Stephen A. Smith on Jay Williams NPR podcast

Stephen A. Smith has long been considered a workaholic. But after his second bout with COVID-19, the face of ESPN can’t help but wonder if it’s time to slow down.

Smith’s first battle with COVID began last December when the First Take host was hospitalized and told by doctors that he was in grave danger. Following nearly one month off-air, Smith managed to make a full recovery and has since been open about his near-death experience. After announcing he was battling COVID again last week, albeit with symptoms that are much less severe, Smith spoke reflectively during the opening of his latest Know Mercy podcast episode, questioning his taxing work schedule.

“To deal with COVID, luckily for me it’s not nearly as bad as it once was. I’ve been on the air already. I’ve been having meetings. I’m doing this podcast because I’m not having a respiratory issue,” Smith said in his podcast. “I’ve been very, very blessed and fortunate. But the bottom line is, it still forces you to reflect if nothing else on your health or lack thereof. And it forces you to think, maybe, just maybe it’s time to slow down. Perhaps working nonstop ain’t the way to go.”

Smith has three shows on ESPN; First Take, NBA Countdown and his alternate NBA broadcast Stephen A’s World which launched last month. In addition to his ESPN shows, Smith also hosts Know Mercy three times per week for Audacy’s Cadence13, owns a production company, and rarely turns down the opportunity to join another outlet for some self-promotion.

“Time to slow down” and “working nonstop ain’t the way to go” are statements that would have seemingly been foreign to Smith, considering the hours he continues to put into his career on a weekly basis.

Previously, Smith only discussed the drive to build his personal brand with a sky’s the limit attitude that even saw him claim a run for President of the United States might be in his future. But in the wake of Colin Cowherd claiming he wants to die on-air, Smith is at least hinting that he recognizes there might be value in a lighter workload.

It’s also possible that this is a way of Smith preparing for his next contract negotiation with ESPN. Smith already declared that he’s underpaid, stated his career aspirations are bigger than what ESPN can offer, and went outside the Disney-owned sports network to launch a political podcast. With his current deal running through 2025, perhaps Smith is letting everyone know that he doesn’t need First Take as he gets closer to his next contract negotiation.

[Know Mercy]

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