When Stephen A. Smith decided to launch a podcast, he knew he didn’t want to stick to sports, and knew his show wouldn’t be a fit for ESPN.
“I own it lock, stock, and barrel,” Smith said, lauding McAfee’s podcast for inspiring him to build his brand outside ESPN. “It’s my content, it’s my podcast. Because I work for ESPN there was a negotiation that had to take place to get out of the constraints within my contract.”
Citing his great relationship with ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro, Smith said they were very cooperative in allowing him to launch a venture outside the company, even though they pay him $12 million annually for sports commentary.
“I’m not limited,” Smith said of doing the podcast away from ESPN. “If it was just sports, it would be something for ESPN because it doesn’t get much better than that in the world of sports. But to me, I didn’t want to be limited and confined to the world of sports. It was important to me to be able to expand my horizons and step out beyond that.’
According to Smith, he recognized ESPN wouldn’t be the right place for him to host a show that tackles polarizing political and social topics. The 55-year-old Smith supports ESPN’s goal of prioritizing sports, realizing his aspirations as a media mogul exceed what the Worldwide Leader can offer.
“When Jimmy Pitaro came on board, he made a concerted effort for us not to get into politics,” Smith said. “I stood up and supported him for that and I still do because we did get to a point over the years at ESPN where it was too much politics. It was the politicization of too many different things and the sports fan got to a point where they were sending a message that they didn’t feel like their needs were being met.”
Smith believes it’s important to give the sports fan what they’re tuning in to ESPN for, but he also supports employees having the freedom to speak about politics and social issues on other outlets. ESPN ultimately gave that freedom to Smith, although he might be an exception to their rule.
“When you muzzle everybody, any little opinion that emanates from ESPN, everybody thinks that it’s all of us,” Smith said.