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Stephen A. Smith Slams Caitlin Clark Detractors, Tells Those Discussing Her Race to ‘Grow Up’ (Exclusive)

Stephen A Smith Slams Those Bringing Race Into Caitlin Clark Narrative
Stephen A. Smith and Caitlin Clark WireImage; Getty Images

Stephen A. Smith knows a thing or two about stirring up debate, but when it comes to the success of Caitlin Clark, he’s not taking the bait.

In an exclusive interview with Us Weekly, the cohost of ESPN’s First Take, 56 — who appears in the ESPN+ docuseries Up for Debate, available to stream now — pushed back at the notion that the popularity of Clark, 22, is intrinsically tied to her race.

“I think, as a society, we have to grow up,” Smith said. “Race is always a component we can’t ignore, but it doesn’t always have to be negative. When you look at Caitlin Clark — yes, she’s white, and yes, she’s getting a level of shine that others before her didn’t get who happened to be Black and they were terrific players — but that’s an indictment against society.”

After Clark made her highly anticipated WNBA debut with the Indiana Fever on May 14, former ESPN anchor Jemele Hill told the Los Angeles Times that Clark’s race has “played a role in her popularity,” calling the fanfare surrounding her “a little problematic.” 

The View’s Sunny Hostin shared a similar sentiment on Wednesday, May 22, citing Clark’s “white privilege.”

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Conversely, Smith argued the media has done “a great job” in covering Clark’s undeniable impact on women’s basketball.

Stephen A Smith Slams Those Bringing Race Into Caitlin Clark Narrative 2
Caitlin Clark ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

“The media is going to go where the story is,” Smith said. “Caitlin Clark has done a phenomenal job turning herself into a story. She happens to be white, but also happens to be a terrific basketball player, a terrific person with terrific family background with terrific marketability assets.”

Smith also praised Clark’s activism and outspokenness about the inequalities facing the WNBA.

“She uses it as an opportunity to bring attention to the fact that the ladies don’t have charter flights. Two days later, they got charter flights,” Smith noted. “They wanted charter flights for 22 years and this girl comes in and in two days gets it done for them. When you’re conscientious and your heart is in the right place, I think that’s a beautiful thing.”

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In the new docuseries Up for Debate, which explores the past, present and future of sports debate, Smith addresses his particular brand of fiery commentary — and why it doesn’t always paint an accurate picture of who he is when the cameras go down.

“I don’t want to make enemies. Don’t tell anybody, but I’m not a bad guy,” Smith said. “I’m actually a nice guy. I got a lot of friends. I got a lot of loved ones.”

Still, Smith acknowledged, “I don’t spend too much time trying to pretend that something is what it is not. I’ve always been that way. I knew I was going to be that way in this industry. I’ve been that way, and damn it, I’m gonna stay that way.”

All three episodes of Up for Debate are available to stream now on ESPN+.

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