Stephen A Smith Credit: Bussin’ With the Boys on YouTube

Pat McAfee has soaked up more than his fair share of attention since joining ESPN less than six months ago, but his teammate at the worldwide leader, Stephen A Smith, takes no issue with McAfee’s no-holds-barred approach.

Speaking in an interview on the Bussin’ With the Boys podcast released Tuesday, Smith explained why he respects McAfee and how their public personas have to differ because of who they are.

“I love Pat McAfee, love him to death. I love his swag; I love the fact that he’s an honest brother. He don’t give a s*** … That’s my kind of dude,” Smith said. “That works for me. Now, is he as polished politically as me? Nope, because he has no desire to be number one. And number two, if we’re being honest, he’s white, and I’m Black; he doesn’t have to be. I had to be. So I get all that, and I’m not knocking him for it.”

McAfee has a unique contract at ESPN. He works as a talent for College GameDay and a weekly guest on First Take, but his Pat McAfee Show airs on ESPN through a separate licensing agreement. That has led to some clashes with ESPN management, including most notably Norby Williamson, who McAfee called out publicly over ratings leaks.

McAfee also stood by NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers after Rodgers alluded to Jimmy Kimmel being connected with child trafficker Jeffrey Epstein earlier this year. McAfee’s arrival has been an abrupt departure from the buttoned-up image ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro tried to cultivate since taking over in 2017.

At the same time, Smith acknowledged that he could learn from McAfee as a pioneer on YouTube and in digital sports media.

“Pat McAfee is a sensational talent, and it would be stupid of me not to root for him because he’s one of the pioneers in this business,” Smith told Bussin hosts Will Compton and Taylor Lewan. “Just like Bill Simmons is, just like Joe Rogan is and others. What they have done for themselves in the digital stratosphere speaks for itself. I’m new to this. I’m a baby.”

Smith is in the process of building out The Stephen A. Smith Show on YouTube and has compiled nearly 600,000 subscribers in less than a year. His ESPN contract expires in less than a year, and he reiterated on Bussin that he wants a less exclusive arrangement with the worldwide leader and will explore leaving if he does not get more freedom there.

“Digital is different because I’m a baby. I’m crawling. I’m an infant. I ain’t even learn how to walk yet, let alone run and spring,” Smith said. “But once I get to that point, I’m coming for folks them too. But in the process of that, it will never be for them to fail.”

Smith and McAfee are the two most prominent faces of ESPN in 2024. And while their public images are different, Smith has nothing but respect for McAfee.

[Bussin With the Boys on YouTube]

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.