Odds are you’ve heard of Stephen A. Smith, becauseâ€”for a brief periodâ€”Stephen A. Smith made his living off of being loud and obnoxious and opinionated. He became a national media “star” on ESPN, even briefly hosting his own (very, very, very, very, very bad) show. Sports Illustrated ran a profile of the man, at which point I honestly thought to myself, “Why do we in the media celebrate buffoons like this?”
Stephen A. Smith is not a bad writer. Actually, he’s a pretty good writer. But like Mike Lupica and Skip Bayless and Jay Mariotti before him, he got caught up in the act of being Stephen A. Smith. When you’re a journalist, the story is never supposed to be about yourself. You are there to observe and chronicle and explain. Even columnists are there to observe and chronicle and explain. Yes, they do it with opinion. But the true greats of the genre don’t slam it down your throat; don’t scream “I’M RIGHT! I’M RIGHT!” They subtly make their points, usually without utilizing a single “I” or “Me.”
Now read the column Smith wrote for today’s Philadelphia Inquirer; the one linked above. On the surface, it looks to be about Allen Iverson and his struggles. But it’s not. What the column is about is Stephen Smith (Or, as Smith insists, “Stephen A. Smithâ€”don’t forget the A!”). It’s about the torturous decision Smith had to make; the thin line between journalistic right and journalistic wrong, and how Smithâ€”come day’s endâ€”was on the right side.
Only he wasn’t. Smith became Iverson’s friend and defender. His relationship with the man was utterly unprofessional, times 100,000. It’s an embarrassment to him and to the Inquirer, and the last thing the newspaper should have done is allow drivel like this to appear on its pages and website.
Back when I was a student at Delaware, Bill Fleischman, my professor and a noted hockey writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, told me time and time again, “You are not the story. The story is the story.”
I am disgusted.