A fun thing to do with Stephen A. Smith is to calculate how many consumable hours of entertainment he's responsible for, cross-reference it against his possible hours spent awake, and wonder how it all works out. For instance, here he is in front of his Know Mercy podcast microphone appearing on South Beach Sessions with Dan Le Batard, which sports a running time of 63 minutes. The entire conversation is pretty interesting because everything Smith does should be studied so future generations can understand how this man rose to a place where no one questions that he is the No. 1 star in all of sports media.
At one point Le Batard let Smith know that he's not particularly fond of what he and Skip Bayless have wrought upon sports television, leading to the following exchange.
"You can say that all you want to," Smith said. "I would say who the hell are you to sit up there and say me and him, what about you? Where the hell were you, living under a rock? You're a part of it too. You ain't innocent."
"I'm talking about all the imitators that you've birthed that are all over the place without the journalism credentials, that the point of all of this is to turn it into an argument on television," Le Batard replied.
Smith took umbrage with this, asking why Bayless and himself would be responsible for the non-journalism being done when they themselves started as journalists.
"Skip Bayless was a journalist for decades," Smith said. "I was a journalist for decades. We come on television and those ethics are applicable. The fact of the matter is when I take a position, it's the same kind of position I would take writing a column. The difference is, instead of writing 800 words and being limited to that space, I get to talk for a few minutes on each subject. When did it happen that I ignored the fact that I was a journalist for the Winston-Salem Journal, The Greensboro News & Record, the New York Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer?"
It's an important conversation and we should all be glad someone is having it. Even those who don't like Smith and Bayless would be irresponsible if they gave them the largest slice of pie in the chart showing who is responsible for embracing debate so hard it squeezed the life out of daily sports programs. There were plenty of producers and executives who enabled the whole experiment, which works tremendously well with top-tier talents like the former First Take duo but often falls flat in the hands of impostors.
That said, Bayless has done tremendous work in eroding whatever journalism legacy he had and Smith, though much, much better, definitely dabbles in performative actions almost explicitly aimed at interjecting himself into the story or becoming the story. Which is all fine, because he can do both, it just takes a discerning eye to tell the difference.
And honestly, as someone who cares about these distinctions and the industry, I totally understand why others either don't care or simply want to be entertained. There's not a tremendous amount of journalism being done in high-profile television or podcasts that isn't at least tinged with large personalities crashing against each other.
With how fast the world has moved, it seems silly to think we wouldn't have gotten to the exact same place at the exact same time with different versions of Bayless and Smith. Part of the problem might be that they set the standard so high for these type of show that the storebrand versions just don't rate.