It will come as no surprise that an interview with ESPN’s loquacious “First Take” co-host Stephen A. Smith will need to be broken into two parts.
The relentlessly verbose lightning rod will host the show at the Hard Rock Cafe from Wednesday through Friday as part of ESPN’s presence during the Super Bowl. His “First Take” colleagues Max Kellerman and Molly Qerim are not scheduled to make the trip, but there will be other ESPNers here, of course.
Q: Why did you spend even one day in a newspaper sports department? You were born to be on TV.
A: Credibility. The fact of the matter is that you don’t start out your career [on] television, at least back in 1993, when I started my career. It’s one of those situations where you establish yourself as a credible journalist — at least back in the day you did before the advent of social media. You establish yourself as more than just a smile, somebody [who] can read a prompter. Back in the day, that’s how you looked at folks who were on TV, for the most part. You didn’t have the opinion shows and things of that nature that you have now. I was trying to establish myself as a hard-core journalist, somebody [who] was willing to investigate and exhaust every measure imaginable to get as close to the truth as I possibly could. That’s where I went to establish my reputation as somebody who cared about the truth, in pursuit of the truth, instead of just running my mouth.
Q: How many years were you at the newspaper in Philadelphia?
A: Seventeen years, 1993 to 2010.
Q: Was that your first newspaper job?
A: No. My first newspaper job was a high school reporter for the New York Daily News.
Q: Why were you enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology?
A: I went there on a basketball scholarship. I played basketball for FIT. We were ranked 15th in the nation when I was there and we finished the year 35-4. That ultimately is what led to me getting a scholarship to Winston-Salem State, because when I was in college I was like 5 feet 10½, 130 pounds. I was entirely too small for [a lot of college] programs even though I could ball.
Q: The Fashion Institute sounds like a place where you learn to make clothes.
A: That’s true. That’s one of the things that they did. There’s no doubt about that, but I majored in advertising and communications because I knew that I would have a career in communications, in some form or fashion. When you think about advertising, it’s understanding that whether it’s newspaper, radio or television, you have to know how to advertise, how to market, because ultimately everything comes down to ratings and revenue or ratings and subscribers and revenue, whether it’s newspapers or radio or television. If you understand that and the art of advertising, then you know how to market things to your advantage.
Q: You don’t seem to care that much about fashion, based on how you dress on TV.
A: I care about how I look, but I don’t care about the fashion industry. I care about how I carry and present myself.
Q: But your clothes are not especially interesting. You stay with the blues and the blacks.
A: I’m not Michael Irvin. I don’t go out there like that. But I think my suits are pretty damn sharp. [C.J. note: That’s a good thing. Irvin is a garish dresser. On the other hand, former Vikings now CBS and NFL Network analyst Nate Burleson looks fresh, flashy and tasteful. I did not go back and forth with Smith on Irvin because our time was short and his cellphone was dropping the connection.]
Q: Do you spend a lot on your suits?
A: Yes, I do.
Q: Who or what makes you nervous?
C.J. can be reached at email@example.com and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.