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Stephen A. Smith: ‘Shannon Sharpe is on Another Level’ on ESPN ‘First Take’

Earlier in the week, ESPN announced that it signed Shannon Sharpe to a multiyear contract extension in which he will continue his appearances on First Take and also contribute to other ESPN programming. The announcement was made on Tuesday’s edition of First Take, during which Sharpe expressed his gratitude for his colleagues at ESPN and Stephen A. Smith for believing in him after his exit from Undisputed on FS1. Smith and First Take host Molly Qerim conveyed their appreciation for Sharpe on the air and congratulated him on the new contract before beginning the first debate of the program.

On the latest edition of his independent podcast, The Stephen A. Smith Show, Smith took time to recognize Sharpe and exhibit plaudits for his contribution to First Take. Since the departure of co-host Max Kellerman from the morning television show in September 2021, the program has utilized a rotation of panelists that debate Smith on a variety of topics throughout the show. The program recently attained its 22nd consecutive month of year-over-year growth and garnered record-setting viewership in the month of May.

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“You know, none of us win alone. We win together,” Smith said. “I don’t give a damn who you see in front of the camera or who you see in front of the microphone. There’s producers and writers and everybody else in-between behind the scenes that make things happen for me that I always owe a debt of gratitude towards as well, and the same is applicable to [Shannon Sharpe]. But clearly with me being the face of First Take and what have you, I’m never shy about spreading the wealth and sharing it because it’s well deserved.”

Smith mentioned several of the commentators who appear across episodes of First Take, including Ryan Clark, Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo, Mina Kimes, Jay Williams and Andraya Carter, along with show host Molly Qerim. Throughout the year, the program features additional members of ESPN as well to provide their insights and expertise pertaining to a variety of different topics within the world of sports.

“…[T]here’s so many people that do such great work for the show, but Shannon Sharpe is on another level,” Smith explained. “What he’s done for the show, what he’s done for me, I can’t say enough about.”

Sharpe began appearing on ESPN’s First Take last August while also signing a partnership with The Volume to bring his podcast, Club Shay Shay, to the digital media outlet. During his time with ESPN and First Take, he has frequently appeared on Monday and Tuesday editions of the show, along with several special on-site broadcasts. Within the deal with The Volume, the company implemented Sharpe’s media venture, Shay Shay Media in content and formulating new programming, such as the Nightcap podcast featuring Sharpe and co-hosts Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson and Gilbert Arenas.

“I don’t deserve a whole bunch of props for bringing Shannon Sharpe on board,” Smith said. “Shannon Sharpe came on board because Shannon Sharpe was an asset that I knew would work tremendously well for First Take. His gifts, his skillset, his hard work, his dedication and all of the stuff that came with it is what earned that opportunity.”

Smith articulated that Sharpe has never appeared on the program with any shortage of energy, passion, knowledge or commitment. Earlier in the segment, he addressed people who questioned why Smith mentioned that Sharpe was pushed out of FS1, replying by asking if it had occurred to them that he wanted him to discuss the topic. Sharpe worked with Skip Bayless from the start of Undisputed in 2016 until his departure last June, and the program has since relaunched featuring a rotation of commentators including Keyshawn Johnson, Michael Irvin and Richard Sherman.

Smith delineated that Sharpe has been an exemplary colleague throughout his time on First Take and has had to overcome several obstacles to reach this point, some of which include a speech impediment, being a Black man and having issues with public speaking. A recent profile of Sharpe by The Hollywood Reporter mentioned difficulties that Sharpe has had to combat throughout his life and how he has found ways to thrive in sports media following a successful professional football career. Smith read the article and asked the audience to think about what he had to go through before divulging what it is that Sharpe wants to receive from those in the business.

“I’ve told everybody that has asked me about my relationship with Shannon Sharpe, ‘Respect the man,’” Smith said. “All he cares about is that you respect him. Don’t disrespect him. Respect him for what he does. That’s it.”

Smith said that Sharpe knows he has respect for him, attributing it to part of the reason why their friendship has grown. Additionally, he communicated that Sharpe has never bothered anyone and is not asking people for friendship or to be a family member, but rather to simply demonstrate respect towards him. The segment then concluded with Smith offering his congratulations for Sharpe receiving the contract extension and continuing to work with him on the show.

“He deserves every penny and every nugget of investment that ESPN has agreed to place in him, so I just wanted to say that and I’m just happy for him and happy he’s going to be a part of the team for years to come,” Smith said. “He deserves it – he really, really does. My man, Club Shay Shay in the house. Congrats big boy, well deserved.”

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