Tomorrow marks the final day of Stephen A. Smith’s tenue as at ESPN, a stint that saw the former Philly scribe given his own television chat program, the oft-mocked “Quite Franky“, as well as Smith becoming Cheez Doodles’ most well-recognized (unpaid) spokesperson. On the eve of his departure from the WWL, Smith — disregarding one pundit’s claim he was already “”the most despised sports personality on the air today” at the time of “Quite Frankly”‘s debut — insists to USA Today’s Michael Hiestand the program’s lack of success was just a matter of poor scheduling.
Smith says the biggest problem was the show being shifted from its original 6:30 p.m. ET time slot to sometime around 11 p.m. ET ” sometime, that is, after the live games leading into his show ended. Says Smith, of that show, which lasted 17 months: “I believe to this day if my show had a definitive time slot, it would have been more successful.”
Plenty of TV sports types have gone on to broaden their on-air horizons. Smith now sees them as his role models. Like Robin Roberts ” “I adore her” ” and Bryant Gumbel ” “I idolize him.” He admires Keith Olbermann, another crossover case who has a largely political talk show on MSNBC while also working NBC’s NFL studio and writing columns for mlb.com. But he says his ESPN exit is nothing like Olbermann’s fiery 1997 departure and is instead a matter of wanting to branch out.
The New York Post this week opined Smith is “a self-promoting, race-based gasbag.” But Smith, asked if he now sees himself primarily as a sort of spokesman, is low-key: “I’m not this voice, or that voice. But if people want to hear a perspective from the African American community that otherwise wouldn’t be heard, I’d be honored to deliver that message.”
The Post column in question was penned by (who else?) Phil Mushnick, whose farewell to one of his favorite punching bags concluded with “despite all ESPN’s media platforms, it no longer had room for a wildly popular, in-demand fellow who’s one part Martin Luther King and one part Daniel Webster . Smith’s so delusional he’d insult those he considers his greatest admirers. He apparently feels that black Americans find him less full of it than everyone else.” That’s a fair enough critique, and entirely more cutting, if not reasonable, than Mushnick’s repeated charge that Smith’s oratory skills were nothing more than “jive infused plattitudes”. That Smith was an insufferable legend-in-his-own-mind is hard to dispute or defend. But for much of his spell in the public eye, Mushnick would have his readers believe Stephen A.’s greatest sin wasn’t arrogance, but rather sounding too black.