ESPN Stephen A. Smith Preaches At Black People But Would He Do That To Whites.

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( I’ve said a million times that I appreciate Stephen A. Smith.  His dynamic and powerful sports analysis is second-to-none, and he deserves all of the accolades he receives for the great commentary he offers on a wide range of athletic issues.  In the world of sports, Stephen A. is the man that Charles Barkley could be if he was always committed to thinking before he speaks.  But even Barkley is mellowing out in old age, so I applaud his transition.

One area of concern for me is when Stephen A. jumps outside the world of sports and starts getting into ad hoc black social commentary.  This is where he goes into awkward territory, almost like Dr. Boyce Watkins suddenly trying to play center for the Chicago Bulls.  I dare say that, in this space, the normally classy and smooth Stephen A. Smith is at risk of of2014-stephen-a-smith-mark-cuban making himself look a little bit like a plantation overseer: A man propped up by the white establishment to tell black people what to do while being threatened with termination for doing the same thing to whites. 

When Stephen supported the comments made by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, I was a little stunned.  Cuban had admitted that when he sees a black man in a hoodie, he walks across the street.  Here’s what he said:

“If I see a black kid in a hoodie on my side of the street, I’ll move to the other side of the street. If I see a white guy with a shaved head and tattoos (on the side he now is on), I’ll move back to the other side of the street. None of us have pure thoughts; we all live in glass houses.”

Cuban has a right to his remarks, no matter how thoughtless they may be.  We are all well-aware of how the white fear of a hoodie puts the lives of black men in danger.  We also know from the trial of Michael Dunn (the man who killed 17-year old Jordan Davis), that this often misguided, stereotypical fear is easily translated into an adequate defense in a murder trial.   I had a hoodie on yesterday morning, so I assume that I need to start dressing more “appropriately.”  Apparently, only white guys are allowed to wear hoodies without the risk of getting their heads blown off.  If I get shot down tomorrow while wearing my hoodie, it’ll be my own damn fault.

But here’s the thing:  Cuban’s remarks about the hoodie fear are not the issue I’m most concerned with.  Maybe he needs counseling, maybe someone needs to expose him to more black men.  The problem with all of this is that while Stephen A is allowed by ESPN to preach at black men about the danger of wearing hoodies, he is NOT allowed to preach to white men about their irrational fear.

Stephen A. Smith must be very careful to realize that he is in a situation where he is not going to be given the chance to have a balanced, two-way conversation on the critical issue of race.  Instead, he is in a scenario where nearly all serious criticism can only go in one direction.  He can debate with Michael Eric Dyson about why black men don’t get jobs because they don’t speak or dress properly.  However, ESPN would NEVER give him enough airtime to scream at white men for the horrible things they’ve done to black people for the last 400 years.

So, my issue is not so much with Stephen as a sports commentator, and not so much with Mark Cuban as an owner.  It’s really with the arena within which Stephen A. Smith’s remarks were born.  They were not delivered on a level playing field, and therefore lack the credibility necessary to be defined as a productive dialogue.  There is no way on this earth you can convince me that Stephen A. Smith could be equally nasty and cynical toward white men and still keep his job on ESPN.  If he were to spend more than 60 seconds speaking the honest truth about what whites have done to blacks, he’d be in the unemployment line.

So, instead of speaking honestly, Stephen is expected to cater to the mental illness of men like Mark Cuban, who think that hoodies are the cause of discrimination.  To use an analogy, that’s like preaching to r@pe victims that they should dress more appropriately, and not saying a word about the men who’ve perpetrated the crime.

I would hope that, after ESPN’s (mostly white) executive production team gives Stephen gobs of airtime to explain to black men that 15% unemployment, mass incarceration and an out of control homicide rate are all their fault, they will give him equal time to yell at white men for being the socio-economic engineers of the chaos all around us.  THAT is how you have a fair and balanced conversation. 

Staff Writer; Dr. Boyce Watkins 

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  For more information, please visit