Stephen A. Smith's Fearless Takes Date Back to College

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Long before Stephen A. Smith was Stephen A. Smith, he was a random college athlete at Winston-Salem State. Since then he has remained a loyal member of the "Ramily" and has a scholarship in his name at the school. Smith talked about how important WSSU has been to him on a recent episode of First Take.

The image of a young Smith in his basketball jersey popped up on the Random College Athletes Twitter account yesterday. That led me to Wikipedia to learn that he had also written a column in the school newspaper saying his Hall of Fame coach retire. The source for that was a New York Times article from before Quite Frankly premiered on ESPN.

At the time, Smith was still writing columns for ESPN (some on his Blackberry!). Here's all it said about the article. Via the New York Times:

"Mr. Smith tested that advice at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina, where he played a bit for the great basketball coach Clarence (Big House) Gaines -- and then boldly suggested in an article in the school newspaper that Mr. Gaines retire because of health problems."

A 2017 article on The Undefeated gives the story a little more context.

"Smith’s tell-it-like-it-is style began at Winston-Salem State when he was a reporter for the student newspaper, The News Argus. His first big splash at the newspaper came after he called for Gaines to step down. Increasingly concerned about Gaines’s health — Smith recalled that the legendary coach suffered small strokes during games — he recalled how he confronted Gaines in his office. “I told him, ‘Coach, I’m scared. I’m not going to let you drop dead on the sideline.’ ” Smith told Gaines that if he didn’t retire he would write an article suggesting that Gaines should step down. Gaines cursed Smith and kicked him out of the office. "

Smith wrote the article. People were mad. Some wanted him expelled. Gaines, however, said that Stephen A. was to be left alone. If Gaines, who Smith refers to as a father figure, had reacted differently, who knows where Smith would be today. Of course, writing an article like this at that point in his life, Smith showed a fearlessness and conviction to say whatever he felt needed to be said, which seems pretty representative of the rest of his career. Quite frankly, that's a great story.