Stephen A. Smith is the face of ESPN and has been for years, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t appear content or ready to settle.
Smith joined his ESPN colleague and frequent First Take sparring partner Jay Williams this week on Williams’ NPR podcast The Limits with Jay Williams. During their wide-ranging conversation, Smith admitted that even at 54 years old, his career goals exceed what ESPN can offer.
“I love working for ESPN,” Smith told Williams. “My goal…I shouldn’t say ESPN because I have bigger visions. Disney. Disney is the No. 1 distributor of content in the world. In my perfect world, I’m under the Disney umbrella for the rest of my career. But that won’t happen if that’s all I’m limited to. I have aspirations. That’s why I own my own production company.”
Anyone following Smith’s career in recent years could see his goals are big. His drive goes beyond just working for ESPN, being the face of ESPN, or their highest paid studio talent. He’s writing a book, launching a podcast, acting on soap operas, hosting late-night TV shows, appearing on cable news networks, teasing a potential presidential campaign, and building a production company. With these outside interests and ventures, can being the face of ESPN ultimately hold Smith back from achieving more? According to Smith, ESPN might not be able to offer what he’s looking for, but he hopes Disney can.
“I’ve got a couple of projects that’s about to be greenlit. I’m working on developing my own drama series. I’ve got not one, but two, projects coming up with Spike Lee. I’m not playing. So for me, it’s like I have a bigger vision, but we’re all associated with somebody,” Smith continued. “You ain’t working alone. Hell, even Tyler Perry got content on OWN. So again, you can be your own boss. But this notion that you can go solo – you neither want nor need anyone to work with – is foolhardy. It’s not accurate, you know. Who distributes Jay-Z’s music? LeBron James plays basketball for somebody. You see what I’m saying?”
Smith frequently touts being No. 1 in the ratings since joining First Take more than a decade ago, which I assume he’s only comparing himself to other sports shows because cable news still outrates ESPN in the late morning timeslot. But if he believes he’s achieved all that he can with ESPN as the network’s premier talent, hosting their most-talked-about studio show, then it’s only fair to assume his competitiveness will drive him to other ventures. And if Smith truly believes he can transcend sports as a content creator, or become President of the United States, then logic would dictate it’s only a matter of time before he starts to feel held back by being branded a sports talker.