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Stephen A. Smith Giving Back To His Alma Matter

Jason Barrett

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Stephen A. Smith — yes, that Stephen A. Smith — doesn’t mind talking about what Winston-Salem State means to him.

Smith, the often-polarizing ESPN commentator and a man with 2.5 million followers on Twitter, rarely mentions WSSU on his national show, but he hasn’t forgotten his alma mater.

“Without Big House Gaines and Winston-Salem State, who knows where I’d be?” he said in a telephone interview last week.

Smith attended WSSU on a basketball scholarship in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“I tried to play for coach Gaines, I just couldn’t after I got hurt,” said Smith, referring to an injury-riddled career that included a cracked kneecap that forced him to miss a semester because of the recovery time. “I can’t say enough about that school and what it did for me and especially the late coach Gaines and all of those professors of mine.”

Smith absorbs daily hits on social media for opinions he voices. But as a former thick-skinned sportswriter, he can take it.

He also has been criticized for not doing enough for his alma mater, but he’s trying to rectify that.

Smith, 48, will be in Winston-Salem on Saturday as the main speaker for a fundraising breakfast at the Embassy Suites.

The program, called “Bond, Score, Win,” is an effort to raise money for men’s athletics scholarships at WSSU, and school officials hope to bring in as much as $40,000.

James Dubose, WSSU’s director of corporate sponsorship and fundraising, was the point man in securing Smith, who is flying in on his own dime and paying his own expenses.

“We’ve been communicating a lot through the last three months, and he’s excited,” Dubose said. “This is a big deal for us, and when it comes to fundraising for scholarships, I have this crazy idea that one day we can do enough where every athlete on our campus has a full scholarship.”

That might seem like a crazy idea for a Division II school, but with WSSU’s tradition and large alumni base, it might not be that crazy. Having Smith involved is a good start.

“When I heard what the premise was about and how it raises money for athletes, it was a no-brainer to help them out,” said Smith, a 1991 graduate of WSSU and a member of the Big House Gaines Hall of Fame for service to the university.

Smith will talk about his time at WSSU and about his early years in media. He worked at the Winston-Salem Journal as a part-time sports clerk, answering phones while he was still a student.

One of Smith’s instructors at WSSU was John Gates, also an editorial-page writer for the Journal.

Smith said Gates invited him to lunch one day. Although it wasn’t actually a lunch.

“Instead, (Gates) takes me into the Journal offices, and I meet the sports editor, Terry Oberle, and he gave me a job as a clerk,” Smith said.

Smith said that about two months later Oberle assigned him his first feature story, on the Wake Forest soccer team.

“So I go over to Wake not knowing a thing about soccer, but the coach at the time, Walt Chyzowych, took me aside, and we talked,” Smith said. “I told him I didn’t know anything about soccer other than seeing Pele play. And he was so nice to me and called the team over and told them to give me anything I needed so I could learn the game. I spent three days with them and learned a lot.”

Smith wrote a long feature story and said Oberle gave his approval.

“That meant a lot to me,” he said of that pat on the back. “It was my start in the business as far as I’m concerned.”

After graduation, Smith worked at the Greensboro News & Record’s High Point bureau, lived in Archdale and said he made $15,000 a year.

“I lived in a small place and survived on tuna fish and Kool-Aid,” he said with a laugh.

Smith, who was born and raised in New York City, also found time to send clips of his articles to the New York Daily News, with the hope of moving back up north to be a full-time sportswriter. He eventually landed a job with the Daily News, then later moved to the Philadelphia Inquirer and became an award-winning columnist.

Smith started working for CNN/SI in the mid-1990s and was an NBA insider before getting more into TV work at Fox Sports. He eventually landed at ESPN and hit gold with good friend Skip Bayless and their debate-style show “First Take.” Smith and Bayless have battled each other on air since April 2012.

“He’s just different than me, and that’s what makes the show,” Smith said.

Smith said returning to Winston-Salem, even if it’s for less than 24 hours, will be good.

“Coach Gaines would always preach to us about giving back, and he always said, ‘Nobody owes you anything,’” Smith said. “He used to tell us that every day. If you want to do something in this world, you have to work for it.”

To read the rest of this article visit the Winston-Salem Journal where it was originally published

Sports TV News

Nick Kahn: Vince McMahon Played WWE Hiatus Smart

“Sometimes I think it’s just a three mile radius of LA thing. The ‘Hey, step down and you have to be punished for it’.”

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Nick Kahn is now the sole CEO of the WWE after Stephanie McMahon announced her exit from the company, which came in the wake of news that Vince McMahon would return to oversee the exploration of either a sale or merger. On the latest episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast, Kahn said that even while McMahon was away from the company, he never considered himself the boss.

“My thought has always been there’s only one boss at WWE and it ain’t me,” he told Simmons. “Vince is the creator and founder of the company. He’s also the controlling shareholder, which as you know, that’s not a work term. That’s a legal term of art. So I think it was always my point of view or Stephanie’s point of view that at some point he would come back. I think the way that he played it was smart, Bill, in that he went away for five or six months — which the audience seems to like that — and then he came back and took control back of his company.”

Vince McMahon exited the WWE power structure five months ago amid multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and the revelation that he used company money to cover up those allegations.

When asked if he is worried that McMahon’s return could turn off business partners or fans, Kahn pointed out that so far, that hasn’t happened. He wonders if there is really a strong feeling amongst the public about McMahon being back involved with the company at all.

“Sometimes I think it’s just a three mile radius of LA thing. The ‘Hey, step down and you have to be punished for it’.”

Nick Kahn says he made it a point to visit Vince monthly during his hiatus. Those were not business visits. He said that he, Stephanie McMahon, and Triple H had total control during that time.

Bill Simmons pressed Kahn, wondering if it bothered McMahon that wrestling fans seemed very happy with the WWE product without his involvement. Simmons reasoned that when anyone builds a creative product for as long as Vince McMahon built the WWE, there is a part of that person that wants to know the product cannot survive without him.

“To me, I never got a sense from him of any sort of bitterness or anything like that,” Kahn said. “He seemed, through the first month of his hiatus, thrilled.”

Since Vince McMahon’s return, Nick Kahn says he has not expressed any concerns about decisions made in his absence and he has largely still been hands off with the creative side of the business. His sole focus is finding the right business relationship to secure WWE’s future. He added that it is not a responsibility that McMahon is taking on alone.

“I’m involved in it. Triple H is involved in it. The board is obviously involved in it, Triple H being on the board, as I have the good fortune of being as well. We’ll see how it plays out. It should not be a lengthy process.”

Kahn did address two rumors floating around Vince McMahon’s return and the power structure of WWE. He said that any rumor that a deal had been done with Saudi Arabia to sell the company was “100 percent fake. 100 percent made up.”

Simmons also asked him about the relationship between Vince and his daughter Stephanie McMahon after she announced her resignation as co-CEO. Kahn said that both he and Stephanie always assumed it was likely Vince would return to lead the company. Anything beyond that, he isn’t interested in commenting on.

“It’s important to anyone listening to this, if you’re going to join a family business and you’re not part of the family, stay out of the family business part. That’s rule number one.”

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Sports TV News

Stephen A. Smith Details How Kobe Bryant Handled Criticism

“Kobe was a savant. You did not know more basketball than Kobe Bryant.”

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We are approaching the three-year anniversary of the untimely and tragic death of former NBA legend Kobe Bryant, and ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reminisced about the former Laker during an appearance on The Howard Stern Show Wednesday.

While promoting his book, Straight Shooter, Smith shined a light on his relationship with the five-time champion, saying he knew if he received a phone call from Bryant, the resulting conversation was likely to be contentious.

“Kobe scared the living shit out of me,” Smith said. “Kobe was a savant. You did not know more basketball than Kobe Bryant. So when Kobe called you — I can quote him for you right now. Voicemail: ‘You know who this is, motherf—er. Get your ass up, pick up the f—ing phone and call me back. That bullshit you just said. And don’t keep me waiting for so long, either. Your ass better not go on the air and say some more shit before you talk to me.’ That was Kobe. I would say something along the lines of ‘I don’t like the way he’s playing. It’s selfish basketball…I don’t like this decision.'”

Smith continued by commenting on Bryant rebutting that he would only play “selfish basketball” when the players around him weren’t playing up to their potential, before then saying Bryant was open to criticizing coaches if Smith was critical of the 18-time All-Star.

“‘He don’t know what the f— he’s doing, Steve. He don’t know what the f— he’s doing, so you don’t know what the f— you’re talking about, Stephen A. So you’re gonna bring up all that shit you’re talking about me, but you didn’t bring up that.'”

Smith then concluded by saying Bryant would tell him “I don’t know why I love your ass. I really, really, don’t. But I love you.”

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Sports TV News

Super Wild Card Weekend Ratings Down Slightly From Last Year

Last year, the six games averaged 30.5 million viewers over linear television and streaming platforms.

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Ratings for nearly every Super Wild Card game of the NFL Playoffs opening weekend have been released, and while the numbers are encouraging on a per-game basis, overall, they show a slight dip from last season.

ESPN was first to unveil their ratings, showing Monday’s contest between the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers — which aired on both ESPN and ABC — was watched by an average of 30.6 million viewers. That number is the largest NFL audience from the Disney-owned channels since Super Bowl XL in February of 2006. The 30.6 million viewers number is a 32% increase from last season’s game that saw the Los Angeles Rams beat the Arizona Cardinals.

“This exceptional number proves once again that live sports are unequaled in amassing large audiences,” said ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro. “The success is also a clear reflection of how ESPN, working alongside the NFL and our colleagues at Disney, can help attract fans, build anticipation, and expand our reach. Even without a dramatic ending, it was an extraordinarily memorable evening.”

When final viewership totals were announced Wednesday evening, the company confirmed that the game was the most-watched NFL Playoff broadcast in the history of The Walt Disney Company’s ownership of ABC/ESPN, which began in 1996.

FOX Sports touted the highest viewership total of the weekend, with 33.2 million viewers watching the New York Giants defeat the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. The broadcast peaked at over 40 million viewers in the final minutes of the game.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s San Francisco 49ers win over the Seattle Seahawks saw an average audience of 27.4 million.

An average of 28.6 million watched the Cincinnati Bengals thrilling triumph over the Baltimore Ravens on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. According to the network, the broadcast was the most-watched Sunday primetime program since Super Bowl LVI in February of 2022. Ratings for the Jaguars and Chargers broadcast on Saturday were not made available, but NBC Sports did claim that for the first time since 2021 both of its broadcasts eclipsed an average of 20 million viewers.

Finally, CBS Sports scored it’s most-watched Sunday AFC Wild Card game in nearly a decade as 30.8 million watched the Buffalo Bills defeat the Miami Dolphins. Similar to other broadcasts, the game peaked with nearly 40 million viewers. Coincidentally, the game was the most-streamed Wild Card game in the history of the network’s streaming platform, Paramount+.

Even with several networks experiencing noticeable highs, the numbers are a slight decrease from 2022. Last year, the six games averaged 30.5 million viewers on linear television and streaming platforms.

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