Stephen A. Smith’s ESPN ad and his Fox News ties give an assist to those who threaten democracy

OPINION: The idea of making your own rules is music to MAGA ears, especially Donald Trump.

Stephen A. Smith ESPN
Ever-opinionated commentator Stephen A. Smith addressed the ongoing issue of the lack of diversity among head coaches in the NFL on his ESPN show, "First Take." (Photo: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Whatever we think of Stephen A. Smith as a broadcaster, we can’t deny he’s balling. 

He’s a certified star in media, where ratings and revenue matter more than anything. He reportedly makes $12 million annually from ESPN alone, with a chance of hitting $20 million when his contract expires next summer. His eponymous YouTube show has more than 600,000 subscribers and is worth seven figures annually.

You know who else is balling? Smith’s friend Sean Hannity, the Fox News host who reportedly earns $45 million per year for a TV and radio show. 

Both rank high on Mediaite’s Top 75 list of the most influential figures in news media, with Hannity at No. 2 and Smith at No. 8. If you’re keeping score solely based on money and metrics – who gets the biggest bags and draws the most viewers – then Smith and Hannity are winners. They’re killing the game.

But the news media ain’t supposed to be a game. The consequences range from maddening inconveniences to major obstacles to life-and-death circumstances. 

This isn’t football, where teams run misdirection plays to get ahead. It’s not basketball, where teams use pump fakes to score points. But Fox News makes a living through deception, using half-truths and whole lies to bombard the airwaves with misinformation that puts democracy at risk.

Which brings me back to Stephen A.

I don’t remember the middle initial being so pronounced in the late ‘80s when our paths first crossed at the National Association of Black Journalists conventions. We related as proud native New Yorkers who became sportswriters when newspapers were still a thing. We’ve been friendly professional acquaintances ever since, and I’ve marveled at homeboy’s meteoric rise. 


I’m not close enough to know how much of his broadcast persona is genuine and how much is manufactured for mass consumption. Accountants don’t care because all they see is green, like the pro wrestling industry. It doesn’t matter whether fans know the action is fake or they believe it’s authentic; business keeps booming either way.

And that’s the problem with cozying up to Fox News as it peddles crap nonstop and passes it off as health food. 

Even if Smith occasionally scolds Hannity and Tucker Carlson and Will Cain for their MAGA-loving bullshit, the network is booming. Smith’s appearances help fulfill the mission and fatten the bottom line, especially when he stokes flames and parrots the talking points of racist fake patriots. 

They loved it last month when Smith went on Hannity’s show and said Donald Trump’s legal problems “and everything else being exercised against him is something that Black folks throughout this nation can relate to with some of our historic, iconic figures.” 

A “Breaking News” graphic appeared as he spoke: “Stephen A. Smith calls out Democrats over their persecution of Trump.” The NAACP and a slew of Black voices pushed back against the asinine suggestion that Trump is an innocent victim like the millions of Black folks abused by this country’s legal system for 400 years and counting.

Smith offered a quasi-apology, saying his words on live TV were misconstrued and taken out of context. He said the misrepresentation and depiction was “as insulting and disrespectful” as what Black folks “evidently felt about what they thought I said. But I’ll own it anyway.”

But our concern isn’t what sane Black people think about such crazy talk.

It’s the crazies glued to Fox News that worry us, a substantial number of our fellow Americans. The network that’s devoted to maintaining and strengthening white supremacy enjoys more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined. Those viewers dream of minority rule, and they don’t mean racial minorities.

Which brings me to Smith’s commercial for his network’s sports book, ESPN Bet.

The ad shows him shooting pool and stressing the importance of ending a playoff series early. “Speaking of winning,” he says, “I’m about to close this out right now.” He sinks a solid-colored ball and starts to celebrate before being told his team has the striped balls.

The next line surely resonates among Fox’s faithful and their favorite presidential candidate:

“I’m Stephen A., baby; I make my own rules.”

I guess it’s meant to be funny, the punchline from an incredibly arrogant and egotistical character, delivered in the third person. Ha ha.

But it’s kinda scary considering Trump’s attempt to make his own rules (on Jan. 6). He makes unveiled threats to try again if re-elected, with Fox News co-signing every move.  

According to a recent poll, 75% of Republicans support Trump being dictator for a day (as if he’d willingly and peacefully relinquish power). If not for some scrupulous individuals, successful legal challenges and general ineptitude in his administration, Trump would be in his second term and eyeing a third. 

Smith says he won’t vote for Trump and insists that 45 isn’t racist. You can guess which stance Fox News promotes and which one it buries. 

I couldn’t pal around with stars on a platform that’s committed to anti-Black sentiments and policies. I couldn’t stand being viewed as a MAGA brother like Clarence Thomas, Tim Scott or Jason Whitlock, the latter mercilessly and rightfully roasted by Smith earlier this year. 

One of the last things I’d want to do is deliver a line that gives Trump & Co. more thoughts. But maybe that’s just me. 

He’s Stephen A., baby, and he’s balling.

But to what end?

Deron Snyder, from Brooklyn, is an award-winning columnist who lives near D.C. and pledged Alpha at HU-You Know! He’s reaching high, lying low, moving on, pushing off, keeping up, and throwing down. Got it? Get more at