Shannon Sharpe during red carpet arrivals for the NFL Honors show at the Fox Theatre. Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

After departing Undisputed, Shannon Sharpe found himself to be a free agent.

While he had proven himself to be fully capable of carrying a daily debate show alongside Skip Bayless. He hadn’t yet proven so on other networks beyond Fox Sports 1. And while ESPN seemed like a natural landing spot for Sharpe, he had to sign a one-year prove-it deal with the Worldwide Leader, even if he had proven himself time and time again on different mediums.

He’s yet again proven himself at ESPN, as the network announced a multi-year contract extension with Sharpe on Tuesday. Sharpe will expand his role on First Take alongside Stephen A. Smith. But it wasn’t just his presence on ESPN’s airwaves that led to Tuesday’s extension.

The legend around Sharpe’s interview with comedian Katt Williams on Club Shay Shay continues to grow. The interview reportedly brought in 7 figures of revenue for Sharpe and drew the attention of Disney CEO Bob Iger.

In a profile of Sharpe at GQ, writer Julian Kimble asked the Pro Football Hall of Famer how his big cultural moment with Williams on his Club Shay Shay podcast led to a phone call with Iger that further discussed his future with the Worldwide Leader.

“Yes. It was a one-year deal, so I was like, ‘Let me show them that I can still be entertaining and informative, and hopefully, they’ll ask me to come back for more years.’  As I started talking to decision-makers—[ESPN chairman] Jimmy Pitaro, [president of content] Burke Magnus—they were very pleased. I don’t look at the ratings, what I try to do is be as informative as I possibly can. I try to watch as many sporting events as I possibly can, while keeping an eye on the culture. Because hey, there might be times when we have to talk about the James Harden situation. And while James Harden is a basketball player, this is an opportunity for me to insert some humor and entertainment value into the discussion.

“So when Bob reached out, I was like, ‘OK, great talking to you. I really appreciate the opportunity.’ And he was like, ‘You know, I’ve heard nothing but great things about you. Everybody talks about how hard-working and well-prepared you are, and that you are a strictly business person. You come in, you do your job, and you go home. There’s not a whole lot of extracurricular activities or extra conversations going on with you.’ And there’s not.

Stephen A. called me about three months in and he was like, ‘Bro, let me ask you something,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, what is it?’ And he was like, ‘Is this all you do?’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean?’ So he says, ‘Bro, you don’t talk to nobody, you don’t talk about nobody, you don’t go anywhere, you don’t do anything. Is this your life?’ And I told him, ‘Yeah, bro. This is what I do.’ He says, ‘Man, how long you been like this?’ And I told him, ‘My entire professional life.’ His response? ‘Damn.’ And I told him, ‘Bro, this is it. My purpose is to work, it’s to provide for my family, it’s to leave a better situation so now I can give back in the manner in which I want to give back.’ And any time I give back, I only have one simple rule: When I give something, you’re not allowed to tell where that gift came from.”

That’s when Kimble asked Sharpe about essentially signing a one-year prove-it deal with ESPN, which has obviously since evolved into more when considering the context of Tuesday’s announcement.

“Yeah, I was. Because I don’t know what was said, but any time you leave in a situation like that, there’s obviously speculation of what transpired and how it transpired. So I was like, look, let me just go in here and do what I do,” Sharpe said. “I know who I am, so I think I can show them. And at the end of the day, you can make a decision. Maybe ESPN goes, ‘Hey, one year. It was fine.’ And that would’ve been OK; I would’ve appreciated Stephen A. extending himself because he put himself out there for me. I will forever be grateful for what Stephen A. did—because he didn’t have to do it, but he did.

ESPN doesn’t happen without Stephen A.’s blessing, and I told him: ‘Bro, you know my personality.’ He said, ‘Bro, don’t worry about that. Come in and do you.; I remember a couple of months in, he told me: ‘You’ve been here, I need you to be you.’ Him telling me that allowed me to relax, because I didn’t want to sideswipe anybody, get in anybody’s lane, or step on anybody’s toes.

Then, Bob tells me we need to have a sit-down in January. I’m thinking the worst: ‘Damn, I just got here.’ [laughs] He said they wanted me to have a bigger role at ESPN and they wanted me for the long-term.”

Sharpe proved to ESPN that he wasn’t just a one-network wonder. And his success on Undisputed translated seamlessly, as he showcased his ability to carry his own weight and generate buzz beyond Fox Sports 1.

In the end, Sharpe’s “prove-it deal,” so to speak, helped him prove himself to be a valuable asset, which is why he’s been able to secure a well-deserved multi-year contract and an expanded role at the forefront of ESPN’s morning coverage.


About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.