Stephen A Smith on First Take Photo credit: ESPN

Stephen A. Smith loves to discuss political and social issues, but he understands why ESPN strives to stick to sports.

People often attempt to push false narratives that if you watch ESPN, you’re going to have discussions about political and social issues forced on you. But it’s not true. ESPN sticks to sports 99 percent of the time, and Stephen A. Smith credits Jimmy Pitaro for making that change.

Smith joined The Rich Eisen Show earlier this week where he discussed balancing his growing podcast platform with First Take and other ESPN responsibilities. During the conversation, Smith acknowledged that he likes having an outlet where he doesn’t stick to sports, because he recognizes those topics don’t always fit on ESPN.

“I like talking politics, I like talking about some of the political issues that are percolating and are permeating throughout our society and beyond,” Smith said. “That stuff does not scare me… certainly, it’s a dangerous platform at times, I understand that. Particularly in the climate that we live in, but I also like to be that renegade.”

“And I’ve often said this, I don’t knock ESPN and Jimmy Pitaro for doing this one bit,” Smith continued. “When Jimmy Pitaro arrived around 2018, he wanted us to veer away from politics and he was absolutely right because it was hurting the network. I completely supported him then. I completely support him now.

“When you tune into ESPN that’s what you’re looking for, but in the same breath, we’re not monolithic people. We have an abundance of ideas and passions and interests that we like to touch on that fuels our spirit and our soul on a lot of different levels. And when you don’t see me talking about those things, it’s primarily because I’m appeasing the bosses and the network that I work for. It’s not because I’m running from it, because I’m not scared.”

Smith never shies away from addressing a political or social issue on ESPN when it intersects with sports, but he saves his analysis of Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden and his interviews of politicians like Chris Christies for his podcast. While ESPN largely sticks to sports, it has not fully eliminated political and social discussions from the company, seemingly operating under a case-by-case basis. It’s interesting, however, to hear Smith acknowledge he tries to abide by Pitaro’s mandate, because he is allotted more leeway to touch on non-sports issues than anyone else on the network.

[The Rich Eisen Show]

About Brandon Contes

Brandon Contes is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously helped carve the sports vertical for Mediaite and spent more than three years with Barrett Sports Media. Send tips/comments/complaints to