Star Rising: Interview with ESPN NFL Analyst Michael Smith

Michael Smith

Michael Smith is mos def a rising star in today’s media. He brings a very informed and easy style that is refreshing in this age of talking heads screaming and hollering NFL points so irrelevant and utterly ridiculous. Mike’s cool. The following conversation is reminiscent of the one Scoop, Dwil and I had in Vantage Point. It’s not as political, but it definitely lends itself to the constant and ever evolving discussion about the current tenor of sports reporting. Coming out of Loyola University (LA), Mike migrated north to the Boston Globe after interning there two previous summers. This was during the time the New England Patriots franchise initialized stamping the bully presence it now has on the NFL and Michael Smith was there to document it all. His attention then shifted to ESPN to realize a dream. The interview itself is a monster in size because Mike and I touch on a variety of subjects. As Mike calls, I am just finishing Bill Rhoden’s 40 Million Dollar Slaves for the third time (Go get it!). I thought it was apropos to ask Mike what Mr. Rhoden means to him personally. Enjoy.

Michael Tillery: Do you consider Bill Rhoden an inspiration?

Michael Smith: Oh, no question. No question about it. I’m 28. I started doing this full time when I was 22–2000, 2001. When I got into the business–I’m not saying it’s without challenges for minorities–there was a list of Black sports writers. Larry Whiteside was making a list to try to get people jobs that made the papers. When I came along the door was wide open and there were several entrances. It wasn’t just one door. You could pick what door you wanted to go through–whether it was television, writing, internet or radio. People like Bill Rhoden–along with the Ralph Wileys and Michael Wilbons of the world made it easy for me to get in the game and thrive based on my talent. People could see me as a writer, reporter or analyst and not limit me because of what I look like. Forget about him being a pioneer. You are talking about someone that has been there and done that. He’s spoken out on a lot of key issues and is a respected voice in turbulent times in sports as well as society. He’s definitely somebody I look up to.

MT: You are interesting as well as unique because you have a talent, personality and overall image that is needed. I’m not diminishing anything you’ve accomplished in saying that. I want to make that clear. I abhor this term, but if it can ever be used as a positive you define what the Golden Boy image would be if flipped to include Blacks. It also has to do with your appearance quite honestly. You seem to be one of the first Black male journalists to come along and transcend race–especially being a young cat.

MS: I know what you are saying. I am young. Relative to these other cats, I’m usually the youngest in the room. You used the term transcending race. I believe we’ve gotten to a point where television producers, executives and decision makers or news paper writers are socially aware and smart enough to know that a Black reporter or journalist has to look, act a certain way or present himself in a certain way to be noticed. Is that what you are saying?

MT: See, I don’t think that is necessarily true for any and everybody coming in the door. You have to have that moxie. You have to have an aura and you definitely seem to have it. When you are on Around the Horn, you are allowed to be Hip Hop, but it doesn’t define you in my opinion. There seems to be a lot more to your total image.

MS: OK. I got you. I think I would attribute that to my upbringing. I grew up in New Orleans. In New Orleans, as you know, there are mainly Blacks. It’s not a vast majority, but there are a lot of Blacks. It’s one of the few major cities in America where there a lot of Black people. I grew up middle class. I went to a public high school. It was the first all Black high school in New Orleans–it still is an all Black high school. It was the first one that Black people were allowed to go to. I went to school coming up with people of all economic backgrounds. When I went to college at Loyola, we had a section in the student union that we called Africa. We would just hang out. Loyola is a predominately White Jesuit institution that was real good in journalism, so that’s why I went there. Then I moved to Boston in 2001. Boston and New Orleans? Vastly different. I’ve learned from being around a lot of folk to kind of blend in with whatever the situation is. I can joke around, I can be Hip Hip and I also can be political. I don’t think that is just unique with me. Nowadays you have to be this way. It’s well documented that Hip Hop is selling more in the suburbs. It’s less about Black and White nowadays and more about green. Unfortunately, skin color and green still coincide a lot.

I pride myself on being versatile. The key is that I don’t want anybody to listen to me, see me or read me and know where I’m coming from based on who I am. It’s not about being 28 and Black. It depends on the situation and that’s how it should be. I’m one of those people that when I open my mouth you are not going to know what I’m going to say.

MT: You alluded to your upbringing. What type of parents do you have and what do they do?

MS: My Mom was primarily in education–on various levels. She’s done a lot of different teaching. My stepfather is in law enforcement in New Orleans.

Funny story–and this is where my musical tastes come from. They also have an R&B band.

MT: Wow!

MS: My stepfather is the lead singer and my Mom is one of his background singers. He’s been singing his whole life. They were married when I was about 10 years old. Wow, they’ve been married 18 years.

I had parents that did not pull any punches. They were upfront with me about everything. I saw a lot coming up. They monitored what I saw and heard, but they didn’t shield me. I come from a Christian background. I’m a Christian. My grandfather was a Baptist minister for 55 years. My Mom was his baby girl. I was raised in the church. They taught me what the world was about and prepared me. 22 and leaving New Orleans for Boston was a world away. I didn’t know anybody up here. My parents taught me about people. They taught me about the pitfalls of life. They taught me about learning from other people’s mistakes. They taught me about hard work. They always taught me that they knew a lot more than I did and I was definitely a know it all. A lot of their lessons come to fruition the older I get. They’ve always stuck by me and supported me. I didn’t grow up hard. People see the videos and they get an impression of New Orleans. I didn’t want for nothing. I wasn’t rich by any means, but I didn’t miss no meals man. They made it easy for me to enjoy my childhood. I have parents that I love to death man. I have three parents. The church raised me. My Mom’s friends. My Dad and my stepmom. I had a group of parents that influenced me. I had a lot of people that had their hands on me and helped me get to this point.

MT: I’ve interviewed many athletes and personalities from the New Orleans area and got a quote from Ray Nagin for the reopening of the Super Dome. What are your thoughts on the progression–or lack thereof–reconstruction efforts?

MS: I feel like we have a government whose priorities are misplaced. The government is more concerned with what is going on overseas and policies that help rich people continue to be rich. We’re the richest country in the world. We aren’t some third world country. It’s not like some earthquake happened and we are just (expletive) outta luck. For people to be displaced from their homes and still living the way they are, (no water, living in trailers) is ridiculous. I know a lot of America lives in trailers–and I’m not knocking that–but these people had homes that were destroyed. It is a citizen recovery effort as opposed to a government recovery effort. The red tape that these people have to jump through to get assistance is ridiculous. If that weren’t a poor city then it would have been rebuilt. If that happened in New York…New York would be up and running. Same thing with LA or DC. It just so happens that there are poor people and Black people in New Orleans. It is what it is man. We are more concerned with occupying another country than getting occupants back in New Orleans.

MT: I remember a conversation Chuck D and I had about if New Orleans was going to make it back. Chuck spoke of how Hurricane Katrina obliterated a culture that was as unique as the world has ever seen. I hope America understands what New Orleans means to us all.

MS: Ain’t no city like it man. Ain’t no city like it. In certain spots, you know you are stepping into something different. I hope the city can make it back intact.

MT: Coming out of New Orleans and graduating from Loyola, did you see yourself initially working for the Boston Globe? Was the Globe your goal or were you set on getting to ESPN early?

MS: ESPN was always a goal. I didn’t anticipate reaching there three years after I got to the Globe. I interned at the Globe for two summers. That’s what made me come back to the Globe when I graduated in ’01. I just try to be the best I can at what I do. I will work really hard and hopefully be recognized and rewarded. In the meantime, I just have to work to better myself. I want to be in the best position possible and come through as I’m needed.

The Patriots just so happened to be coming into their own as an elite NFL franchise as I got to the Boston Globe. They knew I liked football and it was my sport of choice. I just applied myself and made a lot of sacrifices. Eventually ESPN noticed that I was there at 25. I’ve been here since.

MT: You hear all the time about athletes all the way back to Bill Russell saying that Boston has a different culture that is not conducive to Black consciousness. Is that something you’ve witnessed or is it something overblown by Black athletes?

MS: I will not say it’s overblown. Everybody’s experience is different. I would hope that my experience from 2001-2007 is different to Russell in 1956 to 1969. There are very successful Black people in Boston. Beautiful Black people. My wife and I will go to a movie theater, a restaurant or a shopping mall and be the only Black people in sight. It’s just something that’s a fact of life up here. Being a professional athlete in Boston is different, but I get treated pretty well here personally. That said, every now and again there will be little things that come up in the media that will remind me that I am Black. Nothing that would make me say damn this city is racist! The type of stuff that you would understand, I would understand, but everyone wouldn’t understand. If there’s a major city in America that’s not racist, tell me where it is so I can move there. I know Boston has a bad history, but so does New Orleans, LA or New York. I didn’t live here back then, but I don’t think Boston is this mecca for racism. There are a lot of places around the city where you will be the only Black person. Can you handle that?

MT: I think sometimes it’s good for our people to be in those situations just to see how we respond and ultimately learn. What exactly is your position and what do you aspire to be at ESPN?

MS: Three years in, it remains difficult to define my role at ESPN. The reason being is that I have my hand in so many things there.

I landed at ESPN as an NFL reporter before Around the Horn. Since I’ve been there, I’ve done Pardon the Interruption, Jim Rhome’s Rome Is Burning, and Mike and Mike In the Morning–where I’ve talked about all sports as an analyst. I also cover the NFL. To be honest, I’m more of a TV guy than a writer. I do NFL Live, SportsCenter and ESPN News. Now, I’m doing this new show that’s like a news magazine–kinda like Real Sports, 60 Minutes or Outside the Lines. My attention span is pretty short, so I like to dabble into a lot of things. My primary sport is the NFL. That’s where my expertise is. That’s what I’ve covered since I got into the business. It’s my favorite sport. Depending on the setting, I will discuss all sports.

MT: So the sky’s the limit?

MS: I hope so. I hope the limit ain’t the sky. They seem to be interested in me and helping me to progress. I’m having fun. I like what I’m doing. I don’t know if my own show is something in my future and I don’t look at myself as the Stephen A. Smith type.

Stephen A. can carry a show. To be a guy that can captivate an audience for a half an hour by himself? Stephen A. is that guy. Jim Rhome is that guy. That’s their personality. Maybe I am that guy and just don’t know it. I could be that guy if given the opportunity. I don’t know.

MT: Speaking of Stephen A, are you two related?

MS: We’re not. I called him cousin one day. You know how we do calling each other cousin.

MT: Of course.

MS: I was joking. We obviously have the same last name and the same middle initial. My middle name is Anthony. Some people…and this is where you know you have influence. People started calling me Michael A. Smith. I never asked anyone to call me Michael A. Smith. I was on his show and said something like, “Whassup cuz?” and someone took that literally. We are no relation whatsoever except that we go all the way back to the Motherland.

MT: I speak with a couple of people ESPN on occasion and I can’t figure out who exactly hipped me to that rumor.

I will say that Jemele Hill had a lot of great things to say about you. Are you cool with Jemele and Scoop?

MS: Jemele is my girl! You talk about a star? That’s my girl dog.

Scoop is groundbreaking. That is a dude that is so unlike anybody out there writing. He’s comfortable in his own skin and ain’t trying to pander to what anyone else is trying to see. He’s got a unique take on issues. He’s got a voice!

Stephen A. is another guy that’s opened the door. He’s been very supportive. He’s had me on his show many times. If Bill Rhoden opened the door, Stephen A. Smith widened the door frame. He’s done a lot for not only African Americans, but young journalists in general.

MT: I just wanted to clear up a bogus future nepotism charge.

MS: No doubt. That is the only thing I see negative from a perceived relation. I’ve done all this on my own–don’t to applying for the job.

MT: Who are some of your personal influences? Because of your age, I’m sure your influences differ from mine…or maybe not. My influences reflect the year I was born–1968.

MS: I’ve always been a sports fan, but I didn’t get into sports writing until later on. My grandfather used to get mad because I would still the sports section before he got a chance to read it. I would read the most…not the big stuff…but the training camp notebook. I had to know what was going on in the Saints camp. I also was a big fan…you are probably too old to remember Tecmo Bowl

MT: Hey man hey! Watch it young fella. So what you were reppin fat crayons and car seats while I was in a School Daze. That’s what college was for right? Of course I played Tecmo Bowl!

MS: (Mike and I are rolling) Well you said you was born in ’68 so I didn’t know if you had outgrown video games by then!

MT: Nah, I had my own apartment at eighteen and played it on my Rent-A-Center TV all night long. Damn, that was way back! Randall Cunningham was the truth! I would fill up the stat sheet with nothing but Randall and Bo Jackson. I had both rushing for 2000+ and Randall throwing for way over 4000. He was sick on that game. Being a Philly fan, I made sure he was well represented…trust.

MS: I was so into that game that I would copy game stats and keep a season tally of Kevin Mack and Bo Jackson’s yards.

Anyway, back to influences. I’m not a real literary guy and I don’t read as much as I should. I’m really into people who can express themselves. I don’t have that many varied interests as I should and I’m not that diverse intellectually, but great writing is just that. I love all forms of music. I’m big into lyrics more than I am the rhythm and the beats. When it comes to Hip Hop I listen to Common, The Roots, Talib, Biggie, Pac. The stuff that they wrote! That all inspired me. Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Comedians…Eddie Murphy and Bill Cosby. I watched Bill Cosby Himself five hundred times. I’ll watch it now if it comes on. Anyone who delivers something in a unique way inspires me. As far as sports? When I was coming up that’s when the Big Show was at it’s peak–Keith Olberman and Dan Patrick. One of the highlights of my career was when I was on Sports Center being interviewed by Dan Patrick. I’ll never forget that. You look at my high school goal and it was to be a SC anchor. Stuart Scott? Man now we are on TV together! I was watching Stuart Scott in high school and college. As far as writers go, Mike Wilbon, Bob Ryan–at the Boston Globe, Michael Holley. Michael Holley is my best friend. I consider him as much as an influence as I do a friend and a brother. He’s a gifted writer. He’s an author now, but he was my mentor when I started at the Boston Globe. Maya Angelou, James Baldwin…it’s difficult to narrow it down. Even Sade.

MT: Favorite Sade song since you brought it up.

MS: That’s hard. I have to give you one?

MT: I couldn’t give just one. Depending on my mood it would be Cherish the Day.

MS: Mine would be I Never Thought I’d See the Day (4:20 after Paradise below) or Sweetest Taboo–also depending on my mood.

I’d have to say I’d Never Thought I’d See the Day. There’s something about that groove that just…

MT: Who in Hip Hop inspires you the most?

MS: No disrespect to Common, Mos Def or Talib or Nas. If I have the mic, I’m giving it to Black Thought.

MT: OK back to sports. There’s a perception Mike that ESPN is using Black writers to propagate the stereotypes of Black athletes. What is your opinion of such a troubling statement?

MS: Can you give me a hypothetical example?

MT: Yes of course. I can think of many.

Black athlete gets in trouble. White athlete gets in trouble.

Black athlete gets covered in sick proportions. White athlete’s story gets buried.

Black athlete vilified, ostracized, crushed and the story over saturates TV coverage so even old ladies are familiar. White athlete settles into his surroundings and when it comes time for Hall of Fame voting all is forgotten.

On TSF we have many conversations concerning this thought. I must say trust that it’s not something exclusive to ESPN. Here, we feel that this is because of the lack of Black voices…

MS: It’s not even about just Black voices man. It’s people making the decisions. I’m not talking about ESPN. I’m speaking in general. The decision makers for mass media do a poor job having a variety of coverage. As far as ESPN, I can say two things. I can only speak for myself as an analyst or a reporter. I do not want to be predictable. I like surprising people–not shocking people. I’m not a shock jock. I guarantee you that you will not be able to pigeonhole me on a certain issue. On the same token, I do not sit down and think that I am a Black journalist. I’m a Black man. I have to talk about Michael Vick in a certain way because he’s a Black man. It’s not like that. Now, the fact that Michael Vick is close to my age and Black helps me relate to Mike Vick differently and therefore my feelings and thoughts are going to be different. I wasn’t as appalled. I didn’t go crazy over his situation because of where I grew up and again, relating to Michael Vick. That doesn’t mean that I agree with what he did. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t go on the radio and say that it was dumb, because it was. Black, White, whatever. I think he should be given a second chance and his apology should be accepted. Literally and figuratively, it’s not Black and White. My opinion on the way I cover sports is based on who I am as a person and what I believe in. It’s not based on what the person looks like.

What I don’t like is being on TV and asked to be the voice of Black America. Race issue comes up and all of the sudden let’s ask the Black guy how Black people feel. That’s illogical and uncomfortable. I can’t speak for all Black people. We do not all think alike. I don’t let anybody use me. I’m not a pawn for anybody. I go on TV and say what I feel. It’s not in my nature to vilify somebody. It’s not in my nature to rip somebody. It’s not in my nature to kill (slam publicly) or hit somebody below the belt–Black or White. You won’t see me do that. I’m generally fair. No one told Mike Vick to do that and I’ve talked to Mike Vick. I defended him as long as I could defend him. No one told Mike Vick to dog fight. No one told Tank Johnson to do what he’s done. No one told Pacman Jones to be a clown and make it rain. You best believe that the moment I go out there and do something stupid, I will be vilified. I’m smart enough to stay out of it, because that’s the way of the world.

I’m not going to pile on. I’m not going to go out there and say Pacman is a menace to society. You have to call a spade a spade dog because it compromises my credibility. The minute I choose to treat Black athletes with kid gloves and slam White athletes, White folks are going to notice. I treat everybody the same and it’s going to stay that way.

MT: Brian Urlacher skated on his recent troubles, but Elijah Dukes was crushed and will never be the type of talent that Urlacher is.

MS: I know Brian Urlacher and I like Brian Urlacher. I just don’t know too much on what happened. I don’t know Elijah Dukes. I don’t know anything about him. Generally speaking, there are people that are treated with kid gloves. There are sacred cows. There are golden boys. No question about it. The majority of the time, those golden boys are of the lighter persuasion. That is a fact of life. As an individual, I can only control my voice.

The girl who photographers took a picture with ARod? I don’t care. I don’t care about Brian Urlacher’s baby mama drama. I don’t care about Elijah Duke’s drama. I have a story with Chad Johnson that hasn’t been premiered yet. Chad Johnson has four children with three different women. I’m not here to judge that. The conversation with Chad Johnson was about how he is so focused on football he admits his family time isn’t what he wants it to be. He said that. In production meetings I’m very adamant that it is not our job to judge his philosophies. I will always be fair. Generally speaking? It ain’t fair. It’s not fair for any of us. There are things that other journalists have done and said that I’d be fired for–in a New York minute. Now, I’ve only been doing this for a certain time. Everyone is treated differently.

I tell young people all the time to not give anyone an excuse. Do not give “the man” an excuse to take away what you have.

I posted this video in a comment on another thread. I had to get it in this conversation. Mizzo

Grab that cap people….Grab that cap!

MT: Wow, I’m refreshing the page on my site as we speak and Jemele is getting slammed.

MS: Who?

MT: Jemele Hill.

MS: Really? Wow.

MT: Our readers are very informed. I don’t personally agree with them all the time, but they help make this site what it is. The conversations that happen every day are very deep and insightful. Now, they also slam athletes that are doing dirt and they should.

We all should.

I’m sure you talk to many more athletes than I do, but my experience is that there is no way White athletes aren’t out there messing up. It’s just not possible.

MS: Oh there’s no question. There’s no question.

MT: The very ridiculous reaction to Michael Vick giving the finger. Black people sure as hell didn’t start that BS. There’s people giving others the finger right now and some were probably the same people who slammed Vick. I’m not saying one bit that it’s right. I want to be clear on that. What I am saying is that the reaction does not fit the action. I don’t give a damn who the hell he is.

MS: Well Jake Plummer did it and barely a backlash. You can’t explain to White America what it’s like to be African American. You just can’t. It’s like explaining to a man what it’s like to be a woman. Men will never understand what it’s like to be women.

It’s like when Donovan McNabb had his thing. He was absolutely right. Black quarterbacks are judged differently. Then some people were judging Rex Grossman as a logical comparison. Don’t even compare Rex Grossman to Donovan McNabb. Then it was Eli Manning. Don’t even compare Eli Manning to Donovan McNabb.

In any walk of life–football, politics, the media or music, we are held to a different standard. We can’t mess up. We are all taught at a young age that we have to be twice as good and we don’t have margin for error. It’s a fact of life. So what do you do about it? Do you accept that system or do you stay true to yourself and be smart about things?

I’m not saying that you can’t go out and you can’t have fun. I’m not saying that you aren’t going to make mistakes–just don’t make them big. Understand that there is a double standard. It’s better now. It’s not as bad. But they say we play the race card. You want to talk about a term that pisses me off?

Something for you Mike. Cube knows exactly how you feel. Mizzo.

Mainstream America now has the audacity to attempt to make minorities feel bad for calling out injustices. Now it’s like, “He shouldn’t be playing the race card”.

There’s so much injustice that all fifty two cards should be called race cards!

If race is the issue, it should rightfully be brought up and discussed.

What do I know though. I’m only 28. I don’t know anything. I’m not political.

MT: I hear you Mike. Keep fighting the power bruh.

I have a friend, Delinda Lombardo, that’s a journalist out in San Diego. She wanted me to ask you if former Knicks exec Anucha Browne-Sanders winning her case is a victory for women in America?

MS: No. No, that was a win for Anucha Browne-Sanders against Dolan, MSG and Isiah. I don’t expect women to be treated differently tomorrow–whether it’s in the work place, the home, the world–because of one civil suit. It’s one thing to change policy, it’s another to change culture. I don’t view this as a societal victory. Men are always going to feel as though they are superior to women. You are always going to have some men–not all–who feel that way. We had all this fallout from Imus, but has Hip Hop truly changed the lyrics? No.

MT: Last segment Mike. Jemele and I were discussing through text messages how Randy Moss is treated by the media. Did the brotha kill somebody? Isn’t he what we all thought he was? You can throw in some Terrell Owens commentary also.

MS: Let me start by saying that I like both of those guys. People may think that I don’t like Terrell Owens, but I was only critical of both depending on what they did. Terrell doing push ups in his driveway deserved criticism. Same with the way he called out Donovan. I just didn’t agree with it. Truly speaking, I like watching Randy and T.O. play.

What I like about them is that they are going to be them. They are not going to say what you want them to say or do what you want them to do. They don’t conform. They both caused problems on previous teams that’s well documented. It speaks to what we’ve been talking about is my ability to relate everybody. I can definitely relate to 28-30 African Americans. Certain things they say or do won’t upset me but my have the opposite effect on more traditional people. I had a conversation one of my colleagues the other day who can’t stand what Chad Johnson does in the end zone. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t think it’s a Black/White thing. I think it’s an age thing…a generational thing. I loved Deion Sanders.

MT: Everyone forgets about Billy “White Shoes” Johnson. The first one to dance in the end zone.

MS: Yes, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson.

I just don’t think that people understand those cats and I don’t think they care if people understand them.

MT: No they don’t.

The receivers I’ve spoken to? They can care less what people think about them.

What’s going on with the San Diego Chargers and the Dallas Cowboys? I recently interviewed Marcellus Wiley–who played for both teams…

MS: Dat Dude?

MT: You know it. Dat Dude man!

Very compelling interview from a player’s perspective. It’ll be up tomorrow. Anyway, I asked him a question about the Cowboys–whether or not the reason why they are excelling is because of Parcells stepping aside. He spoke about how Parcells’ hand is when he’s coaching and in contrast, how laid back Wade Phillips is. I haven’t talked to either coach personally, so I wanted to get another perspective.

Are the Cowboys getting it done this year because the team is able to relax?

MS: No.

Let me answer the Cowboys/Chargers question if you don’t mind.

I think people have a tendency to look for the obvious change as to why things are different. Bill Parcells is a Hall of Fame coach. He’s won everywhere he’s went. He’s picked all the players on the team. He’s the one who played Tony Romo last year when no one knew anything about him. He might not have wanted T.O. but he obviously signed off on it to get him in there. He drafted most of the players on defense. He installed the 3-4 defense when they were a 4-3. He made them a 4-3 team. Parcells shopped for the groceries and made the cupboard full. Are they winning because Wade Phillips is more laid back? I’m sure it’s refreshing, but Tony Romo is in his second season. Terrell Owens is healthy now. The offensive line is better. They signed Leonard Davis–who is as talented a lineman as their is in the league. He wasn’t in the right situation in Arizona. The defense is playing better. Wade Phillips is a good coordinator.

There are a lot of reasons why. It’s not just because they got a laid back coach.

On the flip side, Norv Turner supposedly too laid back. Marty Shottenheimer is a fiery coach. Maybe the players aren’t playing that well in San Diego (though they sure turned it around Sunday against Denver).

Who is to say that these team’s records wouldn’t be exactly the same if their former coaches were at the helm? Are the Steelers better because Mike Tomlins is the coach? I love Mike Tomlins. He’s going to the Hall of Fame. Who is to say their record wouldn’t be the same if Bill Cowher wasn’t the coach?

I just don’t think you can play that game. Some players respond better to different coaches, but this isn’t the only reason why you have success after the former coach moves on.

You just can’t tell me that Parcells–winning everywhere, coached different teams in Super Bowls is just not a good coach anymore.

MT: Eagles, Saints and the Bengals. What’s going on with these teams? They have good programs in place. Is it deeper than just being early in the season?
MS: My Saints are 0-4.

I think it is too early to write off certain teams. Teams start to become who they are around mid-season.

The Bengals are hurt on defense. They have many players out. Offensively, they don’t handle things well things aren’t going right. They have so much talent. Marvin Lewis is a good coach. They can still be competitive and go deep in the playoffs. They got to stop beating themselves.

In the case of the Eagles, they have a quarterback who is not as explosive moving as he once was. He can’t buy time like he used to.

Donovan McNabb’s receivers aren’t exceptional. It’s a fact.

Westbrook has been hurt Tra Thomas has been hurt. Defensively they’ve been OK. That team has won for too long for me to write them off. Last year we tried to write them off. We should have learned our lesson from last year.

As far as the Saints go, Drew Brees isn’t playing well. I think they are pressing. That’s a cliche but it’s true here.

You aren’t going into Indianapolis, where they are hanging a championship banner, and winning in their building. I didn’t think they would lose that bad, but it was predictable. It’s hard to get off to a good start when your first two games (for the third straight season) are on the road. Tampa Bay is a division opponent and is always a tough game for anyone. Then they come home, where a lot of pressure is on them–it’s their opener, and they play a pretty good Tennessee team.

I’m not making excuses for anybody. These teams have to coach better and play better. I don’t think their issues are pandemic, they can be fixed. Drew Brees is a better quarterback than he’s shown.

Maybe they’ll all be bad this year. The thing I love about football is that more than basketball, baseball, boxing or any other sport, things are not as they seem. It’s a unique sport in that everybody can’t coach it. In baseball, a situation arises and there’s something to reference. Man on second, one out and you bunt the guy over. Barry Bonds comes to the plate, first base open…you put him on first. Basketball you know what you are going to do. In football, there are so many moving parts and so many different forces at play. It’s not that easy to put your finger on one issue. All it takes is one buy to miss a block or a receiver to run a wrong route. The Monday Night Football game where Chad Johnson ran a wrong route is a prime example. They were trying to figure out whose fault it was. Things happen so fast an can dictate your whole season. It’s very complicated.

MT: What did you think about Vince Young’s post game comments after the Saints game? Was there a connection to Donovan McNabb’s comments?

MS: I’m not going to connect the Donovan McNabb controversy to what Vince said. Vince Young–since he came out of college–has heard by the so called experts that his is not a passer. He’s heard that he’s an athlete that makes plays with his legs and feet and can’t beat you from the pocket. To have gone out and proved it, must have felt good.

That was precisely what Donovan was talking about. It’s a problem that is exclusive of African American quarterbacks. Maybe you can throw Steve Young in there. Steve Young was from another planet because he was so damn good. He was a running back playing quarterback coming out of Tampa until Bill Walsh got him.

You never heard that John Elway couldn’t throw early in his career. That he was just a good athlete. Maybe you did. I know I didn’t.

MT: No I didn’t young fella.

MS: I don’t think it was the controversy, I think it was the individual haven’t been challenged early in his career.

MT: The conundrum is that Black quarterbacks haven’t had the luxury of throwing to Jerry Rice, Lynn Swann or Chad Johnson. How many #1 receivers that a Black quarterback threw to? Vince Young is commanding a young team that seems to be on the right track, but wouldn’t it be in the Titans best interest to get a nice receiver in there right now? It seems like these quarterbacks would progress a lot faster if they had top notch receivers to get the back to.

MS: Yes, it would be in their best interest. Look at what Daunte Culpepper did his first couple years. He had Randy Moss and Cris Carter. He would have been MVP if not for Peyton Manning’s record breaking season. Randall Cunningham had Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams…

MT: Can’t forget about Keith Jackson. Things changed once he went to Miami. I’ll never forget the look on Randall’s face when they showed Keith firing up the grill in Miami during halftime of a Monday Night Football game. As an Eagles fan, I was sick. Jerome Brown dying and Reggie White leaving was the beginning of the end for one of the most exciting teams in recent memory. That ’90 defense was one of the best of all time. Randall started 4-0 that year and after before sustaining season ending injuries. So when DNabb came on the scene my hope as an Eagles fan was rekindled. People forget that Keith Jackson was one of the first free agent signings–with Reggie White being the first.

MT: Donovan had T.O. for one year. Warren Moon had some receivers, but they were good as a group (Houston). McNair has never had a great receiver. They’ve always have been trying to get him one though.

Black or White, you have to give a quarterback weapons. Is there a tendency to maybe think that because a quarterback may be more athletic he doesn’t need great receivers? There may be something to that. Elway had Shannon Sharpe. Rod Smith turned out to be really good…

MT: Rod Smith will soon be in the Hall of Fame.

MS: Besides those two, who was his great receiver. The Three Amigos were OK. Teams may think they can make plays on their own and make guys better. I don’t know.

MT: Look what happened with Randall in 1998. He was Offensive Player of the Year because Randy Moss caught 17 touchdowns (rookie year), he had Cris Carter and Jake Reed before he was injured. The Vikings scored 556 points–still a record and went 15-1 and should have won the Super Bowl.

MS: No question. Yeah, Gary Anderson decided to miss his first field goal of the year at that critical moment of the NFC Championship.

MT: Mike it was almost two years in between misses. The offense was so good that he was lining up for chip shot after chip shot. I taped every game that year. I was a Randall Cunningham fan ever since Buddy Ryan put him in 3rd and long situations to make a play. I’m sure Ron Jaworski hated that.

Travis Henry. Why aren’t these brothas not getting that you can’t step out of line?

MS: Yeah, it’s a shame. To throw away that money to smoke a joint? He clearly has problems. Some people have demons that they just can’t shake.

MT: Not asking you to give away any trade secrets, but who in the league are you cool with?

MS: I would just say that there isn’t a player in this league that I couldn’t walk up to and be cool with. I’m that kinda dude.

MT: Dat Dude?

MS: Yeah (Mike laughs).

They’ll give me their number and I’ll call them up. I can talk to anybody, and I think that is a strength. Player, coach whatever. I think they know that I understand how difficult it is to do what they do. Not that I totally understand it, but I appreciate it more. I was a failed high school quarterback myself.

MT: I’m the same way. I have no problem when I approach athletes. It’s the way you approach them. It’s never about kissing their ass, but more about giving them respect like you should do anyone else. Well…maybe Ben Gordon. Jason Kidd, Smush Parker and Steve Nash were at the first Elite 24 game at the Rucker. Ben seemed really skiddish, like who the hell is this dude? Bobbito Garcia, who was the MC, got a big kick out of that. So did my son. I’ve talked to Steve Nash a couple of times he was real cool. Ben probably reacted that way because some cats are apprehensive when someone in the media approaches. If you write with a disingenuous pen and are expecting a quote, prepare for the gas face.

MS: Yep. It’s a people industry.

MT: Exactly, I wish more people understood that.

Who wins the Super Bowl?

MS: Right now?

MT: Yeah man, while I have you on the mic.

MS: Ooh. Man that’s hard. I do think that New England can go undefeated.

MT: Is there a DB in the league that can stop Randy Moss?

MS: No. Randy Moss can be stopped by quarterback play. He ain’t got that problem now.

MT: You ain’t lyin’.

Individual awards. Who wins MVP?

MS: Tom Brady.

MT: Coach of the Year?

MS: Let’s go with the trifecta. Bill Belichick. Wouldn’t that be funny.

MT: Yes it would be considering videogate.

MS: If they go 16-0 or 15-1. How can he not win Coach of the Year?

MT: Yes, he would have to win. Was Videogate overblown or not adequately covered?

MS: I don’t think it was overblown. I think they deserved the punishment. They broke the rules. It was covered the way it was because you had a guy that has been called maybe the best coach ever. He’s definitely the best coach of this era. He’s won three Super Bowls. If it happened when he was with the Cleveland Browns you wouldn’t have had the coverage. You are talking about a team that is the gold standard of the NFL.

One last question Mike. When you are on the set, do you ever get a chance to reflect on–as the bodies float by in production–what position you are in?

MS: Yes. Sometimes I will sit back when I get a break in the SportsCenter studio and I will say “Wow, God has really been good to me. I’m actually doing this.” My biggest moment of my career so far was sitting on the set–this is telling you how big of a football fan I am–and dissect the draft this year. That was heaven for my man. That was it. I grew up watching the draft from start to finish. So I was loving it.

Yes, I definitely sit back and wonder how this all has happened so fast. I can’t say that it’s happened faster than I expected, just faster than normal. I’ve earned opportunities and nothing has been given to me. I’m very appreciative to all who have given me those opportunities. Hopefully, I can get a lot better. I believe that I can do a lot better. I have a lot to learn. I haven’t seen everything. There’s a lot of things that I don’t know.


51 Responses to “Star Rising: Interview with ESPN NFL Analyst Michael Smith”

  1. Nice interview Mizzo, I understand where Smith is coming from about not wanting to be the voice of 38 million people becuae it is frustrating. But me personally to quote DMX “I’m not nice” and have told whites who challenge me on Hip-Hop or Vick “Do you know what your white brats are doing or listening to?” And who in the hell made you the moral aribtor of black american behavior.

  2. Thanks ED.

    That’s what’s crazy about this society E.

    I truly wonder where that comes from.

    It it a defense mechanism to mask insecurity?

  3. Great interview Mizzo….of course I’m biased since I have the biggest crush on Mr. Smith but still…good job!!

  4. […] STARTING FIVE The exceptional writers at the Starting Five are churning out some insightful interviews. Most recently, the king of in-depth reporting, Michael […]

  5. I went to high school with Mike, he was always an astute cat.

  6. He wasn’t that bad at QB, just thought a little bit too much on the field. Thinking can be a problem on the field, you have to get to the point where every action is instinctive. He had one real nice game his senior year. Lol.

  7. Great interview. I can’t tell you how nice it is to hear from reporters beyond the soundbites that can be found on Around-the-Horn. thanks mizzo. Also, I didn’t know Michael Smith was so damn young!!!

  8. Michael Smith is a punk sellout just like his girl Jemele Hill, and their boy Jason Whitelock!!! I’ve spent many a night watching that cat on ESPN thinking disgraceful. You want to sellout Michael, SELLOUT! Don’t come back to the black community trying to be like it’s all good though, understanding of course, that you were invited to this interview.

    Where’s your girl Jemele’s article on my man AI saving that lady a couple weeks ago?

  9. great interview. perhaps sometime in the future you or someone could do an appreciation of ralph wiley.

  10. Jay, are there egregious articles of Smith’s that can be compared to a Jemele-on-her-worst-day or a Whitlock-on-any-day? I haven’t seen them, but that certainly doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. I just don’t know which is why I’m asking…


    Here he talks about Marcus Vick and says “lengthy rap sheet”? Lengthy rap sheet he was a college kid with a suspended drivers license, might have smoked weed or been with somebody who was, given alcohol to minors, the boy was 19 it’s not uncommon. I’d say that’s a pretty normal college student.

    Here’s an article where he lavishes praise on Dungy and Lovie Smith, and says quit talking about color in coaches. Sure on the surface this sounds great, but what about the 3/110 black coaches in NCAA football? A sport that’s 65% percent african american, head coaching isn’t the only thing ownership, general managers, assistant coaches. We need to talk about this, keep talking, keep talking, keep talking!

    I wish I could find more, but Smith’s assassination is mostly done on a T.V. show. Ask him how he feels about T.O., Barry Bonds, Randy Moss, and finally Roger Goodell. He won’t dare answer those questions.

    Look I know you guys work to get these guys on and we hammer them, that is how I really feel, but if you want me to lighten up, I can respect your house.

  12. Jay-
    Shoot me an email (I’m on the “About” page)…

  13. Michael Smith Says:

    Thanks, Mike T., for the interview. I enjoyed our conversation and thanks for thinking enough of me to devote space on your site to my story. And to those who took time to read, thanks to you as well. Finally to those who posted supportive responses, they are greatly appreciated.
    As for my man Jay Goober in particular, I love you brother and God bless you and your family. May you experience success and above all peace and joy in whatever endeavors you pursue.

  14. Thanks Mike for taking the time and checking opt TSF. Give me a shout when you get the chance bruh.

  15. Jay Goober Says:


    I disagree with much of what is said by you and your colleagues. I find the mainstream sports media intolerable, biased, and downright offensive. However that didn’t excuse me taking it to where I took it. I apologize for my rant on you, it was immature. It’s one thing to critique your work and network, but I think i crossed the line into just ugly. So sorry man.

  16. Nice interview Mizzo. MS seems to be far more aware than any of the other apologists for white supremacy-I’m talking to you Ms. Hill- in the MSM. He’s got a long way to go but he’s clearly at the head of the class compared to those fools who’ll sell out black America in a minute as long as it gets them the perks-I’m talkin’ to you Mike Wilbon-of being tokens whose very presence gives the racist machine false pretense of being what thet are not.

  17. Dougie Davidson Says:

    Giggity goo gah gah

  18. juma jasabe Says:

    great interview. that was funny about the “young fella”. i was mostly impressed with Mr. Smith as i watch him on ESPN and he inspires me to want to be a journalist. i feel like i’m watching myself on t.v. when i see him. wierd i know, but very inspiring to know i can do that too, and its not too late. anyway just wanted to add that.

  19. Bienville Elementary at it’s finest!!

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