Sports media members are no more forthcoming with their career deals than the players whom we cover, and many times even less so. We are far more replaceable than people who are 6-foot-8 with 35-inch vertical leaps. Therefore most of us wait until the press release comes out before making any public statements about our professional transitions. Most of us, however, are not Stephen A. Smith.
The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand and Ryan Glasspiegel reported on Thursday that Shannon Sharpe will be a part of ESPN’s First Take in 2023. Sharpe will sit across from Smith on Mondays and Tuesdays during the NFL season.
Sharpe has been evasive with information about the future of his career since deciding to leave Fox Sports 1’s Undisputed. He teases about returning soon with a gif of someone sprinting, but has given no specifics.
Smith, on the other hand, addressed the report head-on during an episode of The Stephen A. Smith Show, his podcast that is unaffiliated with ESPN. He has been emphatic that he wants Sharpe on the show and said on his podcast that he believes it is going to happen. However, according to Smith, nothing is final. Sharpe has not yet put pen to paper.
Skip Bayless and Sharpe made no public statements when the news first broke that their partnership on Undisputed would be no more at the end of May. Sharpe’s first social media post about it was the day that he left on June 13. Smith went on the air and discussed The Post report hours after it was released.
He has basically been given carte blanche by ESPN to talk about whatever he wants. Which is odd, considering the network’s history of keeping muzzles on most of their personalities when it came to non-sports issues (Remember the good old days when they were suspending Jemele Hill for tweets they didn’t approve of?). As on-air personalities are being slingshot away from the company, a company that has been trying to distance itself from any link to politics, Smith is allowed to talk about politics on Fox News and MSNBC. He interviews presidential candidates, and gives all kinds of political takes on his personal podcast.
Feel free to take issue with his sports takes, feelings about “Black on Black” crime, his being a proud capitalist in a world that becomes less and less affordable for most people to live in by the day, or anything else he has said. But make no mistake, he is the No. 1 option at ESPN and they treat him like it.
It doesn’t matter who is the actual highest-paid employee at the four-letter network, Smith has the power there. For him to discuss his employer’s business on his private project speaks louder than any check. And he did so in a time of great media uncertainty.
Stephen A. Smith may not own ESPN, but LeBron James didn’t have to own the Cleveland Cavaliers to run the show. Smith’s “alternate presentation” of the NBA postseason is titled “Stephen A’s World.” That’s what it should say underneath his name on his ESPN business card.