By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) “Steven A. Smith is Walt Disney’s Uncle Remus of the 21st Century. He’s the most racist stereotype on television- an ignorant, loud, obnoxious black man all dressed up so he [can] shuck and jive. They might as well put him in a clown suit and black face. ‘I yell everything I say, load it with street slang, cry racism at every opportunity, and most of my opinions are either absurdly simplistic or make no [expletive-ing] sense!’”
That is a description of Smith by Charlie DeMarco from one of my favorite things ever written, “ESPN: A Requiem in Five Parts” for the now-defunct ThePhatPhree.com. Unfortunately the whole composition seems to be impossible to find online anymore in its entirety (I cannot find any current contact info for DeMarco, who gave me my first ever writing gig, but a message board at least reproduced four-fifths of his brilliant work). It was written in 2006, a ways before ESPN figured out they could get people to watch a program that took the conflict sometimes found on Pardon the Interruption and scripted it and made it the entire show and before Smith was given the larger platform he has today. Has much changed about the Stephen A. Smith approach between then and now?
With the positivity and excitement that comes with such an amazing start such as the Chicago Blackhawks have made for themselves comes an opposite reaction of sorts. Not just the pragmatism from me that people will confuse with trying to pee in the punchbowl, but also actual attempts at discreditation.
Enter Smith (likely in a loud, uninvited fashion).
I rarely watch non-game programming on ESPN anymore if I can help it, but there was a buzz going around about things that came out of Smith’s mouth Monday after somebody pulled the string in his back on the Sportscenter set. And, yes, I am aware of the buried lead that ESPN actually had hockey talk.
There are various ways to respond to such massive idiocy, all of which are valid. Puck Daddy did the logical breakdown and takedown of how wrong Smith is in his hockey thoughts/diarrhea. That somebody who collects a paycheck to talk about something he seems to have very little knowledge about says a lot about what that network thinks of its viewers’ intelligence, by the way.
Awful Announcing chided the network for its lack of preparedness to even cover such a topic. Ditto making it an apples-to-what-the-hell-are-you-doing comparison to the Miami Heat.
That all leads into Deadspin’s take in which the question of a consumer’s choice is begged—why did any viewer think Smith was going to give a cogent hockey opinion in the first place? If you’re angry over what Smith said, don’t point fingers at ESPN or even Smith. Point them at yourself for choosing to walk into that environment of dumb in the first place.
There is also the school of thought that deciding not to completely ignore what Smith said is exactly what ESPN wants. They don’t care that Smith got it all wrong as much as they care about the bitching and moaning it has created—the “no such thing as bad publicity” theory. All of this will only create more viewership if for only people who want to “hate watch” Smith, akin to what made Jay Mariotti such a successful writer in this town for so long. I’ve never understand purposely consuming a product you vehemently dislike, but many softheaded people do it, and a new giant wing of the World Wide Leader’s empire has been built on people not understanding they are the butt of the joke when they scream at Skip Bayless on their TVs.
While I know very well that at least half of the dozen or so people reading this will say “Then why are you even mentioning this? You’re part of the problem!” I believe that complete willful ignorance to this stuff doesn’t help either. “Don’t pay attention to it, and it will go away” doesn’t apply to such a monolithic entity. While none of this will stop the bad analysis from happening, at least a public shaming can make those writing and cashing the checks feel just a bit dirtier about doing so.
Which leads to what actually bothered me most when I finally listened to Smith’s dumbassery. If you take a caricature like Smith and allow him to talk negatively about the most popular story in a sport that has a predominantly white fanbase, it’s not difficult to see how or why this tire fire gets ignited. And what all that then does is both drag out incredibly stupid racist people that now have a comfortable excuse to be angry at a black guy as well as, and this is more important, inflate a stereotype of the disconnect between hockey and the African American fan. “Famous black sports man doesn’t understand hockey” is a bad look, and it does a disservice to black hockey fans who have been so before the 2013 Blackhawks as well as any potential newcomers that will be a part of the windfall of new fans that the success of a team on a record-setting start will bring.
That is terribly unfair, and both Smith and ESPN despite all their faults should be better than that. I assume Smith doesn’t show up five minutes before airing without knowing what topics will be broached. A person conscious of his/her limitations would, when presented with a topic he/she can’t give a halfway educated opinion on, maybe say to a writer or producer “Hey, I’m going to look like a jackass if I try to talk about this, so can we either omit it completely or at least get somebody else to talk about it for a segment?” Or a staff member could be aware of this beforehand. Or the show’s anchor could stop Smith spectacularly failing to talk about something in an intelligent manner and correct him. While ESPN deservedly takes heat for often choosing to not cover hockey, covering it by taking a giant dump on it after having its way with its grandmother, i.e. blatantly insulting the intelligence of fans, works far worse that completely ignoring it.
Couple that with juxtaposing a hockey story with one of an NBA team in the way Smith was allowed to, and it becomes a black vs. white thing, whether intentional or not. (But I’m done giving ESPN the benefit of the doubt when it comes to this stuff. Too much money rides on not being accidental, so they likely knew the hornets’ nest they were poking.) The two streaks aren’t worthy of comparison in the first place, and attempting to squish them together accomplishes nothing intelligent. But it does stir up the base.
And for someone who in the past hasn’t been hesitant to discuss sports and race, it should dawn on Smith the counter-productivity of what he did Monday. That is unless Smith is just the sellout columnist Jason Whitlock has inferred he is. After Smith’s use of the n-word on air in 2012, Whitlock called what Smith did, his response, and his existence on First Take as a whole “a horrendous look for black journalists.” What occurred on Monday may not have included specific racially-charged language, but it wasn’t a much better look.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.