‘What’s Important to You?’: ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith Talks Life Path, Career Success

Best known for his spirited debates with fellow sports journalist Skip Bayless on ESPN’s morning talk show First Take, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith urged students to work hard, to compete every day in order to hone one’s craft, and to consider those sitting next to you—even friends—competition. Smith offered Boston College students advice Monday night in Robsham Theater on what it takes to achieve career success.

Growing up in Queens, N.Y., Smith recalled getting held back in the 3rd grade and again in the 4th grade for not reaching a high enough reading level. At the time, according to Smith, the kids in his neighborhood—each of whom he remembered by name—laughed at him.

From then on he vowed to never get laughed at again.

“That experienced of getting left behind stayed with me forever,” Smith said.

Smith attributed this moment to his steady work ethic, and harped further on this point by saying that the decisions you make could stay with you forever and cause a lasting impact.

Unafraid to talk about his respected fame and full bank account, it’s clear that Smith’s hard work has paid off. As well as being a co-host on First Take, Smith regularly appears on SportsCenter as an NBA analyst. He also currently hosts his own radio show on SiriusXM Radio and contributes as a featured columnist for ESPN New York.


“I’m brilliant because I know I’m not.”


Though Smith made his First Take co-host the brunt of many jokes, drawing laughs from the audience of sports fans, he also offered real and relevant nuggets of wisdom.

“I’m brilliant because I know I’m not,” Smith said.

As Smith recognized to be the case with his career, you must compete every single day.

Though as Smith acknowledged, do not do so in a corrupt or unethical way in order to get what you want—be successful in a healthy fashion.

Similarly, Smith emphasized employing a cutthroat mentality while competing and striving to get ahead in whatever field you desire to be successful in. Though you may think the person sitting next to you is a friend, said Smith, he or she is actually your competition. If you impede their path, they will cut your throat.

“You only think you have friends,” Smith said. “But you don’t.”

Smith also asserted that we must pay attention to everything going on around us.

According to Smith, all fields and disciplines are so intertwined, and for him the number of complex issues that have permeated through the sports world has demonstrated this.

Needing only to look at recent sports news, Smith highlighted ex-New Orleans Saints player Will Smith, who was shot and killed this week, and how his death is tied to police relations. He discussed the NFL’s welcoming of its first openly gay player, Michael Sam, and the domestic altercations of Greg Hardy, Ray Rice, and Adrian Peterson. These are all issues that have implications that go beyond the sports world and into corporate America.

Because these sorts of problems will soon be the problems facing today’s college students, Smith’s advice was to have a keen understanding America’s precarious state of affairs.

As it pertained to last night’s event, the entertaining and vivacious Smith appeased the appetite of the die-hard sports fans by providing a generous and lively hour of questions and answers. Much like you see from Smith’s personality on ESPN, he never failed to deliver sharp and sometimes polarizing opinions.

When asked to comment on who owns the better hairline, him or NBA superstar LeBron James, Smit answered himself.

“Because I’m 50…what’s his excuse?” Smith said.

Smith owned that he would consider the all-time home run record-holder and performance enhancing drug-user Barry Bonds a Hall of Famer. He also argued that college athletes should be paid, that the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls would defeat this year’s Golden State Warriors, and that the Boston Celtics’ Brad Stevens deserves to win the NBA Coach of the Year award.

But when he was asked if Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, Smith disappointed New England Patriots fans in attendance and engendered a collective, raucous applause from everyone else when he answered, “No.”

For all of Smith’s humor, he did offer a final piece of life wisdom: prioritize things.

“Ask yourself every morning when you wake up,” Smith said. “What’s important to you?”

Featured Image by Sarah Hodgens / Heights Staff