ESPN's Stephen A. Smith Symbolic of the State of Network Cable Television

Greg StarddardContributor IIIOctober 27, 2012

ESPN'S Stephen A. Smith
ESPN'S Stephen A. SmithGeoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

ESPN's Stephen A. Smith has stepped in it again.

For the second time he's been accused of using the n-word on ESPN's First Take. But as people everywhere debate his alleged use of this word, he's hardly the only one who has polluted the airwaves of network cable TV. These kinds of loudmouths are all over your TV and Internet screens, and what they do is embarrassing and profitable.

For the record, I don't believe Smith used the n-word on the air when referring to Kobe Bryant missing regular season games because of a foot injury. After viewing it several times on, it seems to me he substituted the letter "h" for the letter "n." The tip of his tongue never actually touched the roof of his mouth, and therefore he never actually formed the word.

I believe he (purposefully or not) said "h****, please," as opposed to "n****, please." Take a look at the tape and judge for yourself. Had his lips actually formed the word "n****," it would have been very clear. Maybe he mispronounced the word intentionally or even unintentionally.

He says he didn't use the n-word, but I'd like to ask him what he actually said and what it meant.

It seems we'll never get the chance to do that, unfortunately, as he and ESPN have already swept it under the rug, with Smith claiming "I speak very very fastly (sic)" without explaining what he actually said. ESPN was so concerned about what he said that the network deleted the phrase from the show for future airings. If there wasn't a problem with what Smith said or didn't say, why delete the phrase from the show?

I'm not going to go as far as fellow writer Jason Whitlock from went by using words like "black stooges," "negro," "bojangle," "crack pipe" and "low-hanging fruit." I don't believe using racially charged words in a racially charged incident is useful, helpful or productive. But Whitlock got the OK from his editors to use those insensitive words to describe Smith and the furor surrounding him, and that's their choice.

Name-calling in a situation like this is a total waste of time. Comprehensive dialogue about derogatory words and phrases should be the recipe of the day.

I've gone on record many times on Bleacher Report talking about racial issues in the sports world. Whether it's former NBA player Jalen Rose disrespecting African American basketball players at Duke, or people criticizing Houston Rockets guard Jeremy Lin because of his ethnicity, this stupidity must end.

ESPN is in a difficult position with Smith. First Take is probably doing pretty good in the ratings. They attract well-known athletes, rappers and other celebrities to the show. They've hired a new permanent female co-host (whom Whitlock disrespectfully referred to as "eye candy). Co-host Skip Bayless and Smith argue with each other about various hot topics of the day, and ESPN feels as though the show is working.

Personally I think the show is unwatchable for any long period of time. A few minutes here and there, maybe. But there's no way a sane person can sit there and watch these two grand-standers scream at each other for an hour. No way.

First of all, you don't get any information. You get very little, if anything, out of their so-called "discussion." It's basically two guys taking over each other and saying things loudly. Most of it is based on personal opinion, which seems misguided and off target sometimes. But Smith and Bayless aren't the only loud people on network cable TV. They're among many.

Take a spin around cable TV and you'll see Stephen A. Smiths and Skip Baylesses everywhere.

MSNBC's Chris Matthews often screams at his guests and screams when he's talking in general. His show is supposed to enlighten people about politics and world affairs. Often times it comes off as a 60 year old man who was angry before he had breakfast that morning, and the Republican Party is to blame.

I also see a little Smith and Bayless in Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly. He seems to get upset daily and stares into the camera and confronts whomever is there. His "target of choice" is usually anyone who's a Democrat or supports President Obama.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and Al Sharpton, Glenn Beck, Neil Cavuto and every political pundit on CNN all have a lot in common with Smith and Bayless' method of operation.

I often cringe when I see ESPN's Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. "debating" about the best college football teams in the country. Kiper totally disses McShay and screams at him. McShay brushes him aside as if he's out of touch with today's college athlete. Talking down to each other is par for course and apparently what producers think viewers want to see.

A few years ago ESPN pitted the slim John Clayton against former NFL quarterback Sean Salisbury. This was unfair from the very beginning because of the physical size difference in both men, not to mention Clayton is somewhat soft spoken, and Salisbury was loud and borderline obnoxious. Salisbury basically shouted down Clayton during every segment, and quite frankly it was uncomfortable to watch.

Clayton is one of the most informed NFL insiders on television, and to put him in this "comical" segment was a disgrace to his experience and professionalism. Salisbury parted ways with the network over salacious allegations we won't get into in this space, and the segment was dropped.

The invention of cable television was a such a bright spot in the communications world back in the day. It promised viewers the opportunity to watch sports, news and entertainment programs around the clock, 24/7. It had and still has great promise for live news and analysis. But it has too often been downgraded to analysts rambling off the cuff and anyone with any kind of background spewing personal beliefs on camera.

The sad part about First Take, and many of the other cable television network news-analysis programs, is that most of them are making good money. As long as that's true, it doesn't matter if the hosts are responsible, intelligent or informative in the way Smith and Bayless aren't. And unfortunately, for television executives it's no longer about informing—it's about making a profit.


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