Prominent ESPN sports journalist Stephen A. Smith imparted a dose of sobering advice Wednesday morning to University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff students gathered for the Youth Motivation Task Force Assembly.

Prominent ESPN sports journalist Stephen A. Smith imparted a dose of sobering advice Wednesday morning to University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff students gathered for the Youth Motivation Task Force Assembly.

Smith said that he was glad to be “home” in Pine Bluff but wasted no time in getting to the heart of his address, which paralleled the YMTF goal of ensuring that students understand what will be required of them in order to build a successful career.

“It’s good to be home today,” Smith said. “Any time I’m around my brothers and sisters I consider it home.

“Students, I’m not going to mince words,” Smith said. “I have news for you all. You don’t know much. You think you do, but you don’t. I am going to try to educate you about what is coming. People don’t often do enough of that with students. When they do, it is usually done with their arms draped around you and said in such a nice way.

“The nice approach doesn’t work,” Smith said. “You young people are always trying to get over. Now, I know this because I was the same way when I was a student. It doesn’t work. It will never work. It will always catch up with you.”

Smith told the students that his life was going well because he had gotten things figured out and warned them that the years they spend in college are critical to getting things figured out for themselves.

“My life is just fine,” Smith said. “I’ve done my thing and I’m still doing it. I fly out of here to go back on TV. I’m going to Los Angeles for the Heat and the Lakers.

“Places like here is where it all begins for you,” Smith said. “If you think times are hard now, just wait. The world doesn’t give a damn about you. It is not your friend. You will be stomped on and beat down when you look for shortcuts.”

Smith asked everyone in the Clemmons Arena to look at the people seated next to them.

“Not one of you in here has a single solitary friend next to you,” Smith said. “I’ll prove it to you. Ask your friend to pay your bills and see what they say. Everybody is on their own grind because everybody is about survival.

“When you go to church and pray do you say, ‘Bless them before me?’” Smith said.

Smith said that one-and-a-half years ago the national unemployment rate was 9.7 percent with between 14.5 million and 15.5 million people without jobs.

“You also had underemployment of approximately 27 million and a $15 trillion national deficit,” Smith said. “The picture doesn’t look pretty. I was on CNN with Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, a year ago and said, ‘Have you ever heard that when a white man sneezes a black man catches pneumonia?’ He couldn’t believe that I said that but I explained to him that unemployment for black people is double what it is for whites.

“I tell you this because you need to wake up,” Smith said. “This is not a game. If you don’t provide for your family who will? You are not just here to get good grades in English, math and science. You are also here to cultivate relationships and to network, to learn a skill for the real world and then to get paid for it.

“Do you know what the difference is between a job and a career?” Smith said. “A job is doing what you have to do to get paid so you can pay your bills. A career is doing what you want to do and that you happen to get paid for.”

Starting out

Smith said he attended Winston-Salem University on a basketball scholarship but suffered a broken kneecap that shattered his dreams of making it to the next level of play.

“I recovered and got my scholarship back but any dreams I had of taking it to the next level were over,” Smith said. “I had to go home for eight months of rehabilitation. My mother asked me what I was going to do with the rest of my life. ‘Did you really think you would just play basketball?’ she asked me. I hadn’t really thought about it.”

Smith said that he decided to try writing and that an essay he wrote caught the eye of his professor who was also on the staff of the Winston-Salem Journal.

“I ended up as a clerk with the newspaper and was soon asked to write a story on the Wake Forest soccer team,” Smith said. “The only thing I knew about soccer then was Pele from the 1980 Olympics. They were ranked third in the nation at the time.”

Smith said the coach of the team offered him three days of access to the team, including its practice sessions and as much interview time with players and the coach as he needed.

“It ended up being a two-page piece,” Smith said. “I was promoted to beat writer for the Wake Forest soccer team.”

Smith said the professor who was also with the Winston-Salem Journal, the editor of the paper and the coach of the Wake Forest soccer team were white.

“I point this out so that you will realize that there are a lot of people who you may initially think are impediments to your success who are actually willing to help you if you are willing to help yourself,” Smith said.

“You have a very bright future but that doesn’t mean you aren’t in trouble because you are in a whole lot of trouble,” Smith said. “People will want to stop you from succeeding because this is a capitalistic society and holding you back means elevating someone else. They are after you because of what you can do.

“God himself who loves you with everything that he has places obstacles before you to see how much you love him back,” Smith said. “If even God does this, what makes you think the society he created will not do the same thing? It’s logical.”

Not always racism

Smith advised the students that racism is not as prevalent as it used to be and as a result, they need to be mindful that all things that affect them negatively cannot be blamed on the racial attitudes of others.

“There are a number of good, decent, God-fearing people who are not African-American who want to help you,” Smith said. “Indeed, you need to judge people by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin. People may not be racist, they just might not like you. If you have a white coach and he has a problem with you it may not be because you are black but because you showed up late to practice 85 times. That is a true story.


“You may say ‘the man’ is out to get you but it was your boys who spent $100 million of your money,” Smith said. “You have 14 dudes on your [football] team who were arrested and you blame the NFL commissioner for having too much power? The NFL generated $9.3 billion last year. These players need to understand that companies who pay millions to advertise with the NFL don’t want their product to be associated with anyone who is lacking in character. It’s not just about playing football but your character before you get onto the field and after you leave the field.

“The NBA lockout cost $300 million,” Smith said. “Some of the players are still mad at me about the stance I took. I’ll tell you when I start caring. We are in a recession with people getting their houses foreclosed and losing their jobs and we have a league that is 75 percent black arguing over billions of dollars. You have to be aware of the climate that you operate within.

“I am sick and tired of everybody not understanding business especially in our community,” Smith said. “I believe that President Obama has his heart in the right place but if he doesn’t start to improve this economy and start creating some jobs I can tell you he won’t get my vote.

What you need to hear

“I’m not your friend, I’m your family,” Smith said. “Family doesn’t tell you what you want to hear. Family tells you what you need to hear. So much is asked of you, but what you don’t realize is how much you have to lose. If you blow the opportunities that you are given, it will take a while to recover from that if ever. You can overcome anything if you are focused. People come at you every day. They come at me. I’ve come to enjoy it. I enjoy the competition.

“I’m going to get mine, are you going to get yours?” Smith asked the audience. “Nothing makes me prouder than the fact that I make my momma proud. I’m 44 and it’s still just beginning. So if it’s just beginning for me, you know you have a long way to go. Annihilate your competition. Do it in a nonmalicious manner but effectively annihilate your competition. Be on top of your game.”

Youth Motivation Task Force

The YMTF began in the 1960s as a component of the National Alliance of Business and is geared toward motivating minority students to excel to the best of their abilities and to encourage them to look at career options other than teaching and general liberal arts.

The YMTF committee at UAPB established the 2012 event under the banner of “Power Up! Your Response-Ability” with special emphasis placed on helping students realize what their role is as they move forward with making decisions about their careers.