Stephen A. Smith defends his Rihanna take

After initially apologizing for igniting a ridiculous Rihanna vs Beyoncé controversy this week, Stephen A. Smith appears to have remembered his brand as an unapologetic opinionist.

On Wednesday, Smith’s wide-ranging book tour for his memoir Straight Shooter had him on Sherri Shepherd’s daytime talk show, and during the interview, the First Take host was asked about Rihanna performing at next month’s Super Bowl. Being a sports host who’s used to comparing athletes, Smith lauded Rihanna as an artist, but made sure to note, “she ain’t Beyoncé,” a hot take that drew boos from the crowd and sparked headlines across the internet.

Seeing the immediate firestorm he created, Smith issued a hostage-style apology from the back of a Sprinter van. But after sleeping on it for a couple of days, Smith came to the realization that there is no crime in preferring one singer over another.

“It’s ridiculous!” Smith passionately declared on First Take Friday morning. “This is the controversy? All of the stuff going on in the world, I’m being accused of Black-on-Black crime because I happen to like one artist more than the other. I mean you got to be kidding me! Handcuff me now! Put it behind my damn back! Y’all got to be kidding me!”

Smith spent one hour with Howard Stern Wednesday morning and another with Sean Hannity later that night. He managed to avoid saying anything overly controversial or polarizing during those interviews. But it was his segment with Shepherd and a question about music that ignited fire.

“I can’t compliment a Black female comedian now, right?” Smith continued on First Take. “If I sit up there and say I like Leslie Jones better than somebody else, it’s a problem? THAT IS MAKING NEWS! WHAT IS WRONG WITH AMERICA! That is making news! That I have a favorite artist! It’s unbelievable!”

Stephen A. Smith has uttered hundreds of thousands of takes on ESPN, but this may have been his best one yet. Smith never should have apologized for saying he prefers Beyoncé over Rihanna while noting both are all-time greats. Just as Smith should never apologize to LeBron James for saying he prefers Michael Jordan while noting both are all-time greats.

The “controversy” was ridiculous, and one that Smith could have left for fans of both artists to hash out on their own. Smith wasn’t being offensive or insulting to either artist by offering his personal preference. And he appears to have realized that with Friday’s heel turn.

[First Take]

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