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Screamin' at the Machine | The Nation

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Screamin' at the Machine

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Anytime someone in the aggressively apolitical wide world of sports rages against the injustices of the day, it's welcome. Even when the voice belongs to Stephen A. Smith, best known as the bombastic host of the ESPN2 television program Quite Frankly. When he is not playing the role of "Screamin' A. Smith" on television, Smith is the lead sports columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Dave Zirin
Dave Zirin
Dave Zirin, The Nation’s sports correspondent, is the author, most recently, of Game Over: How Politics Has...

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The beach is supposed to be a refuge for the children of Gaza. Now it is the scene of a war crime.

His writing skills are sharper than Dikembe's elbows, and his ability to forge relationships with players is exemplary. But then there is that voice. That hyper-caffeinated, volume-eleven foghorn of Stephen A. always has me peering up for an incoming grenade. It is like listening to Chris Rock, without the jokes. Maybe that voice is all too fitting for a sports world blown totally out of proportion. Maybe the "Screamin' A." way is the future and young announcers will start dropping steroid-soaked throat lozenges. Maybe I'll now Van Gogh my ears.

So imagine my shock after seeing Stephen A. on a recent CNN Live Event Special debating the future of the Middle East, oil consumption, the war in Iraq, energy alternatives and other issues. The shock was not that Stephen A. could hold his own. It's that his voice of perpetual disgust and alarm seemed oddly appropriate and satisfying when discussing US foreign policy. Stephen A. was joined by a pedestrian group of yipping talk-radio heads, but he was the only one from the world of sports. Here is an edited play-by-play of Stephen A.'s CNN smackdown:

The complete transcript reads like a Jackson Pollock painting.

Stephen A. started slow: "[When] we're looking at the Bush Administration--and I'm not casting aspersions on them--saying we know definitely they lied about this that or the other. I'm saying that's the appearance that it gives, so you don't trust the leadership that is telling you."

But he got in touch with his inner Iverson when he took on racial profiling of Arabs and Muslims. Radio America's Ben Ferguson, whom I have never heard of but who seems to be to the right of Attila the Hun, said, "We're so worried about being politically correct, we don't want to offend anyone, and say we're going back to the '60s or '50s or whatever it may be, because that's what people say. If you profile people, you're being racist. No, I'm racist towards terrorists and if you fit the profile of a terrorist, then I don't like you."

Stephen A. was the only panelist to stand up to this racist garbage: "What's the profile of a terrorist?... Hold on, now. Let's be clear about something. When you talk about Timothy McVeigh or what have you, in Oklahoma City, he didn't fit the profile."

Ferguson responded: "But I think most Americans admit, when you get on a plane--be honest--you know exactly who makes you nervous when you get on a plane.... Do they not all look the same?... The people that did 9/11, people that did the Madrid? Do they not all fit--"

Smith shut him down: "But that's bigotry."

As the subject turned to Iraq and Afghanistan, you could see Stephen A. start to muscle-twitch, getting in that comfort zone. Ferguson, whom Stephen A. was starting to treat like Vince Carter treated Frederic Weis when he dunked on his head at the 2000 Olympics, said, "If you got a problem, you can either witch about it, or you can fix it."

"So, 100,000 lives have been lost. What's your definition of fixing the problem?" Stephen A responded. And after the conversation took a few more turns, he said, "There's plenty of people--I'm telling you right now, you know how many soldiers I run into, American soldiers--American soldiers--who we unequivocally support, and they say we have no business over there. Most of those people don't even want to be over there. They actually say that."

At the end Screamin' A. truly emerged to give his view of the current political climate in the United States. "I think moderation will kick in, but only after America continues to burn. I think America's burning as we speak and anything that's burning ultimately [changes] form."

This is time that we should be cheering at sports events and screaming at politicians. But these days, it's vice versa. After hearing Stephen A. rage against the political machine, I found myself wishing his daily platform were in politics and not sports. Maybe we can trade him for former ESPN employee Rush Limbaugh. It would be tough to endure Limbaugh on Sportscenter, but it would be worth it.

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