expect.
It’s part of what he does on “The Stephen A. Smith Show.” Someone wants to randomly know how Smith feels about a man dating taller women, and the long-time sports personality (many of those years with ESPN) provides an answer, openly and honestly.
You’ll get so much more than sports from Smith these days, compared to the days of old. There’s political talk. More relationship advice. Commentary on pop culture and music. Is there sports mixed in? Sure, but you don’t listen to his show, formerly called “Know Mercy,” just for sports takes.
There’s more to Smith’s life, and he wants to showcase his diverse interests. He has goals beyond debating the latest sports news.
All of this is what’s next for Smith, who has been a fixture in the sports world for nearly three decades. He is one of the most recognizable people in sports media but he’s not satisfied with that. “The Stephen A. Smith Show” is separate from his duties with ESPN. He has his own team handling those responsibilities, and the show is done in such a way where it does not violate his ESPN contract that lasts for two more years.
The content is edgier than his ESPN work. You may hear profanity. Topics of discussion only suitable for mature audiences are brought to the table.
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The dialogue leans more into where Smith would love to one day end up: as a late-night television host. He’s been a guest host on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” In a dream world, that would be his job for the future.
“I would jump at the opportunity to try and prove that I could do that,” Smith said. “I would really enjoy making people smile and laugh.”
If Kimmel ever decides to no longer host his show, Smith wants a crack at the gig. He’s still motivated to be the best at what he does in sports media, and the news last week of Shannon Sharpe joining him on “First Take,” which Smith publicly lobbied for on his show, is a sign he’s not coasting when it comes to his ESPN duties. He’s still a major part of the network’s morning lineup, NBA coverage and sports in general.
But “Stephen A. Smith Live!” appeals to him.
“You know, the big mission of mine is just really, really establishing my podcast, having a voice that extends beyond the corridors of ESPN,” he said. “Not to say that I want to leave, because I’m happy here and I’m treated well, but I have other aspirations.”
Smith isn’t just about late-night television dreams. Among his latest endeavors are acting classes this summer. In addition to his recurring role on the daytime soap opera “General Hospital” as Brick, a surveillance expert for the mob, he has made a couple of film cameos, including “I Think I Love My Wife,” directed by Chris Rock in 2007.
“I am going to take (acting) more seriously, because one of the things that I’ve learned to love is you can be whatever the role calls you to be,” Smith said. “You don’t have to be subjected to society’s norms, restrictions and things of that nature. You can be whatever the role calls you to be.”
Smith finds himself being recognized in public as Brick by soap opera fans. That’s a sign he’s gaining an audience more about entertainment than a sports scene.
“I get stopped in every city in the country because they call me Brick,” Smith said. “I’ve got women — White, Black, old, young — all over the place screaming ‘Brick’ because they notice me from ‘General Hospital.’”
NAH THATS BRICK FROM GENERAL HOSPITAL! pic.twitter.com/dyFvOf62ZB
— ? (@jonjoebailey) January 22, 2021
But why is Smith exploring these new creative avenues? He reportedly earns $12 million a year, making him one of the highest paid sports television figures. What reason does he have to venture outside his wheelhouse to discuss President Joe Biden, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the 2024 presidential election?
“No. 1, I don’t like being pigeonholed,” Smith said. “I really wanted to spend some time showcasing where my other interests lie, just so (people) will know and they’ll have an idea, a better idea, of who I am, how I think, what I’m about, and that I’m not afraid to tackle any issues. I’m not afraid to talk about anything.”
Smith hasn’t shied away from much of anything. Politically, he’s been critical of Democrats and Republicans. He also weighs in on current events and delves into the entertainment industry.
It could be seen as a problematic blurring of the lines to some. There are fans staunchly against anything appearing to bring politics into sports, so even if Smith isn’t combining them in the same topic, it might be enough to annoy some.
Smith, however, remains unfazed by entering territories where he’s not considered the expert with years of experience. He said with politics in particular, he makes it a priority to do his homework while remaining transparent.
“I’m not afraid to talk about anything. I am afraid of being misinformed and not knowing that I’m misinformed,” Smith said. “You want to make sure that you know what the hell you’re talking about and that if you don’t, you’re in a position to be honest enough with your viewers and your followers to let them know you don’t know about this particular subject. When that occurs, I certainly won’t hesitate to do that.”
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He believes in hearing all sides of a discussion — even if those sides upset some of his Black viewers. And for those who question his commitment to the Black community, Smith consistently points out he is a proud graduate of HBCU Winston-Salem State University and continues to assist with raising funds and awareness for HBCUs. He’s also a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., the first predominantly Black fraternity founded at an HBCU.
The criticism won’t curtail his conversations.
“First of all, I don’t give a s—. Let me be very clear about that,” Smith said of criticism.
When Smith isn’t political, he draws the ire for not talking sports. He said he was surprised by the uproar earlier this year over his comments about Rihanna performing at Super Bowl LVII. Smith appeared on Sherri Shepherd’s daytime talk show, “Sherri,” in January to help promote his autobiography, “Straight Shooter: A Memoir of Second Chances and First Takes,” and said he was told they wanted the appearance to be more of a debate format, similar to “First Take.”
So when asked about Rihanna, he first complimented the multitalented artist, but then expressed his opinion that she wasn’t better than Beyoncé. He said his comments weren’t meant to put down Rihanna but to take a stance on his preference of artist. To him, it was no different than the Michael Jackson-Prince debates of the 1980s.
Smith said he was “shocked and taken aback” that so many were upset by his comments. The incident went viral, and Smith eventually apologized.
“I thought it was indicative of the times that we live in,” Smith said. “People are looking for an excuse to b—- and moan, and so they’re going to have that kind of attitude, and they’re going to feel that way. I didn’t say anything bad about Rihanna. I wouldn’t. I know she’s fantastic. I know she’s phenomenal.
“What’s the problem? I can’t be a fan of a particular artist? That’s what seemed so distorted and utterly ridiculous. But it was a fresh reminder of the times that we’re living in, the high level of sensitivity and how either you have to watch every little thing you say, or most of the time, you simply can’t give a damn about the backlash.”
Smith never has cared about the backlash for speaking his mind. The backlash now coming at him more for opinions outside of sports.
And that’s just fine with Smith, who isn’t afraid of branching out as far as he can outside of what the public sees.
(Photo: Kostas Lymperopoulos / NBAE via Getty Images)