If you spent any time on social media on Wednesday in the immediate aftermath of the layoffs that took place at ESPN, there’s a good chance that you came across plenty of tweets about the situation that referenced Stephen A. Smith. Smith did not get laid off by The Worldwide Leader in Sports—which wasn’t a surprise, considering he’s the co-host of First Take, one of the network’s more popular daytime shows—but it seems there were more than a few people who thought that he should have been fired. Hundreds of them took to their Twitter accounts to publicly wonder why Smith was allowed to keep his job when so many others were asked to leave:
Jeff Pearlman—a former Sports Illustrated writer and the author of several best-selling books—was one of the people who was upset with ESPN for keeping Smith on board, and he wrote an entire column about it. In his column, which he called "The ESPN carnage," Pearlman suggested that Smith wasn’t fired "because he’s really good at yelling." He also said that the fact Smith kept his job is representative of "the decline of good journalism." He blamed the situation on "the mindless carnival barkings of hacks" like Smith and his former First Take co-host Skip Bayless. And while he pointed out that it was "not Stephen A. Smith’s fault," he called what happened at ESPN "an assault on the profession."
It took him about 24 hours to get around to reading it, but on Thursday, Smith revealed that he had a bone to pick with Pearlman and others who have criticized him for keeping his job in light of what took place at ESPN. He sent out this tweet indicating that he was prepared to discuss it on The Stephen A. Smith Show on ESPN Radio:
And early Thursday afternoon, that’s exactly what he did. Smith told his audience that he doesn’t normally like to respond when fellow media members take shots at him. "I pride myself on respecting my colleagues," he said. "I respect my colleagues too much to go tit-for-tat with anybody."
But he said that he felt the need to respond to Pearlman and to anyone else who took issue with him not losing his job on Wednesday. Smith specifically mentioned that he felt like he was the only one being targeted by those who were upset about the ESPN layoffs.
"I could sit up here and talk about First Take and its ratings and about how successful it’s been and we are," he said. "I could sit up here and talk about radio and the radio show and how successful I’ve been. I could talk about a lot of things, but I’m not going to go there. Instead, rhetorically speaking, I’m going to ask Mr. Jeff Pearlman and all the Jeff Pearlmans of the world a simple question: 'Why are you focusing on me?' There are people in our business who actually get paid more, who do less and produce less. Why are you not talking about them?"
Smith then ran through his professional résumé—he said he worked internships at a number of newspapers in and around North Carolina during his college years at Winston-Salem State University before spending his early years as a journalist working at the New York Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer, where he became one of just 21 African-American columnists in the country—before asking Pearlman and others to take a look at what he did to get to where he is today before criticizing him.
"I came up in this industry at a time where you had to be a journalist," he said. "You had to break stories. You had to break news to elevate your career, to get to a certain point and a certain level in this business, before you even had the license to give your opinion, especially if you were a black man."
And while Smith gave credit to Pearlman for the success he has had as a writer, reporter, and author, he also said that he would put his credentials up against him and anyone else who wants to challenge him.
"We want to talk credentials?" he asked. "Name the time and place and I’ll show up. Tell me what level I didn’t work on. I worked as an intern. I worked at a high school. I worked at a college newspaper while I was taking 18 credits while on the basketball team. I climbed up this business. I’m an outspoken, loud ass mouth, black man. Who the hell do you think gave me an opportunity? I’m sorry, sir, this was earned, and every damn penny that I earned, that I have been blessed to have received in my career, I have earned."
Smith later expressed his sympathy for those now-former ESPN employees who lost their jobs on Wednesday, but he also took issue with those who have called ESPN out for not firing him. And once again, he seemed particularly perturbed by those who have ignored his past accomplishments and focused only on his First Take years.
"What the Pearlmans and the others of the world want to do is take a loudmouth black person and act like I’m just a loudmouth," he said. "They want to ignore the credentials. They want to ignore the fact that I worked my way up to this point, that nothing was given to me, that my résumé in the business of sports journalism is comparable to anybody’s. You got people out here in this day and age that call themselves reporters and ain’t broke a damn story in years. I’ve broken more stories in one year than most people in our business have broken in their careers. But we don’t talk about that… We don’t want to talk about that, because when it comes to certain folks that we choose not to like, we want to act like they don’t have credentials."
And at the end of his radio segment, which lasted for about 10 minutes, Smith circled back to Pearlman and addressed him directly one more time.
"The next time you bring up my name, don’t forget to bring up my résumé, my credentials," he said. "And more importantly, what the hell I’m doing right now. This is earned, baby. Nothing has been given to me. Can we say that about you? I don’t know the answer to that, but I could make a guess if I wanted to, couldn’t I? Have a nice life."
Pearlman responded after the segment ended by saying that he hadn’t heard it:
You can go here to listen to it.