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Stephen A. Smith Finished at ESPN

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After being fired by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Stephen A. Smith’s tenure at ESPN has come to an unceremonious end. It has been reported that Smith and the World Wide Leader in Sports were unable to reach an agreement in contract negotiations. He will finish out his current contract on ESPN radio.

According to Deadspin, Smith was unwilling to take a cut in pay, apparently negotiating from the leverage point of a canceled television program, 'Quite Frankly,' and a radio audience of roughly twelve, not including family and friends.

I can’t help but recognize the glaring contrast of srr50’s homage to Harry Kalas and Merle Harmon, or even HenryJames’ reverence paid to Dan Cook, when discussing Stephen A. Smith.

As we all know, Smith’s oeuvre in journalism was to bring a raw and "in-yo-face" brand of contrived contrarianism. Very much unlike Dan Cook, dude was pissed, dawg!

How will the world of sports continue without Smith’s cold, truth-baring and dejected styling? Is Skip Bayless the last reservoir for irritation enthusiasts? Will those of us seeking stats, scores, quotes and just general sports information be left solely reliant upon Scoop Jackson to conjure weekly racial injustices that really don’t exist? Ah, so many memories, Stephen.

One of my favorite Smith articles was when he devoted an entire column in 2007 to attacking Phillies General Manager, Pat Gillick, for being complacent and lackadaisical by running the team from his house in Toronto. You see, Gillick lived in Toronto before taking the job in Philadelphia. The main problem with Smith’s column was that Gillick, at that point, didn’t even own a home in Toronto. In between the Blue Jays job and the Phillies job he was employed by Baltimore and Seattle. In hindsight, when Philadelphia won the 2008 World Series, it became glaringly obvious what an incompetent and aimless fool the Phillies had hired in Gillick. I hate to imagine how painfully red-faced Gillick and the organization must have been after winning a championship. Go get ‘em, Stephen.

My favorite television moment was when Smith left very little doubt what his middle initial stood for. Prior to game 2 of the 2005 Western Conference Finals, the Spurs listed Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson as unavailable for "personal reasons."

Smith considered Robinson an overpaid disappointment during his ride with the 76ers, which he might’ve been, I guess. The words "personal reasons" must’ve lunged from the text like a German Shepherd tethered to an Alabama state trooper considering the fashion in which Smith tore into Robinson. Another golden opportunity for SAS to take a vicious bite out of the "Big Dog" in front of a national audience was suddenly lingering in the air; he snatched it.

Live from ESPN/ABC’s Times Square studios on the Kia NBA Shootaround, Smith sank his fanged shtick directly into the hind-end of Glenn Robinson. He questioned his character, his manhood, his commitment to his teammates and to the game itself. "Where are ya, Big Dog? Or should I say Big Slob?" ranted the prince of sour. You get it? "Big Slob" is a play on Robinson’s nickname, "Big Dog." That’s how edgy provocateurs make the English language dance.

Later that night it was revealed that Robinson missed the game to attend his mother’s funeral. Where was your dignity, Glenn?

I’m not sure, but I believe Smith mumbled and growled out a brief apology the following night. If by any chance you thought Stephen A. Smith was capable of shame and humility, here’s an excerpt from his column only a few weeks later when San Antonio won the championship:

COPYRIGHT 2005 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Byline: Stephen A. Smith

PHILADELPHIA _ Consider it a travesty of epic proportions, the kind that won't go down as anything significant in the NBA Finals but definitely should.

Somewhere in the parade-like atmosphere inside San Antonio's SBC Center on Thursday night, amid the kind of fanfare and euphoria reserved for champions, "The Big Dog," Glenn Robinson, was not only allowed to infiltrate the proceedings but join the championship celebration as well.

There was the sickening sight of Robinson hugging Spurs coach Gregg Popovich one minute, Manu Ginobili the next. Of Robinson prancing around the arena acting like his one-point, 1.5-rebound, 4.5-minute average in these NBA Finals had anything to do with winning.

Yep, without a doubt this will rank in America’s history as another "travesty of epic proportions …." He hugged Manu Ginobili and his coach? He "infiltrated" the team celebration like a towel boy masquerading as an official member of the 2005 roster? All year I kept wondering who that was at the end of the bench with a lampshade over his head and why no one seemed to notice him.

At first it was Robinson’s absence that was cowardly and unacceptable. Then it was the audacity of his presence that was the final straw.

Travesty! It ranks right up there with slavery, the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, 9-11 or maybe even a deceased mother. It might not have looked like an outrage to you and I, but Stephen had that special ability to seize contempt and personal hatred from someone else’s jubilation and triumph. It’s called cutting edge perspective, people.

I don’t have any memories of Smith’s radio show. I’ve never heard it, but I’m going to assume that it was fantastic.

So, what the Hell happened, ESPN? Why was this guy continuously shoved to the frontlines in almost every capacity of your programming? What was it, exactly, that made someone think "this will work."

Eventually ‘Quite Frankly’ was finally canceled after it suffered dramatically in the ratings to even other ESPN programs, such as dog shows and billiards.

Maybe FSN will pick him up. They’d have to ease him in gradually, though. It would be too risky to just grant him an hour-long show and force his ratings evaluation into an unfair and racist comparison to their other programs, such as … Darts. If you think billiards was an uphill battle, what chance would he have against the sex appeal of fat guys and pitchers of beer?

The first time I noticed this direction in sports media was when I grabbed one of the first editions of ‘ESPN The Magazine." Within the cover article was a preview of the NBA season. Part of the review of the rookies described one player with: "and the brotha got mad crazy hops." I don’t remember the writer of the article or who it was he was describing that did possess the mad crazy hops. I never picked up that magazine again. If ESPN insisted on ushering in a cheap, McDonald’s version of urban slang, fine. It just wasn’t for me. I did, however, take notice of their headfirst charge into the new frontier. Never in history, I don’t think, has a magazine marketed directly to the illiterate.

Down goes not only just a commentator, but an entire, failed theory in the realm of combative and shouting personalities in sports. This shit is supposed to be fun. Politics, racial issues and cultural outrage definitely play a major role in sports. But unrelenting polemics can’t be microwaved, stirred and stubbornly served on a daily basis.

Is it possible that the world of sports and competition is intriguing enough, dramatic enough and dynamic enough to exist on its own without the clownish narrative from manufactured celebrity?

Nah.