Stephen A. Smith really can’t state an opinion without making it about race.
The host of “First Take” discussed the story surrounding Boston Celtics head coach Ime Udoka on Thursday's edition of the show. Udoka was suspended by the Celtics for the 2022-23 season for having a relationship with a female employee within the organization (her name has not yet been revealed). The relationship was consensual, but still an egregious violation of team policy.
Smith went on air Thursday morning and spent nine minutes discussing this event (the full video is below), saying that he believes the Celtics botched the handling of the situation by revealing some of the details on why he was suspended.
“The issue I have with the Boston Celtics is that if you’re firing him, you wouldn’t tell us why, so if you’re going to retain him, why let us know now?” Smith said. “Why do we know this stuff? Why is he going to be suspended, but you’re leaking this stuff out? You either keep him, or you let him go. But what you don’t do is keep him and in the same breath disseminate information about a clear personal matter.”
The credibility of Smith’s take is questionable. If you’re going to suspend a coach for an entire year, especially a coach that led a team to the NBA Finals the year before, shouldn’t the public have some idea as to why, regardless of if you fire him or decided to simply suspend him?
When I first saw the video, I was willing to give Stephen A. the benefit of the doubt. He had an opinion on how the Celtics should have handled the situation.
And he almost voiced his thoughts without making it about anything else besides the event. But Smith just couldn’t help himself, and at the end of his monologue stated that white people in sports organizations are protected from the criticism Udoka is deservedly getting.
“I’m going to take it a step further. I don’t appreciate that being done to a brother because I got news for you, America, there’s plenty of white folks in professional sports that’s doing their thing, and I say that not complimentary,” Smith said. “I don’t see the information out about them. Why are we talking about this now?”
First of all, white people are punished if they violate team policy or create a toxic environment; just look at what’s happened to Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver in the past few days.
Second, Smith’s half-baked accusation that white people aren’t held accountable for their actions is no excuse for Udoka to not have to face public scrutiny for what happened. If the head coach for one of the most iconic sports franchises in North America has sex with a woman in the organization in a way that violates the team’s policy, people are going to talk - and they darn well should. The skin color of the coach holds no bearing on whether or not it's a worthwhile news story, and a white coach who was in Udoka’s position would have been criticized just as heavily.
Third: unless Smith can name a white Celtics employee who did the same thing as Udoka and wasn't punished, he cannot possibly draw any conclusions regarding race.
Stephen A. was so close to having a measured take on a big issue in sports. But in the end, he couldn’t resist the temptation to race-bait.