Tuesday October 3, 2023

Calling BS On Stephen A.’s Smarmy Overture To Shannon Sharpe

  • Who’s Stephen A. Smith kidding with Friday’s performance?
  • Smith self-servingly offers Sharpe a part-time; not a full-time job.
Stephen A. Smith of ESPN
Syndication: Detroit Free Press
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ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith is quite the chess player.

With social media obsessed this week about the ugly pending breakup between Shannon Sharpe and Skip Bayless at rival FS1, Smith inserted himself into the story Friday.

There was the featured commentator on “First Take” grandly offering Sharpe an opportunity to bring his “Embrace Debate” skills to Smith’s show.

“I don’t know what he’s after. But if Shannon Sharpe needs me, I’m happy to be here for him,” said Smith on Friday. “If that included him wanting to come on ‘First Take,’ the bosses at ESPN know that is something I would support.”

The Pro Football Hall of Famer, cooed Smith, would fit in nicely with his “A-List” cast on the top-rated “First Take.”

Smith rattled off the names of top TV talents who have co-starred with him in a weekly rotation, including Super Bowl champions Michael Irvin, Keyshawn Johnson, Damien Woody and Jeff Saturday, Sports Emmy winner Ryan Clark, Marcus Spears, Dan Orlovsky and Dominique Foxworth.

“If Shannon Sharpe wanted to join that roster, there’s no resistance from Stephen A.,” he added. “I got love for Shannon Sharpe. I respect the hell out of him.” 

That was nice of him. What a guy. 

Here was Saint Stephen A. magnanimously blessing Sharpe’s possibly joining his program, which happens to directly compete with FS1’s “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed.” 

But excuse me if I call BS on Smith’s self-serving attempt to manipulate the Sharpe vs. Bayless soap opera in his favor. 

Shannon Sharpe

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There’s a reason why the wily Queens, N.Y. native has had a meteoric rise from out-of-work hot take artist to the face and voice of ESPN. To paraphrase “Johnny Sack” on “The Sopranos,” if there were any flies on Stephen A., they’d be paying rent.

Note how carefully the former “Screaming A.” parsed his words.

Smith did not offer Sharpe a full-time job debating him on “First Take” with the talented Molly Qerim as moderator.

Instead, he dangled the chance for the three-time Super Bowl champion to appear as a guest on “First Take,” along with SiriusXM’s Chris “Mad Dog Russo” and many others. 

They call that a “day rate” in the sports media business. Russo, for example, told Howard Stern he makes $10,000 per episode for his weekly appearances. 

Hey, that’s great work if you can get it. But there’s a big difference between a part-time gig and a guaranteed multi-year contract with the Walt Disney Co. paying multi-millions per year.

Don’t forget, Smith had a full-time debate opponent on “First Take” for five years in Max Kellerman – until he pushed him out (ostensibly for the good of the show) in 2021. 

Now “First Take” is all about him and his favorites. It’s “Stephen A. Smith Versus the World.” And don’t be surprised if Bayless, his mentor, tries to follow the same playbook at “Undisputed.”

Then there’s Smith hilariously oozing sugar all over guests like Irvin and Johnson. 

What a coinkydink? News reports cited both as possible Sharpe successors on “Undisputed” this week.

Do you think it’s an accident Smith gushed over the “First Take” guests who FS1 executive vice president Charle Dixon will likely target as Sharpe’s replacement? I don’t. 

In short, Smith is attempting to hoover up every A-List debate partner – and leave Bayless with second-raters who won’t attract an audience.

His message was clear: Stay with the winner. Don’t jump to ‘Undisputed,’ where you’ll have to swallow Bayless’s guff and dance to his tune about LeBron James, etc. 

And, of course, Smith slipped in the caveat that his “bosses,” like Dave Roberts, ESPN head of NBA and studio production, and chairman Jimmy Pitaro, would have to approve such a move. That gives him a ready-made escape clause.

skip bayless talking

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To his credit, Smith has long praised Bayless with saving his career by recruiting him to be his full-time debate partner on “First Take” in 2012.

When the entire sports world rose up in outrage over Bayless’ thoughtless tweet about Damar Hamlin, Smith was virtually the only sports personality (even within Bayless’ Fox Sports) to defend his old sparring partner.

But don’t believe for a minute Smith doesn’t love the fact his “First Take” routinely trounces Bayless’ “Undisputed” in the morning TV rating wars.

Smith is ultra-competitive and wants to win at all costs. The apprentice has become the master in the nearly seven-year head-to-head TV competition between Smith and Bayless. 

Or is Smith attempting a triple-bank shot to create an eventual reunion between him and his “brother from another mother” Bayless on ESPN, YouTube or another platform?

I know Smith has a recurring role as the hitman “Brick” on “General Hospital.”

But Friday might have been his best acting performance yet.

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