Stephen A. Smith Is A Sellout » VSB

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Stephen A. Smith Is A Sellout

The first thing you have to remember when listening to Stephen A Smith is perhaps the most difficult thing to remember when listening to Stephen A Smith. He is smart. Very, very smart. It is easy to watch him and Skip Bayless hurl gargoyle shit at each other and assume they’re nincompoops. That they only throw the shit because they tried (and failed) to eat it first. But that would be false. It takes a breadth of knowledge and understanding of sports and pop culture to be able to have a soundbiteable opinion on so much of it. And clearly articulating those opinions in such a short and hectic period of time requires a cocktail of savvy, energy, and English language command few people possess.

Also, if you read up on his background, you’ll find more evidence that Stephen A is very smart, very self-aware, and very aware of how valuable his voice happens to be.

Which leads me no other choice than to conclude he’s a sellout.

Sellout, as I’m sure most of you are aware, is considered by many Black people to be one of the worst insults you can give another Black person. I am one of these people. You’re not quite calling someone an “Uncle Tom” (which remains the worst insult). But you’re not not calling them an Uncle Tom either.

I do not consider Stephen A a sellout in this way. I believe him to be embracing of and comfortable in his Blackness. I do not, however, believe that he believes a good bit of what he’s says. And it’s not that he’s outright lying. But, if you’re a person who’s paid to conceive of, construct, and deliver multiple opinions on a consistent basis, sometimes you’ll have opinions that are soundbiteable without being fully thought out yet. You know if you say/write/tweet it, it’ll get shared and repeated ad nausuem, but you haven’t quite put in the work yet to see if that opinion is actually valid. But, some people still share these opinions. Because the conversation it might start — and the attention the conversation will grant them — is more important than the truth. In sports lexicon, this is derisively known as a “hot take.”

When it comes to sports, these are cool. They’re annoying as fuck, but they’re generally harmless. No one will die over a misinformed tweet on Lebron’s clutch gene. Stephen A, however, has made a habit of offering hot takes with subjects that require a bit more thought and nuance than his feelings on Phil Jackson’s hair. But what separates him from someone like Jason Whitlock — a man who also regularly bellyflops in pools he’s banned from swimming in — is that while Whitlock seems to genuinely believe his gargoyle shit is actually true, I have no doubt Stephen A knows when his bullshit is, in fact, bullshit. Just as I have no doubt he’s aware of how ridiculous — and easily debunked — his series of tweets today about #BlackLivesMatter were.

Which might not make him an Uncle Tom, but does mean he’s selling out for a bigger, longer spoke on the news cycle.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at Or don't. Whatever.

  • Dcetstyle

    I saw most of this unfurl today and it seemed very opportunistic on his part. Sometimes a sellout is just a sell out.

  • I don’t think Stephen A. Smith is a sell-out, I reserve that label for the James Mannings and Jesse Lee Petersons of the world. He’s in the same boat with Barkley, Sowell, Jason L. Riley etc, black conservatives who think that white liberalism and mainstream black political activism are synonymous. These kind of arguments are common among that group of black conservatives, to the point that I’m kind of shocked it took him forever to start saying it.

    • Yeah, that pretty much captures my thoughts. My thing is that a lot of people seem a bit naive about White liberals and their relationship to Black people, regardless of where their actual politics stand. You can see through the BS a lot of White liberal put out, yet still stand up for your brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, there are a lot of unsophisticated people who think otherwise.

      On an interesting sidebar, I met the TV producer who put Stephen A. Smith on, among other things, at a HS reunion a few years back. He was a smart brother who managed to win an alumni of the year award. I wonder what he thinks of his creation now.

      • Well, Cornell, Mark Lamont Hill, Melissa Perry Harris, Michael Eric Dyson etc built their fame and recognition with the white liberal base. In Black America, we do honor and praise black intellectuals, but they aren’t in demand, and the $$$ and political power isn’t flowing in their direction. The people paying their checks are usually the white liberals, who demand for them over comedians, and other entertainers who tend to be on the more offensive side.

        The major demand for black intellect usually goes to the political activists, semi-revolutionaries, and new-age mystics which pulls in the pseudo-intellectual types, like those that make up the youtube group-economics/conscious-types hustle: people like Prof. Griff, Tariq Nasheed, Umar Johnson, SargeWP, TBA, Sharazad Ali, the couple that’s big in the polyamory scene etc.

        Stephen A. built himself on the back of being A.I. like many white sportcasters and writers like Sam Smith built their careers on the back of Jordan. Stephen A. has a big mouth and says crazy ish, which is why he got fired from ESPN before, but he knows how to draw in haters who can’t stand him (I don’t know one white guy that I’ve met that has anything nice to say about him, but they still watch, because hate/love brings in viewers…indifference chases them away). So he knows what he’s doing, though, in this case, I think his motivation is mostly political here.

        • Ah, example number To Be Continued of “That Wallet will lie on you!” huh? Well, that says a lot of embarrassing things about huge chunks of the American population, right?

          • Politicians are always a reflection of the tolerance level of their people aren’t they?

    • Sigma_Since 93

      He’s been spouting questionable mess since he attempted to have Big House Gaines fired


      I heard Jesse Lee P. on the Sean hannity show debating a pan-African minister….he’s uncle ruckus, Uncle Tom, and Clarence Thomas rolled into one

      • Lol, you should have seen him talking about Walter Scott. This guy was cooning so hard, that you could tell Sean Hannity was like “Dude, Relax, you can be pro-black for a change!”

        • HOT TUB TONY

          LMAOOO…..that’s my second time listening to Jesse P…..I keep getting a New Jack City meets Trading Places vibe from him.

          • That dude actually has a church and adopts children. I was hoping he died when he dropped off the scene for awhile. He makes Uncle Ruckus look like Nat Turner.

        • HOT TUB TONY

          Jesse made Sean hannity look like tupac in that interview….I hope Jesse P doesn’t have a big following

  • Madame Zenobia

    It’s the timing that’s suspicious to me. He sent this series of tweets out within an hour or two of Marc Lamont Hill tweeting a series at Piers Morgan about why #alllivesmatter is wrong. I feel like he saw someone else getting attention and felt like he needed some too. I agree that he’s not stupid, so perpetuating a patently false narrative of Black on Black crime is what truly confused me. What was the point of taking *this* stance? To endear yourself to the uneducated White fans of First Take? I truly don’t get it. You can get attention without furthering myths and stereotypes. I’m vexed by the whole thing. Truly vexed.

  • Vanity in Peril

    Stephen, Stephen, Stephen…shuttie the mouthie.

    • Epsilonicus

      Right. You don’t need to have an opinion on everything lol

      • miss t-lee

        shutting up is always free.

  • Scadi Etienne

    He’s right though, where is the outrage when we are killing each other…

    • Vanity in Peril

      He’s wrong and therefore so are you. There IS outrage, Blanche, there is. There are non profits and organizations and task forces and church groups and think tanks all dedicated to this topic. To make this statement is to disregard these groups, their work and to ignore what the women who founded the hashtag are really fighting for.

      • It confuses what get coverage in the media with reality.

        There’s far more investment in the black community fighting against all the things that contribute to black on black crime, than there is investment in strategies and institutions fighting or protesting specifically against white supremacy.

    • “What about black on black crime…” is a consistent evasive talking point to redirect criticism of the justice system and police departments used by conservatives in America. You hear it so often, you’re pretty sure that it’s one of those talking points that they are advised to say by strategist in order to avoid making progressives seem like they have a point when blatantly racial events are gaining attention in the media.

    • TheOtherJerome

      I posted this on another blog in reply to the same sentiment you have:

      “I’m so sick of the faux outrage on “black on black” crime. As if Black people don’t have countless candlelight vigils and meetings and conferences and prayer meetings and fund raisers and forums and town halls and articles and documentaries and stop the violence songs and weekend specials and on and on about the violence in the community. These things happen just about weekly all over America.”

      It’s crazy in the Chi right now. But people all over that city are trying all sorts of things to curb the violence. They can’t get any love from you or Stephen A? I mean, did you even try to google? I looked up “Stop the Violence rally” and there was one in Toledo 2 days ago.

      Black people complain about and actually try to do something about, so called “Black on Black” violence ALL THE TIME. The difference between these efforts and the “Black Lives Matter” movement is that…. and i know its a shock….. authorities are actually NOT supposed to be contributing to the violence in our communities, In fact, its more damaging to a community when authority figures intentionally contribute to the problem. It tends to lead to chaos.

      • The fact is that prohibition of any sort leads to black markets, and black markets, since they can’t be protected by the law or police, have to be protected by the laws of the jungle.

        This is a classic lesson in American history, and anyone who knows the history of prohibition and the role it played in the spread of crime and the growth of the FBI, could easily pinpoint that there is sadly nothing unique to the problem of black on black crime in the cities of America. The root cause of black on black crime is the consequences of the drug war.

    • You’re ignorance of people’s decade long efforts doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

  • TheOtherJerome

    I agree with this post… somewhat. Because perhaps Stephen A is one of those Black folks who genuinely need it explained to them. Basically like the person down thread. Stephen SHOULD know better. But perhaps he just doesn’t.

    Are you giving his intelligence too much credit?

  • Kerry T

    I dont know man. He may have reached Tom status with these tweets lol.

  • Brass Tacks

    Stephen A. Smith is indeed the sports media equivalent of an ambulance chaser, but a sellout…Nah. Now Jason Whitlock on the other hand, frustrates me to know end with his random conjectures. But, I let Stephen live because with the exception of him trying to keep the Knicks relevant (let it go bruh), he is definitely entrenched in the goings-on of the Afro-American community and very much aware of the platform he has to express his opinions.

    Whether he’s trolling or not is up for debate. I personally think he knows exactly what he’s doing.

    • miss t-lee

      Stephen A and Jason Whitlock are on the same sh*tty wavelength, IMO

  • Stephen A. Smith is a classic bombthrower. He’s writing stuff to get people going, period. The fact that this post exists shows that it works. People hate the formula, but goodness is it effective. Heck, during my column writing days, I’ve pulled out the old bag of tricks. You can’t really get mad at Stephen per se because if it wasn’t him, it would easily be someone else.

    Another thing I’d like to expound on is the broad American political belief that Black politics is effectively the handmaiden of the White progressive left. While that number has plateaued in recent years, a good number of the Black political establishment is built off of leveraging that White liberal cosign for their own purposes, good or ill. A lot of people on the right see this and think that the only reason Black people get put on is because of White liberals. It’s unsophisticated, but let’s not pretend a whole lot of people think like this. And remember, there’s a difference between getting White people to agree with you, and getting shine BECAUSE White people agree with you. (Of course, that last phrase explains the whole Black conservative establishment, but that’s another story.)

    • Brass Tacks

      Drop that Science T!

    • cakes_and_pies

      He said some extra dumb isht like two years ago and has been putting out quarterly dumb statements since then. ESPN is losing money and dropping anchors. He’s doing whatever he can to get his typical Pavlonian response to secure his place at the network.

    • Stephen A and Charles Barkley are both these guys who u kind of feel are trying to set up their post-sport/media careers in politics. Can you blame them, easiest way to become a millionaire now in the U.S. is by being a congressman: free insider training, great health care, starting salary of 250K a year, without having to worry about salary cuts, and then the promise of a good job at a big law firm, or wall street, once your political career is over…shid, don’t hate the player, hate the game:

    • Val

      “…there’s a difference between getting White people to agree with you, and getting shine BECAUSE White people agree with you.”

      Quite a few Black folks, especially the ones at Fox and Don Lemon, need to know this.

  • It’s funny how little Stephen A cares about talking about and dissecting Blackness when Allen Fucking Iverson is the only reason he has a name people know.

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