Stephen A. Smith packs the ballroom at MTSU

Photo by Sarah Grace Taylor | Managing Editor

Stephen A. Smith, a sports journalist, radio host and TV personality, traveled to Murfreesboro for the first time to deliver the Black History Month keynote to nearly 800 people in MTSU’s Student Ballroom Wednesday night.

Smith and Skip Bayless (Dallas Times Herald) go toe-to-toe daily on ESPN2, while also being an NBA reporter for the media giant. Aside from being on First Take weekdays at 10 a.m., Smith also hosts the Stephen A. Smith Show on SiriusXM’s Mad Sports Radio.

Smith sat down with Sidelines to talk about his growth as a reporter and what young journalists should be striving for.

“Anytime I have an opportunity, particularly during Black History month, it’s something that resonates with me; it’s something that I’m going to take advantage of,” Smith said. “There’s a real world out there waiting for students of all colors, all ethnicities, and the reality is that everyone needs to know what they’re facing.”

Born in New York City, Smith grew up in Hollis, a section of Queens, and had a love for basketball. After earning a scholarship to play at Winston-Salem State University, Smith discovered a talent for sports writing.

“I worked my tail off. I was in school at Winston-Salem State on a basketball scholarship, taking 18 credit semester hours while also playing on the basketball team,” Smith said. “[My critical and persuasive writing teacher] was also the editorial page editor of the Winston-Salem Journal and he read my essays and was kind enough to say ‘you’re a born sports writer, let’s go out to lunch next week.’”

Smith said that interaction led to his first job with the Winston-Salem Journal and that he used every second he had to show what he could bring to the table.

“You got a lot of people that think about different opportunities,” Smith said. “Ultimately, you have to communicate and vibe and co-mingle with the real world. You can’t do it all by yourself.”

During his keynote, Smith discussed the college experience and what it means to take advantage of that, even when it’s scrutinized today as to whether it’s truly worth it.

“If you don’t know your value, you have minimal value,” Smith said. “I love being at the eye of the storm. Please, by all means bring it because when you stand for something, you have a mission. That’s what comes from it.”

Smith spoke openly about Black History month today and moving forward, and what’s changed over time.

“It’s different now because the excuses have been drastically minimized,” Smith said. “When we talk about black history, you can talk about W.E.B. Dubois and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but they would tell you no matter what trials we face today, how challenging it may be, it pales in comparison to what they had to go through.”

Smith continues to be one of the more outspoken voices when it comes to sports journalism, and he’s looked up to by many as being a voice for those who don’t have such a platform.

“This is an institute of higher learning…learn higher,” Smith said. “There is so much out there in the world. It’s yours.”

What you see is what you get with him. Smith carries his voice and speaks what he means, something aspiring journalists can learn from.

“Ain’t nothing worse than seeing an opportunity pass by,” Smith said. “Black history should now be about reminding you what your obligation is. Think about that and go for yours.”

Watch the full video of the interview above.

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To contact Sports Editor Connor Ulrey, email

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