An evening, and a lesson in life, with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith

An evening, and a lesson in life, with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith


Stephen A. Smith has built a life, and a very well-known name, covering and opining on sports, from an early career as a print journalist to his current work with ESPN, where he’s known the world over for his smart, entertaining, sometimes quarrelsome views, especially on the morning show, “First Take.”

So naturally, when he came to Rowan University March 20 for a special program, “An Evening with Stephen A. Smith,” the hundreds of fans packing Pfleeger Concert Hall might have expected the type of smart, entertaining, sometimes quarrelsome individual that many of them know from TV.

What they got was a lesson in life.

Smith, who came to campus at the behest of his longtime friend and fellow former Philadelphia journalist Neil Hartman, senior director of Rowan’s Center for Sports Communication & Social Impact, did, of course, talk sports, to an extent, because on camera or off, he’s always “Stephen A. Smith.”

He talked up the Eagles and talked down the Cowboys (as he’s wont to do) and then, in a non-stop, no-note discourse, spoke for at least 30 minutes on what was really on his mind: the future.

“The world is no joke,” he said. “Even though you have the whole world in front of you, you need to treat it with the respect it deserves.”

Smith, whose early career included stints as a reporter for the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer before he left print journalism for television, said journalism was all he ever really wanted to do, and sought a career in it deliberately.

Now both a featured commentator and executive producer on "First Take," where he discusses and debates the hottest sports stories of the day, he’s also an analyst and host for several other ESPN programs including "NBA Countdown" and "Stephen A’s World."

“You need to make a decision as to what you want to do,” he said. “Embrace challenges with a smile on your face.”

Smith advised students to always be mindful that, wherever they go, whatever they do, actions taken today can follow them for life, especially in their career.

He urged them to realize that negative people in their lives, “anchors,” sometimes need to be left behind because they can drag them down.

And he said the more successful they become, the more wary they should be.

“One slip-up can cost you everything,” Smith said. “That’s why you need to watch the company you keep.”

Urging caution online and off, he reminded students that what they write or post on social media never goes away and that even when having fun with their friends, they need to be careful.

“Do your thing, live life, enjoy yourself, but within reason,” Smith said. “It’s about having the discipline to know where the minefields lie, so you don’t fall victim to them.”

Stay hungry

Throughout a remarkable career that seems to have gotten ever bigger the older he gets (he confided he’s 56), Smith said the one thing that’s never changed is a feeling that there’s still more to do.

“When you climb, ascend, you need to know the language of those who make decisions. You have to know what they’re looking for,” he said. “Think about the marathon, not the sprint.”

Smith, whose New York Times bestselling book, “Straight Shooter; A Memoir of Second Chances and First Takes,” was released in 2023, also took questions from students, some of whom seek careers as writers or in sports broadcasting, like himself.

He advised students to work at their craft, to strive for a career and not just a job, and to be aware of the opportunities as well of the challenges of the 21st Century.

Accuracy, trustworthiness and storytelling remain vital to any career in journalism, he said, but with the ever-growing influence of social media and platforms like X, TikTok and YouTube, some people are finding ways to earn a good living just by being themselves.

“More so now than ever before,” Smith said, “personality matters.”