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Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Stephen A. Smith is the face of ESPN, and he has been for the last half-decade. The brash and opinionated talking head is of First Take in the morning, hosts a two-hour show on ESPN radio in the afternoon, and often appears in ESPN’s NBA pre- and post-game show, NBA Countdown. The Disney corporation compensates Smith handsomely for his tireless work — to the tune of $12 million per year — but that doesn’t mean that Smith, who is a Black man, doesn’t think he’s underpaid compared to some of his white colleagues.

Stephen A. Smith says he’s underpaid at $12 million a year

In 2021, New York Post sports media guru Andrew Marchand reported that Stephen A. Smith makes $12 million per year for his work with ESPN.

Smith signed a new contract with Disney in January of 2019, which works out to five years and $60 million total. Original reports pegged the agreement at $8 million per year, but Marchand’s reporting found in addition to his $8 million salary, he also has a “$4 million-per-year production contract.”

One of the reasons the company compensates Smith so handsomely is that he is unafraid to give his unfiltered opinions, even on sensitive topics like race in sports. And that’s exactly what he was doing when he claimed he is underpaid this week.

During a discussion of how no American-born Black baseball players are in the 2022 World Series, Smith shared his opinion on Black people being historically (and continually) underpaid.

“We are still Black in this country. We don’t trust this country in terms of meritocracy always. We know the bottom line is, just like women are underpaid compared to male counterparts, Blacks are underpaid compared to white counterparts,” Smith pontificated. “I’m not talking about me, even though — I got news for you — I am underpaid compared to some people on television and what they get paid.”

After that quick tangent, Smith doubled down, saying, “I ain’t apologizing for that do a damn soul. I am underpaid. Having said all that, it ain’t about me.”

This isn’t the first time Smith has publically announced that he feels underpaid at millions of dollars per year. In 2021, he called himself underpaid on a podcast with Kyle Brandt.

Is the ESPN host underpaid?

ESPN Stephen A. Smith
Stephen A. Smith | Justin Ford/Getty Images

Stephen A. Smith Doesn’t Seem to Realize the NFL Team That Scores More Points Usually Wins

Compared to the average American, who makes $45,000 (median) to $65,000 (average) per year, Stephen A. Smith making $12 million, is nowhere near underpaid.

However, when you look at the value Smith brings to ESPN (a $50 billion company) and Disney as a whole (a $190 billion company), maybe there is some truth to his claims in that context.

When looking at the sports media personality landscape, Stephen A. Smith comes in at No. 7 on the highest-paid list, per 103.3 The Goat sports radio station. He makes more than his former First Take debater, Skip Bayless ($8 million), broadcaster Mike Tirico ($10 million), and CBS’s Jim Nantz ($10.5 million). And he’s just behind ESPN’s Joe Buck and Amazon’s Al Michaels at $15 million.

The top four highest-paid sports broadcasters are:

  • Michael Strahan — $17 million
  • Troy Aikman — $18 million
  • Tony Romo — $18 million
  • Jim Rome — $30 million

When looking at this list, it’s hard to say that Smith is underpaid compared to the people ahead of him. Buck and Michaels have established themselves as the voices of live sporting events in the last three to six decades, and Strahan, Aikman, and Romo were all All-Pro NFL players, and that’s something networks are willing to pay more for.

As for Rome, he makes so much money because he’s blazed his own path and created his own media empire. He isn’t dependent on a salary from a single company like Smith is.

In the end, you can agree or disagree with Stephen A. about the fairness of his salary, but the one thing that is for sure is that sports fans will have strong opinions one way or the other.

Have thoughts on this topic? Keep the conversation rolling in our comments section below.