One month after apologizing to Rihanna fans for disrespecting the artist, Stephen A. Smith had to similarly address hockey fans for dismissing the NHL.
Thursday morning, Smith welcomed New York Yankees play-by-play voice Michael Kay on First Take to discuss Major League Baseball’s new rules. During the segment, Kay was asked to name which New York team is closest to winning a title, prompting him to slam his hand down on the table and definitively declare the Rangers as his answer.
First Take doesn’t care about hockey pic.twitter.com/O9hkJmv76v
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) March 2, 2023
Smith and First Take host Molly Qerim both responded by dismissing the NHL, claiming hockey doesn’t count. “Oh lord,” Smith said with disgust before urging Kay to pick a baseball, basketball or football team. Hockey fans, however, were not too pleased with Smith’s admission that his ESPN show doesn’t care about hockey. After getting blasted on social media for the take, Smith posted a video on Twitter to address his dismissive comments Thursday night.
Go @NYRangers pic.twitter.com/x6HZuR79cB
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) March 3, 2023
“Hahahaha!” Smith began in his Twitter video. “Go Rangers! Go Rangers! Not Go NY Go NY Go with the Knicks, I’m talking about the Rangers. I know you got something going on with Patrick Kane tonight. OK? Will ya calm down? I was having a good time, having fun. Gary Bettman is my friend. OK? Relax, y’all. Relax.”
Like Smith, I’m not a big hockey fan. But if I was attempting to endear myself to hockey fans, I wouldn’t recommend boasting about a friendship with one of the NHL’s least popular personalities in commissioner Gary Bettman.
“I root for all things New York,” Smith added. “And that includes the Rangers. So guess what Rangers fans, calm down! And let’s do that hockey, let’s do that hockey!”
This very much felt like a clarification meant to appease ESPN, which pays $400 million per year for NHL game rights. ESPN might be fine with First Take failing to promote the NHL, but they couldn’t have been pleased with the show completely disrespecting a sport they’re heavily invested in.