Controversy sells—and oftentimes it pays—a lot. Stephen A. Smith, an ESPN sports journalist known for his provocative commentary, is a prime example. On Thursday, it was reported that Smith is on track to becoming the highest paid TV personality on the ESPN network. The 51-year-old syndicated talk show host has a current contract that is reportedly worth around $5 million per year until 2021. However, the co-star of ESPN’s wildly popular First Take could be offered a new deal worth anywhere from $8 million to $10 million per year.
According to The New York Post, ESPN is willing to double Smith’s salary in order to avoid losing him to a competitor. Smith, who has been with the network since 2005, is arguably one of the most recognizable faces at ESPN and in the sports media industry at large. However, in addition to his catchphrases, the TV personality is known for his outspoken opinions and polarizing remarks, which are often criticized as sexist and crude.
Here’s a look back at some of Stephen A. Smith’s most flagrant public statements.
To Domestic Abuse Victims: Don’t “Provoke” Violence
Back in 2014, ESPN suspended Smith after he insinuated that victims of domestic violence are actually to blame for the abuse they’re subjected to. During a conversation about NFL player Ray Rice’s notorious attack against his wife, who he knocked unconscious in an elevator, Smith advised women not to “provoke” their attacker.
“What I’ve tried to employ [with] the female members of my family—some of who you all met and talked to and what have you—is that … let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions, because if I come—or somebody else comes, whether it’s law enforcement officials, your brother or the fellas that you know—if we come after somebody has put their hands on you, it doesn’t negate the fact that they already put their hands on you,” he said on First Take.
Smith later apologized for his remarks, calling his comments “the most egregious error of my career.” He added, “My words came across that it is somehow a woman’s fault. This was not my intent. It is not what I was trying to say.”
On Mayweather’s Domestic Battery History: “Men Ain’t Wrong Always”
@nekabaw32 Please. Let's no discount the women out there who want someone like Mayweather strictly for the cash. Men ain't wrong ALWAYS.
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) September 11, 2010
In 2010, Smith had trouble believing that boxing champ Floyd Mayweather, who has a documented history of domestic abuse arrests and citations, beat up his ex-wife, Josie Harris, who was hospitalized with a concussion. He also accused Harris of fabricating the story in order to extort money from the wealthy boxer. In an exchange on Twitter, Smith publicly defended Mayweather and stereotyped women who accused him of abuse as gold diggers.
To Ayesha Curry: Be A Good NBA Wife
Smith was accused of mansplaining appropriate behavior of an “NBA wife” to Ayesha Curry, who is married to Golden State Warriors player Steph Curry, when she accused the league of rigging a game against her husband. The incident occurred when Steph earned his first ejection in 2016 and Ayesha expressed her frustration on Twitter. “I’ve lost all respect sorry this is absolutely rigged for money,” she tweeted. “Or ratings in not sure which. I won’t be silent. Just saw it live sry.”
In response, Smith chastised Ayesha and suggested that she use LeBron James’ wife as a model for good behavior. “You are the wife of Steph Curry,” he said on his show. “What you do is a reflection on him. What you do is a reflection on the organization he works for. You have to be mindful of that. You can’t get caught up in your own individual emotions and having this zest to speak out to the point where it compromises your husband.”
Smith then compared her to Gloria James, saying, “She’s wonderful inside and out. She sits there, she doesn’t bring any attention to herself. She never tweets and goes out there and calls out the league and stuff like that. And nobody—NOBODY—is more scrutinized than her husband. But yet she thinks about how she represents him and she doesn’t do that.”
On Kobe Bryant: “N-gga, Please”
In 2012, Smith was heard using the N-word on First Take while discussing the upcoming NBA season and then-Lakers star Kobe Bryant’s foot injury. The word slipped out during an exchange with NBA star Dahntay Jones, who was appearing on the show as a guest.
“You think Kobe Bryant is going to miss it because his foot is sprained? Ni—a, please,” Smith declared.
Following the incident, Smith denied use of the racial slur, arguing that his words were “misconstrued” because “he’s a New Yorker” who talks fast.
TO KAEPERNICK: ‘STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM ME’
At the 2017 Black Enterprise Black Men XCEL Summit, Smith blasted Colin Kaepernick for refusing to vote in the 2016 presidential election. Although Smith supports his #TakeAKnee protest movement, he said that Kaepernick’s decision not to participate in the pivotal election was ignorant.
“My only issue with Colin Kaepernick is when he announced to the world that he’s not one to vote. If you are black and you don’t believe that it’s important to vote, just do me a favor and stay the hell away from me….don’t talk to me, don’t look at me, I’m not interested in hearing that level of ignorance,” said the sports analyst. “Because it is ignorant. Because outside of money, the No. 1 instrument of change in our nation is the power to vote. And if you don’t exercise it, you’ve disrespected yourself, you’ve disrespected our ancestors, and you’ve disrespected our history and I have no respect for you.”
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