Fans of Stephen A. Smith are happy when they hear him shouting “blasphemous” or calling Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers a “baaaaaad man” on ESPN's "First Take."
Smith's assertive and sometimes brash TV persona doesn't reveal how strongly he believes in giving back to his roots and paying it forward by helping the next generation. He knows without a helping hand and opportunity, he might never have become "Stephen A.," seen by millions of viewers on ESPN.
On Friday, Smith and "First Take" co-host Molly Qerim, will return to Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week for its second on-site show from the college fair event near Orlando, Florida, airing from 9-11 a.m. CT.
The event provides opportunities for on-the-spot acceptance by the colleges and scholarship options. Since 2017, more than 3,500 on-the-spot acceptances have occurred and more than $23 million in scholarships have been offered.
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Smith has roots with an HBCU. More than 30 years ago, Smith was attending a junior college but desired to play college basketball. A friend arranged a tryout with Winston-Salem State University and Hall of Fame coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines. During the tryout, Smith hit 17 jump shots in a row and was offered a scholarship on the spot.
“I have never made 17 shots in a row or since,” Smith told the Clarion-Ledger. "As a proud graduate of an HBCU, Winston-Salem State University, 1991, and being their HBCU Week Ambassador since 2019,I’m extremely grateful to ESPN and the 'First Take' crew for assisting me in promoting the academic excellence of HBCUs along with providing scholarship opportunities.”
Smith said nobody has done more than Deion Sanders for HBCUs. Sanders, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, brought his high profile to the HBCU institutions and community when he was named football coach at Jackson State University in 2020. Sanders' presence has prompted the sports world - the NFL and networks and more - to take notice of the HBCUs.
“I am very proud of him and what he has done for that school (Jackson State) and what he has done for HBCUs," Smith said of Sanders.
Smith said he is happy Sanders is coaching at an HBCU school but upset Sanders was passed over for the coaching job at his alma mater, Florida State, in 2020. The school hired Mike Norvell from Memphis.
“I think they are utter fools and I think they should be recognized as such," Smith said of the administration at Florida State. "There is no excuse why Sanders should not be the head coach at Florida State right now. The recruiting would be off the chart. It is their (FSU) loss, but it is our (HBCUs) gain.”
Smith said Sanders could have continued to be on TV every day in his role as an NFL analyst, but he is passionate about coaching kids in high school and college.
“He’s being lauded and praised not because he is winning football games,” Smith said. “The impact of what he does at HBCUs community and what he means to the HBCUs, he’s a difference-maker and a pioneer. I tell you this, no matter what you think of him as a coach, it is nothing compared to what he is as a man.
“He's one of the greatest men I have ever known. ... I talk to him all the time. I am not ashamed to tell anyone that I ask for his advice on occasions, not only because I love him, and respect him, but I trust him. He’s my brother.”
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith on Jackson State football coach Deion Sanders