In a collaborative event with Block ‘O,’ OUAB hosted ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith Thursday night at Ohio State.
In front of a sold-out crowd of more than 1,700 people at the Archie Griffin Grand Ballroom in the Ohio Union, Smith spoke to those in attendance about ESPN, journalism in the 21st century, and the ‘game of life.’
Prior to his talk with moderator Dr. Lanier Holt — an assistant professor in the School of Communications — Smith sat down with The Lantern for an exclusive interview, covering a number of topics, including why he first started in the sports industry.
“If you are about the business of acquiring information, then you’re prepared for anything,” Smith said. “It came down to my abilities as a journalist, my ability to acquire information and to be in constant pursuit of the truth. As long as I’m doing that and I’m fair-minded and morally sound in the process, then I’m good.”
Smith has long been known as an impassioned, no-nonsense personality. His career changed in 2012 when he joined ESPN’s First Take, a sports debate show that allowed Smith to fully showcase his talents.
He continues to be a staple of the show to this day despite the departure of former co-host Skip Bayless.
“I enjoy it,” Smith said. “I have a career, and there’s a difference between a job and a career. A job is doing what you have to do to maintain and elevate your quality of life. A career is doing what you want to do. It just so happens to do the same as a job. That want to is incredibly important because then you don’t feel like you’re working, so you’re in position to do more things.”
It’s no secret that Smith has been the subject of much controversy throughout his career, controversy that began well before his time with First Take. While his straight-shooter approach might have made him a lightning rod of sorts, there isn’t a single thing Smith would change about himself.
“It’s very, very important to me,” Smith said. “It’s what built my career. I wasn’t this way when I got on television. I wasn’t this way when I became a columnist. I became a columnist and got on television because I was this way. That’s what got me here. I don’t want to be any other way, and I make sure my audience knows that every time they see me.”
Smith added that he understands why some think his takes are controversial.
“I’m fearless, and it seems as though some think I don’t take the ramifications or consequences into consideration. They’re wrong, I do. I consider everything. I just believe that the truth will set you free. The closer I get to the truth, the better I feel. If I feel I’m being phony in any way, literally a sickness overcomes me.”
When his talk with Dr. Holt began, Smith provided a backdrop of who he was and why he was speaking at OSU.
“I don’t run from anything,” Smith said. “A lot of times when you see hesitancy in some matters, that’s ESPN, not me. They want you to monitor what you address and how you address it. My response to them is that it’s all intertwined. There’s no separation between sports and the outside world.”
Smith graduated in 1991 from Winston-Salem State University – a historically black college in North Carolina – and soon began his career as a sports journalist. He emphasized the importance of getting a college education, which is a validation of potential in his eyes.
“You need to understand that you’re here to get an education,” Smith said. “Your degree is a piece of paper that says you can read, write, and comprehend. It validates and authenticates your potential. What you do with it is on you.”
Getting that degree is the easy part, though. It’s the mentality that you adopt afterwards that’ll make the difference between success and failure in life, Smith said.
“Everything in life comes with a price,” he said. “You can pay now, or you can pay later, but you’re going to pay. The sooner you adopt that mentality, you’ll have a one-up on everyone else. The real world that awaits, and they don’t care about you. It’s filled with the haves and have nots, and there are a lot more have nots floating around.”
Switching gears midway through the night onto Ohio sports, Smith stated that the Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James is not only the best small forward to ever play in the NBA, but that Buckeye fans need not worry about the future of their football team.
“I’m not worried about it,” Smith said. “(Coach) Urban Meyer is 61-6 since he’s been at OSU. I imagine that they can win the National Championship. I expect it to be between OSU and Michigan for the Big Ten title. You have (an) elite program here. ”
Smith ended the lively night with a question and answer session with the crowd. It was the inside details about his personal life that made the biggest impact on second-year sophomore Wyatt Crosier.
“I kind of thought it’d be all about sports,” Crosier said. “I really liked how he really motivated me. He was really funny, and I loved the event’s format. It was a great night.”
As the crowd continued to hang on Smith’s every word, he delved deeper into his beliefs and personal life. Smith didn’t mince words when describing why he is the way he is.
“I was born with a passion,” Smith said. “I mean what I say and I say what I mean. I try to speak intelligently and I don’t make excuses. Reasons are reasons why things happen. Excuses are made when you’re trying to get absolved of what you’ve done. I’m not trying to get anything absolved.”