Smith is charismatic and controversial, both of which have played very well as ESPN has embraced debates and viral outbursts. But Smith has sometimes veered over the line, and his recent comments about being underpaid should have those at the Worldwide Leader cringing in frustration.
Stephen A. Smith believes that he is underpaid
Considering ESPN has all but made Smith the face of the network, devoting so much money to him made sense. He hosts First Take and a radio show, does TV appearances on other network shows, and has over 5.4 Twitter followers as of May 2021.
In a recent appearance on Kyle Brandt’s 10 Questions podcast, Smith discussed his salary and impact on ESPN. As is often the case, he didn’t hold back when expressing a controversial opinion:
“I think it’s kind of stupid for people to resent me because, in my eyes, I am opening doors for other people to get theirs because I don’t believe I am the only one who should get paid. Despite the huge contract that everybody wants to lean on, I am still underpaid. I am paid well, but I know I am worth more. During a negotiation, you get what you can get, and you move on.”Stephen A. Smith
As of publication, neither Smith nor ESPN had issued a public comment on those remarks.
Smith’s comments are extremely tone-deaf given the current climate
For all of his hot takes on the air or on social media, Smith is also often a voice of reason. He does not shy away from calling out those he believes are in the wrong, and it’s helped him build a massive following over the years.
This is one of those times when Smith is in the wrong, and he’d be wise to own up to it. Smith is among the highest-paid figures in sports media, and no one at ESPN draws a higher salary than him. ESPN asked some of its most high-profile figures to take a 15% pay cut in April 2020 amid the global pandemic.
Even with that 15% reduction, Smith still would have made well over $6 million during a time in which the sports media industry has been hit with layoffs, mergers, and buyouts. ESPN laid off another 300 employees in November.
Despite the disclaimer that he feels he is “paid well,” Smith’s comments are still extremely tone-deaf. The safest play may be to apologize even if he genuinely believes he is underpaid.
Smith has addressed concerns about his salary before
In November 2020, ESPN laid off roughly 300 employees and announced that 200 open positions would go unfilled.
Smith and his high salary became a target during that period. A social media user suggested that ESPN made those layoffs largely because the network had to pay Smith and Max Kellerman, his First Take colleague. It is not known how much Kellerman receives in annual salary.
Smith responded to that accusation in a tweet and called the other user a “clown.”
“I bring money to help KEEP JOBS, not lose them,” Smith wrote. “Know who the F&^%$ you’re talking about before opening your mouth. If you didn’t know you should’ve asked somebody.”