A few years ago, my long-time acquaintance Emmitt Smith was kind enough to make yet another guest appearance on my radio show. I asked him for his thoughts on the kid who’d be starting at quarterback that Sunday for his Cowboys.
“Oh, I have a lot of faith,’’ Emmitt declared, “in Clint. … Sternum.’’
And thus was revealed a fact about Emmitt – a fact I’d known for a decade previous – that the rest of the football world now learns on a weekly basis: Emmitt Smith has no business being in network broadcasting.
No business. And it doesn’t seem he’s having much pleasure in it, either.
Emmitt, in his first year in the high-profile position as an NFL analyst on ESPN, isn’t just “a little in over his head,’’ or “a little raw’’ or“a little unpolished.’’ It’s more simple that that: He’s no more qualified to do this job that he is to be an astronaut or a heart surgeon or the president of Iraq (though Emmitt’s close on that last one).
What does it take to do that job well? Let’s come up with a top 10 list of qualifications: Eloquence. Humor. Inate intelligence. Intense study. Research. Quick-wittedness. Journalism skills. Credibility. Warmth. Stardom.
What’s Emmitt batting? Maybe 3-outta-10, at best?
Emmitt’s Florida accent is off-putting, his inability to properly conjugate verbs is insulting, and his malaprops are already legendary. The internets loves it some “A leopard can’t change its stripes,’’ an Emmitt statement that probably belongs on a bumper sticker. But if a guy is saddled with those problems, he must overcome them by at least being accurate, or smooth, or lovable, or studied. (See John Madden, hardly a matinee idol or a classic anchorman-type.)
Instead, in the opening weeks of this NFL season, Emmitt has botched his baptism by uttering nonsense such as:
·Nominating the Chargers as “the NFL’s worst winless team’’ even though at the time San Diego wasn’t winless.
·Doing a featurette on the Patriots’ running backs but failing to know the name of Sammy Morris, the second guy in the New England rotation (and, a product of Texas Tech, right in Emmitt’s backyard. Passionate football fans in DFW know who Sammie Morris is).
·Announcing that injured Texan running back Ahman Green would be playing in a Sunday game. This, despite the fact that 15 minutes earlier, Houston had publically declared him inactive.
·Saying the coach who had Dallas fired up to play in Buffalo was “Bill Parcells.’’ (Yes, he said that THIS season.)
·Lending insight into the play of the Jacksonville defensive line by praising “Marco Strauss.’’ (It’s “Marcus Stroud,’’ actually. But if Emmitt didn’t know the name of teammate Clint Stoerner, how’s he supposed to know some lineman guy from Jacksonville?)
·Noting before the Pats-Dallas game that the Cowboys “are not that deep in depth.’’
·Butchering one of the most beloved sports quotes of all time by saying that “Jimmy Valvano’’ used to say “don’t quit!’’ (There is likely not another sports-crazed ESPN employee in all of Bristol, Conn., who doesn’t know the correct seven words by heart.)
·Referring to the New England Patriots as an excellent “golf club.’’ (Almost certainly a Freudian slip that reveals what sport Emmitt is actually focused on.)
All that, and you know, it was only Week 6.
“The Worldwide Leader’’ has done Emmitt no favors, propping him up in front of the cameras and marrying his lack of talent with a lack of training and a lack of support. How about giving the poor guy cue cards? A teleprompter? An extremely structured role in which he’d be less buffoonish? A researcher to help him with the homework he quite obviously is not doing on his own?
When Emmitt won the competition on year three of “Dancing With The Stars,’’ he topped a vastly more skilled performer/dancer in Mario Lopez. Emmitt accomplished that because fans took to his “teddy-bearish’’ countenance. It was all very reminiscent of the way Emmitt was protected during his Cowboys playing career. That shoulder injury in New York? Instantly overblown into mythology. The “White House’’ stuff? Even though all of the “guilty guys’’ were Emmitt’s best friends, he somehow avoided being soiled. His marriage to the lovely Pat? She’s the ex-wife of the deranged Martin Lawrence; you don’t think there might be a story to be written about Christmas with the Smith/Lawrence families? Motivated by friendship or by investment, Irvin and Jimmy and Jerry and others always guarded Smith like he was Fort Knox. Which, as an athlete, he was.
Intense Cowboys fans will remember the one chink in his armor that the Cowboys ever allowed to slip out. Avuncular assistant Joe Brodsky once noted that Emmitt was something less than devoted to work in the weight room. Emmitt freaked. … and the story went away.
Maybe Emmitt worked harder at “Dancing With The Stars’’ than he did in the Valley Ranch weight room. (And surely he worked harder at dancing than he does at broadcasting.) ABC used his “Dancing’’ charm, corporate sister ESPN wanted a piece of it, and according to the entertainment/gossip website TMZ.com, Hollywood was buzzing in the summer of 2006 about Emmitt being “the next Regis Philbin’’ and about giving him his own TV talk show.
Can you imagine Emmitt trying to do Oprah’s job when he cannot even do Keyshawn Johnson’s?
Some football players make very natural transitions into the media. Jackson, who I covered as a player when we were both in Denver, has morphed so completely that younger fans probably don’t even know he used to play (shades of Summerall and Madden). Daryl Johnston is in the process of doing the same.
Other guys who seemed funny in the locker room simply do not translate to TV. Fox inexplicably continues to feature Tony Siragusa, who once played a prank while on camera on “Hard Knocks’’ and now seems to have the network convinced he’s the second coming of Jackie Gleason.
And then there’s Emmitt, who as a player – and I can say this as someone who has probably interviewed him as often as any writer on the planet -- was never insightful and never funny. He was never insightful like Jackson and Johnston were. He was never funny like Siragusa or Nate Newton. Emmitt was usually nice. Sometimes intense. But future network-broadcaster potential? Never.
Back in July, ESPN should’ve known what it was getting itself into. In an off-the-cuff interview on ESPNews, Smith took up for Michael Vick, attempting to lend insight into how the legal system works.
“He’s the biggest fish in the whole doggone pond right now,’’ Emmitt said, stumbling through both the dictionary and the animal kingdom. “So they’re putting the squeeze on him to get to everyone else.
“Now granted,’’ continued Emmitt, again without someone from ESPN standing nearby to pull his plug, “he might have been to a dogfight a time or two, maybe five times, maybe 20 times, may have bet some money. But he’s not the one you’re after. He’s just the one who is going to take the fall publicly.’’
Yikes. It was legal nonsense. It was football nonsense. It was logical nonsense. And it was nonsense in terms of journalism, communication and broadcasting. This is the guy who was on the precipice of being a crown prince of NFL media?
How did ESPN not see this? Why does ESPN continue to let America see this? Heck, even for a million bucks a year, why does Emmitt continue this self-torturing slow drip? (Maybe, like Jim Valvano actually said, Emmitt tells himself, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.’’)
Like I say, I knew. As much as I like Emmitt personally, I knew five, 10, 15 years ago, that it would be like this. Because Emmitt has always been like this. Because, like Emmitt would say, “A leopard can’t change its stripes.’’
... written by jimmy , October 29, 2007
I can't image what Mike would write if he didn't personally like Emmitt.
... written by coby , October 29, 2007
Emmitt- see 'rock', dumb as a...
... written by john k. , October 29, 2007
Emmitt ain't no dumnber than Kobe or is it Co-Bee.
... written by Shay , October 31, 2007
Don't understand the Kobe comment; he speaks very well. I've heard Kobe is fluent in French. Even so, he speaks English much better than Emmitt. I wonder what excuse ESPN will use when they don't renew his contract.
... written by tom madrzykowski , November 01, 2007
Although I"m not much of a cowboys fan (although they are making it easy to jump on the bandwagon) I am definetely an Emmit Smith fan, I think this article is mean spirited. I watched Emmit on Dancing with the stars not because I thought that he was a teddy bear, but rather how a retired running back could handle something that diverse from any previous experience he has had. Emmitt, SCREW THESE GUYS AND THEIR BULLCRAP< I'M PROUD OF YOU