ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith brings rags-to-riches story to campus

Photo by Chalice Keith

Story by Blake Sandlin, Assistant Sports Editor


Stephen A. Smith took a break from his routine habit of animated tirades in order to address Murray State students Friday, April 21.

Smith, the host of ESPN’s First Take and The Stephen A. Smith Show on ESPN Radio, delivered a message of perseverance to the crowd, sharing his rags-to-riches story while encouraging them to chase the dreams of their own.

Born in New York City, Smith shared the struggles he faced growing up. In elementary school, he was held back twice and was the subject of ridicule among his classmates. Smith said he did not let their criticism affect him, but used it to motivate him.

“I remember their laughter,” Smith said. “I remember them calling me a dummy. I remember the look on my father’s face, looking at me like I was a complete failure. People want to know where my motivation came from? My motivation came from that. Now if I had motivation when I was in the fourth grade, what the hell are some of you doing in college with no motivation?”

His struggles did not end there. After college, Smith worked for the Greensboro News and Record, struggling with poverty throughout.

“They weren’t in Archdale, North Carolina, like I was, living on tuna fish and Kool Aid, doing editorial assistance work during the day and at night covering high school sports in North Carolina for zero,” Smith said.

Through hard work and dedication to his craft, Smith worked his way up the ladder to cement his place as one of the world’s most sought-after sports journalists. Smith said he beat out students who came from more reputable universities because of his willingness to gain experience. He urged the students in attendance to do the same.

“Don’t go to class thinking all you need to do is get your grades, when your competition is doing internships,” Smith said. “Because the competition is getting practical experience. You’re coming with a degree, they’re coming with a portfolio.”

Noah Norsworthy, a freshman at Murray State who attended the lecture, said Smith’s call to action for students encouraged him to be more involved at the university.

“It motivates me to always put over one hundred percent into everything I do and to strive and be prepared for the real world after college,” Norsworthy said.

After his lecture, Smith opened the floor to questions. He discussed the turmoil of the New York Knicks, whether or not he believed in participation trophies and his opinion of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

DayQuan Wallace, a senior at Murray State, arrived two hours early for Smith’s lecture. He said he was grateful that Smith could visit a school that typically does not receive a lot of attention.

“It was good that Stephen A. took the time out of his busy schedule to come speak at a smaller school off the radar, where it’s a majority white school and white area.”

Wallace went on to say he is encouraged by the way Smith uses his voice to enact change.

“He always keeps it real and steps up to be a voice for black America when there aren’t many of us that have the power to be heard,” Wallace said. “He takes that part of his job seriously, and we as African Americans respect that he does that and respect him for taking on that responsibility.”