ESPN’S Steven A. Smith offers career pep talk at USC

ainelson@thestate.comNovember 17, 2013 

Stephen A. Smith


ESPN sports analyst and talk show host Stephen A. Smith’s visit to the University of South Carolina on Friday included very little talk of Gamecock sports.

“They did not invite me here to talk about your football team,” Smith told a near-capacity audience in a ballroom in the Russell House as he took the microphone. “I did not come her to criticize Jadeveon (Clowney). I love him.”

Instead, the outspoken journalist spent an hour schooling the multicultural, mostly young, mostly male crowd about life and how to succeed at it.

“It’s a game, but it ain’t a game,” said Smith.

Using professional athletes as an example, Smith instructed the group on the importance of tolerance, leadership, politics, focus and competitiveness in getting ahead.

The “First Take” co-host said all of those elements had been key in his career ascension.

Smith grew up poor in Queens, N.Y., and began his journalism career more than 20 years ago. He had attended and played basketball at Winston-Salem (N.C.) State, but soon after discovered there would be no career for him in the NBA.

Instead, he said, he honed his talent for sharing his opinions. At the Philadelphia Inquirer, he was one of the first African-American sports journalists in the nation to have a general sports column. From that platform, he worked his way up to television NBA analysis and a contract with ESPN.

He told the students one of the highlights of his career was signing the deal for his show “Quite Frankly,” which allowed him to financially support his mother.

“You have to be prepared to act, and you have to know what you’re up against,” Smith said. “You gotta be better than person next to you. You gotta be better than the person in front of you. You gotta be better than the person behind you.”

Though he noted success is a largely solitary path, Smith emphasized the importance of mentors and cheerleaders to that journey.

Then, Smith announced:

“You gotta be scared of losing. Losing has to scare you just as much as going to hell does … because losing is hell,” he said.

After his no-nonsense pep talk, Smith took questions from the audience. It was the only time outside of his opening remarks that he addressed Gamecocks athletics.

“As long as Frank Martin is here, I think they’re moving in a forward direction. I think he’s the kind of coach that will demand excellence,” Smith said.

“I do think he might need to calm down just a little. … I do wonder how many kids would be able to take that in-your-face approach, because he takes in-your-face to another level,” Smith said.

“And in today’s day and age, where you got everybody being called to the carpet, for usage of language and so on and so forth, it’s a dicey situation for him to be in, in that regard.”

The event, sponsored by Carolina Productions, was open to students and faculty.

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