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Stephen A. Smith Giving Back To His Alma Matter

Jason Barrett

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Stephen A. Smith — yes, that Stephen A. Smith — doesn’t mind talking about what Winston-Salem State means to him.

Smith, the often-polarizing ESPN commentator and a man with 2.5 million followers on Twitter, rarely mentions WSSU on his national show, but he hasn’t forgotten his alma mater.

“Without Big House Gaines and Winston-Salem State, who knows where I’d be?” he said in a telephone interview last week.

Smith attended WSSU on a basketball scholarship in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“I tried to play for coach Gaines, I just couldn’t after I got hurt,” said Smith, referring to an injury-riddled career that included a cracked kneecap that forced him to miss a semester because of the recovery time. “I can’t say enough about that school and what it did for me and especially the late coach Gaines and all of those professors of mine.”

Smith absorbs daily hits on social media for opinions he voices. But as a former thick-skinned sportswriter, he can take it.

He also has been criticized for not doing enough for his alma mater, but he’s trying to rectify that.

Smith, 48, will be in Winston-Salem on Saturday as the main speaker for a fundraising breakfast at the Embassy Suites.

The program, called “Bond, Score, Win,” is an effort to raise money for men’s athletics scholarships at WSSU, and school officials hope to bring in as much as $40,000.

James Dubose, WSSU’s director of corporate sponsorship and fundraising, was the point man in securing Smith, who is flying in on his own dime and paying his own expenses.

“We’ve been communicating a lot through the last three months, and he’s excited,” Dubose said. “This is a big deal for us, and when it comes to fundraising for scholarships, I have this crazy idea that one day we can do enough where every athlete on our campus has a full scholarship.”

That might seem like a crazy idea for a Division II school, but with WSSU’s tradition and large alumni base, it might not be that crazy. Having Smith involved is a good start.

“When I heard what the premise was about and how it raises money for athletes, it was a no-brainer to help them out,” said Smith, a 1991 graduate of WSSU and a member of the Big House Gaines Hall of Fame for service to the university.

Smith will talk about his time at WSSU and about his early years in media. He worked at the Winston-Salem Journal as a part-time sports clerk, answering phones while he was still a student.

One of Smith’s instructors at WSSU was John Gates, also an editorial-page writer for the Journal.

Smith said Gates invited him to lunch one day. Although it wasn’t actually a lunch.

“Instead, (Gates) takes me into the Journal offices, and I meet the sports editor, Terry Oberle, and he gave me a job as a clerk,” Smith said.

Smith said that about two months later Oberle assigned him his first feature story, on the Wake Forest soccer team.

“So I go over to Wake not knowing a thing about soccer, but the coach at the time, Walt Chyzowych, took me aside, and we talked,” Smith said. “I told him I didn’t know anything about soccer other than seeing Pele play. And he was so nice to me and called the team over and told them to give me anything I needed so I could learn the game. I spent three days with them and learned a lot.”

Smith wrote a long feature story and said Oberle gave his approval.

“That meant a lot to me,” he said of that pat on the back. “It was my start in the business as far as I’m concerned.”

After graduation, Smith worked at the Greensboro News & Record’s High Point bureau, lived in Archdale and said he made $15,000 a year.

“I lived in a small place and survived on tuna fish and Kool-Aid,” he said with a laugh.

Smith, who was born and raised in New York City, also found time to send clips of his articles to the New York Daily News, with the hope of moving back up north to be a full-time sportswriter. He eventually landed a job with the Daily News, then later moved to the Philadelphia Inquirer and became an award-winning columnist.

Smith started working for CNN/SI in the mid-1990s and was an NBA insider before getting more into TV work at Fox Sports. He eventually landed at ESPN and hit gold with good friend Skip Bayless and their debate-style show “First Take.” Smith and Bayless have battled each other on air since April 2012.

“He’s just different than me, and that’s what makes the show,” Smith said.

Smith said returning to Winston-Salem, even if it’s for less than 24 hours, will be good.

“Coach Gaines would always preach to us about giving back, and he always said, ‘Nobody owes you anything,’” Smith said. “He used to tell us that every day. If you want to do something in this world, you have to work for it.”

To read the rest of this article visit the Winston-Salem Journal where it was originally published

Sports TV News

Rece Davis Believes Final Regular Season College GameDay Show Typically Most Hectic Due to Coaching Changes

“There were so many coaching changes and decisions, and we’re getting people on the phone. That was before everybody got comfortable with FaceTime.”

Jordan Bondurant

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Rece Davis

College GameDay was in Columbus this past weekend ahead of Ohio State’s annual rivalry game against Michigan, and host Rece Davis said a number of head coaching announcements throughout the show made for some pretty chaotic moments.

Luke Fickell being named the new head coach at Wisconsin and former Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule being hired at Nebraska were among the marquee hirings announced over the weekend.

On the College GameDay Podcast, Davis said trying to get information confirmed and incorporated into the show in real time was exhilarating.

“It was a bizarre, fun show that we’ve had over the years when we’ve gone to Ohio State/Michigan,” he said. “I remember the ’16 year that we extended the show to five hours. It was really fun, and then a really great game followed it. And there were so many coaching changes and decisions, and we’re getting people on the phone. That was before everybody got comfortable with FaceTime. But there were a lot of bizarre things going on.”

Podcast co-host and senior college football reporter Pete Thamel echoed Davis’ sentiments, saying he would do a hit on the show, then take out his earpiece and immediately get back on the phone to work on getting the most up to date information.

“It was whoa,” he said. “We did the first segment…and normally I would’ve stayed and watched to see what the guys had to say, but I just walked off the stage and went back and started making calls.”

In addition to the Wisconsin and Nebraska hirings, Thamel was also working on trying to figure out the situation at Auburn. He helped get Rhule on the show as well, and he said it was cool the show’s team was able to book guests so quickly from different locations in the country.

“We literally went coast to coast on GameDay with good interviews on Saturday,” he said.

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Sports TV News

Disney CEO Bob Iger: Company Will Chase Profitability Over Growing Subscriber Base

“We have to start chasing profitability. It will be demanded of us.”

Jordan Bondurant

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Change is abound at Disney, but it’s welcomed change. CEO Bob Iger, who was announced as the replacement for Bob Chapek last week, said his goal is to help get the company’s financial ship righted.

“We have to start chasing profitability,” Iger told employees and executives at a town hall. “It will be demanded of us.”

Iger announced one of his first moves in returning to the CEO role was to shake up its digital media and entertainment distribution division. That branch of the company oversees its streaming services like Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+. Disney+ boasts tens of millions of subscribers, and Chapek focused heavily on reaching as many people as possible.

But Disney stock price has shrunk sharply over the course of the last year, and there have been other areas of the company in which there has been discourse. There was some belief that Disney could be up for sale.

Iger hopes things at the company can be turned around in due course, but he made one thing for certain: Disney and its properties are not for sale.

“Nothing is forever, but I’m very comfortable with the set of assets that we have,” he said. “I think they can serve our company, don’t expect any headlines soon about deals.”

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Sports TV News

YES Network Considering Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly for Analyst Roles

“I have something else burning fairly hot right now,” Mattingly said. “Depends how that goes.”

Jordan Bondurant

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Could Yankees fans see and hear from two of the franchise’s most beloved former players on TV next season? It’s not out of the realm of possibility. The New York Post reported Monday the team’s YES Network appeared to have an interest in bringing in Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly.

But according to the network’s president of programming and production John Filippelli, it’s all speculative at this point.

“We haven’t had any in-depth discussion with either,” he told Andrew Marchand. “If they are A) available and B) interested, you probably at least have to have a conversation.”

Marchand reached out to Mattingly, who finished his run as manager of the Miami Marlins at the end of the 2022 season, and the former Dodgers manager seemed to indicate that there is another potential opportunity in the works.

“I have something else burning fairly hot right now,” Mattingly said. “Depends how that goes.”

Jeter will likely be a hard sell on getting into the booth. The understanding is the legendary former shortstop doesn’t have a big interest in getting into broadcasting like his former teammate Alex Rodriguez.

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