The cross-section of ESPN and politics continues to be a focus as the calendar moves from 2017 to 2018. Already this year we’ve seen ESPN have to publicly respond to comments that Katie Nolan made about Donald Trump after a year of controversy with the network entering into the political spectrum.

With regards to ESPN and politics, we just know you’re dying to hear what ESPN’s loudest talker, Stephen A. Smith, has to say about the whole thing. His comments are… puzzling to say the least.

In comments to the Sporting News that covers First Take’s ratings since moving from ESPN2 to ESPN among other topics, Smith was asked a question about Trump’s feud with Jemele Hill and the network at large. Curiously, Smith said that ESPN is a sports network and that its personalities should protect the brand and stay in their lane.


SN: You guys like to play hardball, so how do you feel about President Trump ripping ESPN, Jemele Hill and protesting NFL players?​

SAS: Do I believe the President should be wasting his time commenting about stuff like that? No. Do I believe the President has been a bit juvenile in his behavior? Yes he has. Having said that, it’s one thing to attack what he does, it’s an entirely different matter to attack him. When you attack him, then we are stepping out of our lane. We are a sports network. We have an obligation to wake up every day with the mindset that we not only speak for ourselves but we speak on behalf of the brand. It is not a brand that we own. It is a brand that employs us. It has entrusted us to represent it just as much as we care about representing ourselves. So with that in mind, we have to be cognizant of all those things. 

Yes, the President is going to say what he has to say. Yes, he’s going to venture in our lane to the point where it’s apropos for us to respond. But we also need to be cognizant of the fact it’s incumbent upon us to leave it there and not extend beyond that point. We’re a sports network. You become successful. You sustain a level of success by giving people what they expect. By, figuratively speaking, ‘playing the hits.’ Not deviating too far away from what people turn on the channel and tune in for to hear. As long as we remember those kinds of things, then it’s going to lend itself to us being successful as opposed to us losing our bearings because we get caught up in our emotions, and we do things that ultimately sacrifice the brand and ourselves just to react to something for 15 seconds or 15 minutes. We have to be smarter than that — even if the President doesn’t appear that way sometimes.

These comments are quite peculiar seeing as how Smith is someone who has routinely stepped out of the sports lane while at ESPN. It’s amazing that Smith would actually say something like this when he has been a regular guest on cable news programs, sometimes to even talk critically about Donald Trump.

Here’s Stephen A. Smith in May 2017 appearing on Fox News as a guest analyst criticizing Donald Trump for his tweets. He spars with the likes of Eric Bolling and Ted Nugent. The title of the Fox News video is “Stephen A. Smith and Eric Bolling spar over Trump’s tweets.”

Keep in mind this is the same person who is channeling his inner LaVar Ball by telling everyone else at ESPN to “stay in your lane.”

Of course, Smith has been a frequent cable news guest throughout the years talking sports and politics. He’s been on Fox News multiple times, even going head to head with Bill O’Reilly in 2016. He’s appeared on CNN and MSNBC as well.

So either Smith is being hypocritical here or he just doesn’t think the same rules apply to him. Maybe ESPN just really trusts Stephen A. Smith, the same person who was suspended for insensitive comments about domestic violence and the same person who ominously threatened Kevin Durant on national television, to be their brand ambassador to cable news and the political world.

This has always been one of ESPN’s biggest issues. It’s always been clear that the rules don’t apply to everyone, especially the network’s biggest and most brash personalities. From suspensions to who can appear where and talk about what, the network has been consistently inconsistent.

Given ESPN’s newfound existence as a political football to be tossed around, it’ll be fascinating to see whether or not Smith continues to moonlight as a cable news pundit in addition to his First Take duties. If he is, what message does that send to everyone else at the network who ESPN has instructed to be so cautious in talking about politics?

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.

  • YouAreWrongAndDumb

    I completely agree with the proper anti-Trump sentiments emanating from the ESPN talking heads, but I wish all of them didn’t exist.

  • Carter_Burger67

    Other than live events, I don’t watch ESPN anymore. I have other outlets for my sports talk and news that does not insult my political beliefs. the talking heads at ESPN can’t seem to understand that not everyone believes they way they do, and when they insult those of us who don’t, we go somewhere else.

    • Christopher Bates

      That’s quite the principled stand you’re taking there, watching ONLY the things you’re interested in and STRICTLY boycotting everything else. That’ll hit ’em where it hurts.

      • Dee Snutz

        I like TO capitalize ARBITRARY words for EFFECT.

      • Carter_Burger67

        I’m sorry, but you’ve mistaken me for someone who give a fuck what you think.

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  • Roger Bournival

    This just goes to show you – regardless of race, gender, color or creed, everyone’s capable of being an insufferable jagoff.

  • newsball

    no what this shows is unlike his collauges jemelle hill when he’s asked to be on a cable news program, she declines but stephen a agrees and when he goes on networks like fox news and when he’s sparred with bolling and o’reilly it usually ends up in a draw, because he doesn’t speak over the host, he comes across as much more intelligent then the charcter he plays and again i give stephen a mith credit because he’ll debate his views

  • Son of Rusty Shackleford

    What bothers me is how SAS makes much more sense when he goes on Fox News than whenever he’s bloviating on the Especially Stupid People Network.

  • sowhat2015Brian O’Neill

    I can’t stand SAS, but I continue to pray for a cure for his seemingly-lifelong constipation that always makes his stupid face so ugly-looking.The guy probably thinks that smiling would be a fulfillment of white racist expectations for a person of color.

  • 66pugs99

    Trying to act like he’s the big dog now, peeing over everybody’s territory. i think both SAS and Cain will be shocked, when they realize later this year that both their shows combined still don’t equal Lebatard’s listeners and downloads. Both of them acting like:

    • Royberto

      Yeah I’m sure Smith cares about all the sub 50 IQ people who think a complete idiot like Lebetard is entertaining.

      • 66pugs99

        Talk about not getting the show. LOL/ It’s now huge because it crosses so many demographics, especially the rich professional class listening to it for the entertainment and smarts of it, rather than just the sports. That’s why it’s the #1 show on ESPN radio and one of the most listened to sports radio shows in the world. Talk about completely having no idea what’s going on in the world.

        • Royberto

          There are a lot of idiots in the world.

          • 66pugs99

            Yes, there are.

  • TheRevJim

    What an ass!

  • charlesdjones1

    I remember seeing Smith first appear on ESPN maybe 15 years ago or so and thinking man.. ESPN does not need to become this. Well, they became that and now everyone hates ESPN. It only only amplified through the Obama years. The CFP title game was some of the worst coverage I’ve seen in years and it only stands as a reminder that ESPN has fallen so far from the once great sports network it once was that everyone trusted and loved.

    • 66pugs99

      I think the SAS show should have been where he ended up at ESPN. Sports radio is where strong opinion should stay, and shouldn’t pollute the whole of the TV network. First Fake is like the Colin Cowherd’s disingenuous old radio show. It gets good numbers, but then brings downs the respect, integrity, and numbers of the whole brand.

  • Royberto

    It is clear the writer is slamming Smith in an attempt to get attention and web hits. Where the writer fails is that when Stephen A goes on Fox News he is there on his own behalf, not ESPN’s. What he was referring to in the quotes you provided is when you are on ESPN’s airwaves. Fox News isn’t ESPN’s airwaves. This article is complete garbage.