Michael Smith had some harsh words for sports-media companies that ask their on-air talent and writers to “stick to sports.”
It was something Smith faced often during the end of his tenure at ESPN, though moreso from viewers.
“I literally lived through the most intense ‘Stick to Sports’ period, on the front lines of that war against that stupidity. ‘Stick to Sports’ is so stupid,” Smith said Wednesday during a virtual TCA session to promote his Peacock show, “Brother From Another.” “I think ‘Stick to Sports,’ is, frankly, intellectually lazy and historically dishonest.”
For those unaware of why “stick to sports” has become such a loaded phrase, it’s typically an expression used mostly by the right-wing/conservative crowd to shut down any perceived political talk intertwining with sports. Smith is best known for his days with ESPN where he co-hosted multiple shows with Jemele Hill, “His and Hers” and the 6 p.m. ET edition of “SportsCenter.” During Smith’s tenure, he and Hill often discussed how sports, race and politics often intersected with each other.
“Sports is home for the most complicated, the most in-depth, some of the most important intersections of every sector of society,” Smith added. “Whether that’s business, whether that’s race, whether that’s gender, all of that can be found in sports, way beyond the box score.”
The phrase “Stick to Sports” particularly exploded during Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem in the 2016 NFL season. Smith, who co-hosts “Brother From Another” with Michael Holly, added that sports and the wider world has always intersected each other. From Muhammad Ali’s refusal to go to Vietnam, and subsequent imprisonment for draft dodging, to the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Soviets amid the height of the Cold War, there’s rarely been a time sports and politics haven’t crossed over.
“I did not sign up to do a sports show,” Smith said. “This is a show between two guys that are multifaceted, that are diverse. We have various interests, interests in life, and a wide range of experiences and perspectives. And we’re talking about the things that are important to us. If that happens to be sports, great. But we’ve gone entire shows without touching a sports topic.”
Holly added, “I just think if we stuck to sports, I guess we could do it. It’d be fine. We do a fine show. But it would limit some of the things that we can bring to the public conversation. I think it would be a waste.”