Monica McNutt. Monica McNutt. (The Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.)

Monica McNutt this week did what few at ESPN ever do these days by questioning Stephen A. Smith over his and First Take‘s lack of WNBA coverage before the arrival of Caitlin Clark this season.

And while McNutt welcomes the flurry of takes and opinions she unleashed when she challenged Smith, she recently revealed that she was surprised at his response. McNutt believed the nature of First Take and her relationship with Smith would allow for her to push back on his claim that he is a leader in women’s sports coverage. After the firestorm that followed, McNutt realized just how wrong she was.

“As I reflect on it … you don’t get into this industry for everybody to agree. But Monday’s segment, the way it was going, what it turned into, the tone was, ‘We’re the preeminent leader in women’s sports.’ And that is what provoked the question from me, but I really did not think asking about what was going on three years ago would have provoked all of this,” McNutt explained in an appearance on The Right Time with Bomani Jones released Wednesday.

More from McNutt, who was clearly bothered when Smith’s claims turned fraudulent:

“Because to me, it’s a layup for, ‘we weren’t here but we here now, let’s come back after commercial and discuss that.’ Even if we get into the ratings, this is where I’ve been in this women’s basketball space, I’ve been privy to the conversations to pitch and to ask and to try to carve out room to celebrate these women that deserved coverage with and without Caitlin Clark. This is where it’s like, I know that folks have been asking, it just has not been happening. Now whether that’s a First Take, Stephen A., or ESPN at large conversation, all of us are grown. But to act as if, ‘this is the preeminent space and I’m so well versed,’ I’m a woman in sports television … I’m the one that’s been here. I think my miscalculation was assuming that the relationship had enough depth to challenge. Because my friends and people that I call in my circle, we can challenge one another.”

Smith responded to McNutt in a lengthy rant on his podcast Monday afternoon, highlighting the lengths to which First Take has gone to spotlight diverse voices at ESPN. Smith sidestepped the challenge from McNutt over actually covering the WNBA.

While McNutt explained she is fine with being the lightning rod that generated more conversation around covering the league, she maintains the question was genuine. And she believes she still has not received an answer to it.

“The irony that as a woman in sports, which comes with whatever it comes with, discussing women in sports, would lead to diminishing my existence as a woman in sports, this personal cycle for me this week for going on a debate show and debating, it’s been a bit of a vortex. I’m thankful for it because you learn from all of these moments, but … it is a microcosm of what I think was cut off at one point while I was making this point on First Take,” McNutt said. “As a woman, you’re always dancing, thinking twice about your words. You’re forced to try and please everybody and anybody. And it’s an ongoing tightrope, and you’re just trying to be. It’s a debate show. I’m trying to debate. I just asked a question. I still don’t necessarily have the answer to said question. And genuinely, it wasn’t a dig, it was a legitimate question.”

McNutt added that she felt comfortable calling out Smith and, to a lesser extent, the network for falling short in covering the WNBA and women’s sports because she has been in rooms where talent advocated for more coverage and were denied.

“What I have had to grapple with as we have tried to grow this sport is how much of it is you have not fed it to the audience versus the audience does not want it. Because it’s not like I’m saying that two hours of morning television should be about this topic. That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying that there was room and there was opportunity,” McNutt explained. “Now, the other part of it is that question came from a place of, ‘y’all are trying to talk to me like I’m stupid,’ like this is the leader on women’s sports all of a sudden. OK, well let me just double-check how long we’ve been doing this.”

Clearly, McNutt was ready for the fallout from her challenge to Smith. It was not a slip-up or accident that she was pushed to the point of calling BS when Smith rhetorically asked “who does more” for the WNBA than he and First Take?

McNutt clearly has support within the industry despite putting its leading men on blast, considering Jones and Shannon Sharpe both brought her on for deeper conversations after the tense First Take segment on Monday. But it remains to be seen how ESPN suits respond to her blowing up their spot.

[The Right Time with Bomani Jones]

About Brendon Kleen

Brendon is a Media Commentary staff writer at Awful Announcing. He has also covered basketball and sports business at Front Office Sports, SB Nation, Uproxx and more.