I’ll say that again: Bravo, Stephen A. Smith.
For those who may have missed it, Stephen A. Smith made some contestable remarks following Conor McGregor’s 40-second KO win versus Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone at UFC 246. What followed was a virtual onslaught of Smith’s post-fight criticism. I’ll go so far as to say Smith was demonized for his remarks of Cerrone’s fight. I thought it would die down in a few days.
I. Was. Wrong.
I wanted to write this piece Sunday morning after Smith responded to Joe Rogan and Josh Thomson eviscerating him on the Joe Rogan Experience.
Unfortunately, the sports world lost a rather significant icon, tragically. In the sports world, Kobe Bryant was all anyone could talk about and for good reason.
But then magically, the Rogan-Smith feud was revived by other MMA media in Luke Thomas and Brendan Schaub. I realized that, ten days later, this wasn’t going away. Not only was Smith wrong, he was offensive and had no business in that arena on this, the 18th day of the year 2020. And the rallying cry from the MMA community was heard far and wide: NAIL THIS MAN TO A FUCKING CROSS!
To the MMA community, let me say this: Stephen A. Smith is not your enemy. Smith has made a career, spanning the entire length of the UFC, as a member of the sports media. He has also developed a brand of sports journalism that is vocal and unrelenting. His remarks regarding McGregor’s dominance over Cerrone may have sounded harsh and uncouth, but the way the MMA pundits pounced on his every word has been otherworldly.
I get it, Cowboy Cerrone is an MMA legend and easily UFC hall of fame worthy. But he lost to the better fighter within 40 seconds of the fight. When discussing the fight, Smith stated that, “we haven’t learned a damn thing about Conor McGregor based off of this fight.”
“If you love this sport, you’ve gotta be happy Conor McGregor won. But you didn’t learn anything from tonight’s fight because Cowboy Cerrone just didn’t show up. I could’ve ran for 40 seconds,” Smith continued.
Those words sparked the aforementioned conversation between Joe Rogan and Josh Thomson.
The conversation should have ended at, “this man is wrong.” But when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall. What followed touched on everything between “this guy should never be allowed to talk about fighting,” to ridiculing a video of Smith’s mitt work. The latter of those is indefensible and akin to fat shaming. But, whatever, you felt he disrespected Cerrone and this would be an eye-for-an-eye, fine. But here is where the questioning of sports journalism goes too far:
“When fighters lose its fucking devastating,” Rogan stated
“You’ve got to have respect for that man. This sport demands a different perspective. It is not the same thing as a ball going into a hoop. It is not the same thing as crossing a line with a football. It’s different. It’s very intense and very personal. And it’s also very fucking dangerous and to play it off like it’s just a game, I just don’t agree with it. And I think we have plenty of fucking people out there that understand the sport,” he continued.
Let me see if I understand this correctly:
In the history of sports broadcasting and journalism, there is one sport where the athletes are protected from public scrutiny. MMA fighters are the exception to the rule. But not boxing, just MMA because combat sports isn’t all-encompassing. Did I miss something in my AP English and college writing courses? Was I absent when they discussed that in Radio Broadcasting?
The last part of Rogan’s diatribe I will address has to be the most disturbing thing that was said. Roughly 13 minutes into the discussion Josh Thomson posed a hypothetical situation of how certain fighters would react to Smith if they saw him in an elevator.
“Think about this, if he said something like that about a Nate or Nick Diaz, and they saw him in that fucking elevator, they would fuck him up,” he stated.
I’m sorry, did you just say that into a live microphone? Was that a warning to Smith, or members of the sports media, that if you utter an unkind remark about a UFC fighter you could possibly get assaulted? Wow, good job – bro, you just reinforced the stereotype mixed martial arts has tried to distance themselves from for years. This was classless, elitist bullying of a sports media member. I do not condone it and, Mr. Smith, these two do not represent me.
Saturday night, Smith posted a video response to Joe Rogan.
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) January 26, 2020
“You’re wrong on this one my man,” he started.
“Me, Stephen A. Smith, me being at the Conor McGregor fight against Cowboy Cerrone, saying what I said, that he didn’t show us much in 40 seconds, that warrants ‘it’s not good for the sport, it’s not good for me, it’s not good for ESPN?’” He questioned.
Smith then proceeded to paraphrase exactly what he said at UFC 246. He doubled down on his position in an unwavering style. And I openly praised him for his response. Don’t get it twisted, there are many times Smith takes positions that I flat-out disagree with. But it doesn’t discredit his right to state it. More often than not, my morning starts out with making coffee, letting my dogs out and turning on ESPN, which inevitably has First Take airing.
But I’m glad he rattled off his credentials that he acquired through years of grinding. He publicly stated that Rogan did not even reach him for comment, just went on his tangent. Smith even admitted Rogan’s right to have an opinion.
“It’s not a problem,” he said.
“It’s not a problem at all. You don’t know me so I’m not going to knock you for speaking out the way you spoke out without calling me. I don’t care about all of that. I respect where you’re coming from. You’re just wrong on this particular one and I’m telling you you’re wrong,” he continued.
That should have been the end of it, but it wasn’t.
Shortly after, Conor McGregor responded via Twitter, seemingly the new AP Wire.
“I didn’t show enough,” McGregor questioned.
“I don’t get paid by the hour though. Joe’s comments however, come from you saying the opposition fighter quit. Broken nose/ orbital bone say different. Fighting is vicious. Those who make the walk deserve full respect! Apologise,” he finished.
And we are back at the beginning where fighters are the only athletes who should be free from mean-spirited comments by the ESPN talking head man.
Now we have Luke Thomas firing on all cylinders. He’s frustrated that Smith was there. And when presented with what Smith’s brand is to ESPN he said (ahem) “Fuck all. That’s what it means.” Sorry Stephen A. but 25 years of major sports broadcasting and your entire career has been diminished to a two-word Ad Hominem fallacy. Thomas called for ESPN producers to be fired. Sorry ESPN, it is now unequivocally clear that you have just hired the wrong people across the board. Do you want to know why Stephen A. Smith was able to report his post fight reaction? Because the UFC took the money from ESPN in exchange for broadcasting it. You don’t get to accept the terms ESPN gave you and then bash one of the most prolific sports figures ESPN has. It’s a poor business model. And while you can disagree with what Smith said, him being there is a good thing for the sport.
I could go deeper, but I’m more than 1200 words into this. I’m tired and I am frustrated. But I am going to end this with some food for thought. Not once have I whole-heartedly agreed with Smith’s post fight reaction. But he has every right to say what he said. Everyone reading this has every right to disagree with me. But this sport is making huge leaps and bounds into vying for attention that the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL demand. That is a great thing. And you can take pride in loving the sport since its early stages, and you should. But that shouldn’t make you a better fan than anybody else. And it shouldn’t want you to stop others from becoming fans.
Stephen A. Smith does not need my backing or support, but he has it. Mr. Smith, you deserved better and, again, these people do not represent the entire MMA community, and they certainly do not represent me.