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.