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Stephen A. Smith: ESPN personalities should stick to sports, not attack Donald Trump

Stephen A. Smith appears to be toeing the company line by stating reporters and talking heads like himself in the employ of ESPN are “stepping out of our lane” whenever they enter the political fray and criticize Donald Trump.

“Do I believe the President has been a bit juvenile in his behavior? Yes he has,” the “First Take” host said in a recent interview with Sporting News. “Having said that, it’s one thing to attack what he does, it’s an entirely different matter to attack him. When you attack him, then we are stepping out of our lane. We are a sports network. We have an obligation to wake up every day with the mindset that we not only speak for ourselves but we speak on behalf of the brand,” Smith said.

“It is not a brand that we own. It is a brand that employs us. It has entrusted us to represent it just as much as we care about representing ourselves. So with that in mind, we have to be cognizant of all those things.”

Smith doesn’t single out specifically but appears to be referencing two recent high-profile incidents involving ESPN personalities criticizing Trump.

In a controversy that reached all the way to the White House, “SportsCenter” host Jemele Hill was publicly reprimanded by the network after a September tweet in which she referred to Trump as a “white supremacist.” Trump called on ESPN to fire Hill in the wake of her comments.

The fallout from the Hill scandal ushered in an updated, more restrictive social media policy, which states in part: “Commentaries on relevant sports-related issues are appropriate, but we should refrain from overt partisanship or endorsement of particular candidates, politicians or political parties.”

And then just last week, ESPN newcomer Katie Nolan found herself embroiled in controversy after calling Trump a “(expletive stupid person” during an appearance on a late-night show. Nolan in the aftermath admitted to some regret to the scathing comment.

Smith believes the success of ESPN depends on personalities like himself remaining above the fray when it comes to taking public political stances.

“We’re a sports network. You become successful. You sustain a level of success by giving people what they expect. By, figuratively speaking, ‘playing the hits.’ Not deviating too far away from what people turn on the channel and tune in for you to hear,” Smith said. “As long as we remember those kinds of things, then it’s going to lend itself to us being successful as opposed to us losing our bearings because we get caught up in our emotions, and we do things that ultimately sacrifice the brand and ourselves just to react to something for 15 seconds or 15 minutes. We have to be smarter than that — even if the President doesn’t appear that way sometimes.”