Stephen A. Smith Reveals Who Will Win the Super Bowl, Where Bill Belichick Should Coach Next, and Why Travis Kelce Is a Superstar — With or Without Taylor Swift
Media mogul also opens up about his feud with commentator Jason Whitlock, the future of the N.F.L., and why he’d wipe the floor with everyone in a presidential debateJanuary 23, 2024
Between Super Bowl LVIII next month, another presidential election on the horizon, and his headline-grabbing public feud with conservative commentator Jason Whitlock, Howard had an array of pressing questions on Tuesday morning for returning Stern Show guest Stephen A. Smith. But above all else, Howard was desperate to hear the impassioned journalist, author, podcast host, and TV personality’s thoughts on the one topic that had truly captured the zeitgeist of our time: Kansas City Chiefs tight-end Travis Kelce’s blossoming relationship with superstar Taylor Swift.
Whereas some believe Kelce should get down on one knee and propose to the massively popular musician just to bolster his own Q score, Stephen A. didn’t believe Travis needed the help. “He is a two-time Super Bowl champion … [and] he’s universally recognized as one of the greatest tight ends in the history of football. [He’s] a good looking dude. He’s got style. He’s got flair. He’s got skills. He’s got a future in [broadcasting] once he retires from football,” Stephen A. told Howard. “He’s the total package, okay?”
Smith hoped things would work out for the two young lovers, of course, and he had nothing but nice things to say about Swift. “She’s an incredible artist. I went to her concert with my daughter … Man, Howard, it was off the chain. I loved it. I couldn’t believe how much I loved it,” he marveled. “She was phenomenal.”
While he hardly would’ve considered himself a Swiftie beforehand, Stephen A. told Howard the one-of-a-kind concert experience quickly turned him into a fan. “I saw Taylor Swift receive a nine-minute standing ovation in between songs … The [fans] know every song … No one was sitting down,” he said. “I’m 56 years old. I stood up for three-and-a-half hours. I never sat down.”
On Attacks From Jason Whitlock
Though he’s choosing to no longer say his name, Stephen A. was willing to address the war of words he’s had with fellow sports commentator Jason Whitlock. Whitlock was the one to reignite their feud recently after he accused Smith of fabricating some of the stories told in his new book, “Straight Shooter.”
“I have been attacked for 12 straight years. I’ve never said a word, not even his name,” Smith said of his relationship with Whitlock. “He has attacked me, he has attacked numerous friends and contemporaries in this business. Personal attacks.”
But after being accused of lying, Smith could no longer stay silent about his former ESPN colleague. He made a 40-minute, no-holds-barred statement regarding Whitlock on his podcast, “The Stephen A. Smith Show.”
“At some point in time, I am Stephen A. and I have a bullhorn that most people in this industry don’t have,” Smith told Howard. “Every Black person that I know in this industry thanked me for what I did because it has been that relentless and unabated.”
As to Whitlock’s baseless allegations, Stephen A. pointed to people in his life that can easily back up what he wrote in his book.
“I have friends, I have teammates,” he said, “My book that I wrote, let’s be very, very clear about this: Simon & Schuster has editors … ask them.”
“My mother said it best – it’s a hell of a lot easier to force people to live with your truth than it is for you to live with your lies,” Stephen A. continued. “Nothing’s perfect, but I have one of the best jobs in America … why do I need to write a book where I’m going to be telling lies?”
Ready to Debate on the Biggest Stage of Them All
Stephen A. may be the face of ESPN, but on his popular YouTube show sports are just the tip of the iceberg. On any given episode, the charismatic host is as likely to dish out his thoughts on love-making music and the current political landscape as he is on what happened during last night’s big game.
“I do some sports, I do pop culture, I do politics, I do everything,” he said of The Stephen A. Smith Show.
Speaking of politics, Smith told Howard he was a registered independent who felt President Joe Biden was flawed but vastly preferable to former president Donald Trump. “I’m not enamored with either candidate. I don’t like Trump because I think that he’ll cause Civil War in this country, and I think he’ll be on a vengeance tour as the president of the United States if he were to get reelected,” he said.
“I would vote for Biden over Trump in a heartbeat just because I believe the presidency is more of a statesmanship position than anything else. … and I definitely think Biden is better at that than Trump is,” he continued.
Considering Stephen A.’s popularity and charisma, Howard wondered if he’d ever consider running for office himself.
“Hell no,” he quickly replied. “I’m not giving up my quality of life to earn $400,000 a year and be stressed out every day. It ain’t happening.”
Though his name might not appear on the ballot any time soon, Stephen A. confessed he wouldn’t mind debating someone on the one stage even bigger than his ESPN show “First Take.” “I would love to be in a presidential debate … I’d eat them alive,” he told Howard. “I wouldn’t run for the presidency, but I’d debate Trump any day of the week. Any day of the week. Name the time and place, and I’d show up.”
The Future of the N.F.L.
When asked about rumors that the N.F.L. might merge with ESPN – his employer for more than 20 years – Stephen agreed that it could happen. “I think it’s feasible, I think it’s plausible, I think it’s something that I don’t think we should be averse to quite frankly,” he remarked to Howard.
And while Howard thought someone as outspoken as Stephen might worry about the threat of being silenced, the host didn’t appear too concerned. “I’m gonna say what I feel. I’m gonna make sure it’s fact-based,” he said emphatically before noting he would have no problem reaching out to league commissioner Roger Goodell directly. “As long as you’re straight up about where you stand, you do your homework, you cultivate your sources, and you have that information, then they can try to stop you, but in the end it’s something that’s very, very difficult to do.”
As for the league’s recent success streaming a playoff game to 30 million viewers on Peacock, Smith was not surprised. “Look at every moment of change in our history — it’s been sparked by young people,” he explained. “They want to do what they want to do, when they want to do it, how they want to do it. And here’s the beauty of the National Football League that’s unparalleled — it’s the one sport that tells you emphatically, ‘You’ll watch it when we tell you to watch it, you’ll watch it where we tell you to watch it, and you ain’t gonna do a damn thing about it.’”
Stephen also implied the streaming model in sports is not going away. “The audience is larger than it was on linear television — that is what the N.F.L. is,” he said. “The N.F.L. is spearheading and introducing new options to the rest of the world that the world will undoubtedly follow.”
Why Cowboys Fans Are the Worst, What Belichick Should Do Next, and Who Will Win the Super Bowl
Howard had a few more lingering sports questions, beginning with whether the Buffalo Bills are cursed (they are, according to Smith) and why he has so much animosity for another underachieving team: the Dallas Cowboys.
“Why do you hate Dallas so much?” Howard asked.
“Their fans,” Stephen A. responded without missing a beat. “[They’re] the most disgusting, nauseating fanbase in American history. They can pass gas and call it perfume … They never take a moment to smell themselves. They’re always the champions, even when they suck … That’s what gets on my nerves.”
If Smith could find any common ground with Cowboys fans, it was with those who begged the team’s owner Jerry Jones to fire its underachieving head coach, Mike McCarthy. While Jones vowed to stand by his man, Smith thought it was the wrong move.
“They should’ve hired Bill Belichick,” Stephen A. said.
Belichick parted ways with the New England Patriots last week after coaching them to six Super Bowl championships over the course of 24 years. Most of his winning seasons came with legendary quarterback Tom Brady behind center, however, which is why Smith felt Belichick still had something left to prove.
“Winning without Tom Brady … would do a lot for his reputation,” Stephen A. said. “He said, ‘Tom Brady can’t play anymore. We need to move on,’ And then [Brady] went to Tampa Bay and won the Super Bowl. That is the unforgivable sin. He pushed out the golden boy.”
Speaking of Super Bowls —with the big game less than a month away, Howard was eager to hear Smith’s predictions.
As much as Stephen A. liked Travis Kelce, he didn’t seem to like the Chiefs’ chances this weekend against the Baltimore Ravens in the A.F.C. Championship Game. In the N.F.C., he thought everything depended on the health of San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel. If he suits up on Sunday, Smith sees them beating the Detroit Lions and advancing to the Super Bowl. Regardless of their opponent, he saw Baltimore hoisting up the Lombardi trophy in the end.
“I believe [Ravens quarterback] Lamar Jackson is going to win his first Super Bowl championship,” Stephen A. said.
Stephen A. Grades ‘Stephen A.’
Before sending Stephen A. Smith on his way, Howard gave his guest an opportunity to chat with the Stern Show’s own “Stephen A. Smith,” voiced by impressionist Saavy Amusing.
“I wanna hear this guy imitate me,” the real Stephen A. said excitedly.
“There’s no way Lamar Jackson beats Patrick Mahomes, [who has] Travis Kelce and [those] googly eyes for Taylor Swift,” the fake “Smith” shouted. “It’s not gonna happen!”
“He’s pretty good,” laughed the real Stephen A., who questioned the impersonator’s use of the phrase “googly eyes” but ultimately gave him high marks. “That’s an A-minus.”
Watch Stephen A. Smith on “First Take,” weekday mornings at 10 a.m. on ESPN, and on his podcast The Stephen A. Smith Show. His book “Straight Shooter: A Memoir of Second Chances and First Takes” is available now.