Stephen A. Smith — yes, that Stephen A. Smith — doesn’t mind talking about what Winston-Salem State means to him.
Smith, the often-polarizing ESPN commentator and a man with 2.5 million followers on Twitter, rarely mentions WSSU on his national show, but he hasn’t forgotten his alma mater.
“Without Big House Gaines and Winston-Salem State, who knows where I’d be?” he said in a telephone interview last week.
Smith attended WSSU on a basketball scholarship in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“I tried to play for coach Gaines, I just couldn’t after I got hurt,” said Smith, referring to an injury-riddled career that included a cracked kneecap that forced him to miss a semester because of the recovery time. “I can’t say enough about that school and what it did for me and especially the late coach Gaines and all of those professors of mine.”
Smith absorbs daily hits on social media for opinions he voices. But as a former thick-skinned sportswriter, he can take it.
He also has been criticized for not doing enough for his alma mater, but he’s trying to rectify that.
Smith, 48, will be in Winston-Salem on Saturday as the main speaker for a fundraising breakfast at the Embassy Suites.
The program, called “Bond, Score, Win,” is an effort to raise money for men’s athletics scholarships at WSSU, and school officials hope to bring in as much as $40,000.
James Dubose, WSSU’s director of corporate sponsorship and fundraising, was the point man in securing Smith, who is flying in on his own dime and paying his own expenses.
“We’ve been communicating a lot through the last three months, and he’s excited,” Dubose said. “This is a big deal for us, and when it comes to fundraising for scholarships, I have this crazy idea that one day we can do enough where every athlete on our campus has a full scholarship.”
That might seem like a crazy idea for a Division II school, but with WSSU’s tradition and large alumni base, it might not be that crazy. Having Smith involved is a good start.
“When I heard what the premise was about and how it raises money for athletes, it was a no-brainer to help them out,” said Smith, a 1991 graduate of WSSU and a member of the Big House Gaines Hall of Fame for service to the university.
Smith will talk about his time at WSSU and about his early years in media. He worked at the Winston-Salem Journal as a part-time sports clerk, answering phones while he was still a student.
One of Smith’s instructors at WSSU was John Gates, also an editorial-page writer for the Journal.
Smith said Gates invited him to lunch one day. Although it wasn’t actually a lunch.
“Instead, (Gates) takes me into the Journal offices, and I meet the sports editor, Terry Oberle, and he gave me a job as a clerk,” Smith said.
Smith said that about two months later Oberle assigned him his first feature story, on the Wake Forest soccer team.
“So I go over to Wake not knowing a thing about soccer, but the coach at the time, Walt Chyzowych, took me aside, and we talked,” Smith said. “I told him I didn’t know anything about soccer other than seeing Pele play. And he was so nice to me and called the team over and told them to give me anything I needed so I could learn the game. I spent three days with them and learned a lot.”
Smith wrote a long feature story and said Oberle gave his approval.
“That meant a lot to me,” he said of that pat on the back. “It was my start in the business as far as I’m concerned.”
After graduation, Smith worked at the Greensboro News & Record’s High Point bureau, lived in Archdale and said he made $15,000 a year.
“I lived in a small place and survived on tuna fish and Kool-Aid,” he said with a laugh.
Smith, who was born and raised in New York City, also found time to send clips of his articles to the New York Daily News, with the hope of moving back up north to be a full-time sportswriter. He eventually landed a job with the Daily News, then later moved to the Philadelphia Inquirer and became an award-winning columnist.
Smith started working for CNN/SI in the mid-1990s and was an NBA insider before getting more into TV work at Fox Sports. He eventually landed at ESPN and hit gold with good friend Skip Bayless and their debate-style show “First Take.” Smith and Bayless have battled each other on air since April 2012.
“He’s just different than me, and that’s what makes the show,” Smith said.
Smith said returning to Winston-Salem, even if it’s for less than 24 hours, will be good.
“Coach Gaines would always preach to us about giving back, and he always said, ‘Nobody owes you anything,’” Smith said. “He used to tell us that every day. If you want to do something in this world, you have to work for it.”
Greg Olsen To Partner With Kevin Burkhardt For Super Bowl LVII
“Last season was the first Burkhardt and Olsen worked together. They largely won rave reviews.”
The deal isn’t done yet, but Andrew Marchand of The New York Post reports that Greg Olsen is on his way to joining Kevin Burkhardt in the top NFL booth at FOX. Although Tom Brady will take over that role after he retires and leaves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Olsen will spend at least this season on FOX’s A-Team.
Last season was the first Burkhardt and Olsen worked together. They largely won rave reviews.
Earlier this year, the former Panther told The Mac Attack on WFNZ in Charlotte that he was disappointed he didn’t get to call a postseason game. He will more than make up for that in 2023. As Burkhardt’s partner, Olsen is in line to be the analyst for Super Bowl LVII.
Marchand writes that we could get a taste of what is to come in February. He speculates that if the Buccaneers are not in the Super Bowl, it is possible Tom Brady could make his FOX debut, either in the booth alongside Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen or as part of the network’s studio show.
Now, FOX has to make a decision about it’s number 2 NFL booth. According to Marchand, Drew Brees is a candidate to be the analyst. Adam Amin and Joe Davis have emerged as candidates for the play-by-play role.
Poll Data Shows Tepid Response To Tom Brady Joining FOX
“A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Front Office Sports showed that 1 in 3 Americans are more likely to watch a game with Brady on the microphone.”
FOX Sports reportedly signed Tom Brady to a 10-year deal worth $375 million to make the seven-time Super Bowl champion the new lead analyst for its top NFL broadcast once his playing career is over.
A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Front Office Sports showed that 1 in 3 Americans are more likely to watch a game with Brady on the microphone.
The poll said 2 in 5 NFL fans have a better opinion of FOX Sports following the deal, with 41% of NFL fans being at least somewhat more likely to watch a game with Brady as an analyst.
Data shows one-third of NFL fans think the deal Brady reportedly agreed to is worth about the same as its reported value.
That reaction could probably be described as “tepid”. That may be exactly what FOX expects and maybe all it wants.
Last week, Domonique Foxworth of ESPN suggested that the paycheck is less about what the network thinks Tom Brady means to viewers and more about showing the NFL that the network values its product.
FOX Not Interested In Joining Streaming Sports Wars
“All this fight that’s going on, sort of gladiatorial kind of bloodshed, is really for that last position, right, in the three to four services that people will take?”
The CEO of FOX doesn’t plan on forking over billions of dollars to be people’s last choice for paid streaming services.
Lachlan Murdoch said at a time when more than 80% of American homes already have some kind of paid streaming service, it’s not worthwhile to jump on that train.
Amazon, Netflix and Disney+ typically account for the average streaming presence in a household.
“All this fight that’s going on, sort of gladiatorial kind of bloodshed, is really for that last position, right, in the three to four services that people will take,” Murdoch said at a tech conference earlier this year. “And so the billions of dollars that’s being spent by multiple aspirants is all for that last position. And so we are extraordinarily — I want to say that — we’re happy to be sort of sitting on the sidelines.”
Murdoch told Benjamin Swinburne that when it comes to the NFL, FOX’s media rights are the same as CBS, NBC and ESPN. The main focus for the company remains on keeping games on TV.
“We don’t believe it helps us to put those rights under a streaming service or free on over-the-air. We think it’s very important that those rights remain exclusive to the broadcast environment,” Murdoch said.
FOX does stream games through its app, but it is only the games it is also carrying on its broadcast network or FS1.