ESPN has a Stephen A. Smith problem.
I’m not sure ESPN knows this yet. Or would even acknowledge it as a problem. But it’s there, and it’s an issue and—at some point—something happens.
In case you missed it (and, truly, you’re a better person for having missed it), this morning on First Take Stephen A. lashed out at Kevin Durant, who accused the
carnival barker ESPN reporter of making stuff up about his pending free agency.
Smith responded thusly (thanks to Deadspin for the transcription):
The sensitivity that these guys are showing, they are making unnecessary enemies I am not one of them. I won’t be. I got too much love and respect for who these guys are, and what they mean to my community. But I will say this lastly. You don’t want to make an enemy out of me.
Insert dramatic pause here.
And I’m looking right into the camera. And I’mma say it again. You do not want to make an enemy out of me. I’m not having it. I’ve done nothing wrong.
So … yeah. Here’s the thing: Steve Smith says Durant doesn’t want to make an enemy out of him. Which is a threat. But what does that threat mean? Clearly, Steve isn’t going to beat Durant up, or steal his sneakers, or fart in his BMW. So the only possible retribution he could be referring to is a journalistic/reporting/television one. But, again, what does that mean? Is he going to divulge off-the-record secrets? Is he going to lie about him? Is he going to target him more than he ordinarily would? There is no good answer here, because Smith is a journalist (well, not really. But sorta kinda) and Durant is an athlete he covers. You don’t threaten people. Not in life, generally, but certainly not as a journalist. Like, never, ever, ever, ever.
Which is where ESPN comes in. The network has a pretty long and storied history of suspending and disciplining its employees for perceived slights and lapses. Remember Tony Kornheiser-Hannah Storm? Or how about the disappearing Bill Simmons? There are tons of others, all justified by the network for one reason or another. But how about … now? How about when one of your stars threatens a star? Do you stand for it? Allow it? Say it’s merely Steve being Steve?
Or do you take the precious opportunity to save all of our eardrums and reassign him to your hot new network, ESPN: Guam?