Our July cover story took us to Ocean City, NJ for a fun and inspiring day at the beach as well as insight to the fundamentals of life. Marty Smith, ESPN's Broadcaster/Journalist is someone who breaks down the game, brings his enthusiasm for the love of sport and is always exchanging energy with those on set as well as those that are off. As someone who began his time at the network covering NASCAR, he has grown into a number of areas which include: SportsCenter, College GameDay, this fall's SEC Nation as a host, and the successful Marty & McGee. This interview not only includes Marty's journey to the successes that he currently enjoys, but also lets you reflect about what happens when you believe in your self, honor those that came before, acknowledge where you came from, and allow yourself to engage in powerful progression that you may not have planned for yourself!
ATHLEISURE MAG: What was the moment that you knew that you fell in love with sports?
MARTY SMITH: I would have to say I was a young boy and my father, he was infatuated with the Pittsburgh Steelers, back in the Steel Curtain days of Joe Green, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and those immortal – immortal Steelers teams, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth and all those guys. So, I was a little boy and I would sit with my daddy and watch the Steelers and my momma used to say that even as a four year old, I would be like, “that was a hold,” or “that was a clip,” and I’d call out penalties before the flags were thrown and what not. That’s when I kind of knew – the way that it felt just being in my father’s aura that way. I grew up in a small farming community in the Southwestern part of Virginia and all we had was ball. We played everything and there was no sitting inside. My parents were like, “get your ass outside and do something and don't come back until dark," and so football, basketball, baseball-and I loved to compete. To this very second, I love to compete. That feeling of competition and that feeling of grinding your way to noticeable improvement against competition is something that’s intoxicated me forever. So I knew real young that I was going to be a sports guy.
AM: So can you share with us your sports background – what you played and how far you went?
MS: From four years old through my Freshman year of college, I was an athlete and I started with baseball as a little Pee Wee League guy and then when I was in 4th grade, I started playing Pop Warner Football. The same year, I started playing Little League Basketball so from 4th grade all the way through my Senior year of high school, I played all 3 of those sports and I played all year around. I played football from August until the winter time – December. From December until March or April, I played basketball and then I played baseball for my school teams until school was over or the season was over, and then I played either Rec League Baseball or American Legion Baseball all the way through the summer. And then we did football again. So, I never stopped playing ball and again, I grew up in a small community so my buddies that were my teammates and I went to school with them, they’re still my boys today. My best childhood friend since I was 4 years old basically, is the Tampa Bay Rays Athletic Trainer – how weird is that? We grew up in this tiny little town of very few people. Everybody were farmers or blue collar community and he and I both made our way out to pro sports – pretty crazy.
AM: What was that moment when you realized that you might be interested in pursuing professional sports?
MS: I wasn’t good enough. So when I got to college, I went to a small college in East Tennessee first. It was a Division II school athletically, called Carson Newman and they had a really good baseball program so I went there to play baseball. I stayed there 1 year and then I transferred over to Radford University from which I graduated and thought that I would easily make the baseball team – no question in my mind. I had no doubts. I went and they had a walk on tryout and they asked me to participate in that and I did that. I hit and threw it ok – I was a middle infielder and didn’t have a good try out. So the coach who knew about me in high school - I grew up around the corner, he was like, “man, I don’t think that you’re good enough.” They didn’t allow me to play. So I will tell you this. God is funny. I was so devastated in that moment because I don’t care. If you’re passionate about sports – I don’t care if your ceiling is high school, I don’t care if your ceiling is college and certainly for guys like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Drew Brees or these guys – the elite of the elite at whatever their passion is athletically. When it’s time to be done, you lose your whole identity because my whole identity, my whole life was athlete.
That was my identity and because truth told, I was a pretty good one in high school in the area in which I grew up, I had a decently celebrated career, we won state championships as teams – we had that kind of talent where I came from. So when I lost baseball, I’m not kidding y’all, there was a level of depression that I did not anticipate and I have never been a guy who’s down – I’m unstoppable, it’s how I’m wired and I was stopped. I knew a girl that dated a buddy of mine and she came in one day she said, “you know you need to get up off your ass and you need to come with me to the Sports and Information Office and you need to work because you have such a wealth of knowledge.” I’m like, “what, I’m not going in there and taking stats – I play ‘em – no.” After a substantial pity party, I got up one day and I said, “alright man, let’s see what happens.” Went in there, I fell in love with being around it again. Some of my best college friends were guys who played baseball, they played basketball – because the Sports Information Department gave me substantial responsibility immediately. As a Sophomore, I ran around with the baseball team - took their stats, etc. As a junior, they handed me Women’s Basketball and I traveled with the Women’s Basketball team on top of my class load. Then, I got the greatest break you could ever ask for. I was offered a stringer position by the Roanoke Times which is the major regional newspaper in the area in which I grew up covering high school sports, the local NASCAR short track, etc. That’s when I realized that I was going to write for a living and that was what I’m gonna to do. As a Senior, I got to cover Virgina Tech Football as a stringer for the Washington Post.
AM: That’s insane!
MS: On top of my class load. So all of these people believed in me. I will tell you this, had I not gotten cut, I don’t even know if gotten cut is fair. Had I made the Radford Baseball Team, I wouldn’t be sitting with you now, guarantee you. Because I wouldn’t have had to make that shift in focus that I had to make because I wasn’t playing anymore. How about that?
AM: Wow. You’ve had so much in your career prior to ESPN, so what was that journey like as I know you were with NASCAR.com for awhile.
MS: So much of my career goes back to people who believed in me. And in that book, they wanted me to do the dedication page. Who do you dedicate this to? All I wrote was, For the believers. Most notably, Lainie, Cameron, Mia and Vivian my nuclear family – wife and children. But so many people have believed in me from coaches to mentors to all the way down to people that work at ESPN, who don’t have to take the time to offer you guys this opportunity, to pitch you this opportunity, but they believe enough in me that they’re doing that.
When that believer, a guy named Ray Cox, who writes for the Roanoke Times, even still, he covered me in high school. So when I wasn’t playing anymore, he was like, “what?” I saw him at a Radford Basketball game. He said, “I think that you need to be writing for me. You have this factor that you’re so relatable to people and you connect with people in a way that you need to be writing.”
So I started covering high school sports like I said and that led to the local short track called New River Valley Speedway (now Motor Mile Speedway) at the time and I was a NASCAR guy as a kid because my daddy liked it. But my favorite driver was Davey Allison. Davey died in a helicopter crash July 13th 1993, I stopped loving the sport in that moment. My passion – I mean it was like lighting a bottle rocket when I went back to that short track. I went and I told her (Lainie), I know what I’m gonna do - I know what my path is – NASCAR is my way. It’s the fastest way to get through pro sports. I covered it for the Lynchburg News – I had a job that may not even exist anymore. I made $12.80 in my first job out of Radford. I bought her engagement ring with it – you talk about broke as Joe! I started chasing race cars. I’ll never forget sitting in the Richmond International Raceway garage – sitting on the pit walls watching these cars go by. Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon – “holy smokes that’s really them, I’m on this side of the track.” I’m inside the track and I can walk out there and talk to them if they’ll give me the time of day. I couldn’t believe it. I worked there for one year.
During that time, I wrote a story on a guy named Paul Brooks who was from that town. His mother called me and said I needed to do the story. I thought it was Jim Bob Jordan the street stock driver down the street. Paul had been elevated to the VP of NASCAR. Called Paul, we hit it off, he liked the story and he sent me some desk furniture of the 50th Anniversary of NASCAR like a business card holder that you put the pens in. At the very bottom of the box was his stationary with his email on it. I emailed him, “get me the hell out of here. I’ll clean toilets in Daytona Beach, Florida if you get me out of here. I got big aspirations, got big dreams – you can help me get me there.” They didn’t have any jobs, a few months later, a guy quit at NASCAR.com – he called me come to the interview, if I was good enough I would get the job – I got the job. I made it to $20K. Now I’m traveling around the country man. I went to San Francisco man, Napa, California and I got to cover race cars! Worked there until ’05 and ESPN called. They were coming back into the business of NASCAR. In ’07 they put together their whole broadcast team and I was going to be in the insularly part in a show for SportsCenter we had a show called NASCAR Now.
AM: Great show.
MS: It was a great show! Jack Obringer – this is all in my book. Jack Obringer, the guy who called me who is still at ESPN now and is one of my greatest believers. He said that everybody who talks to me says your name – you know what’s going on in the sport and you know the drivers. I laughed and said, “hey man, I’m so flattered, but you called the wrong guy. There’s a guy named Marty Snider who’s a great broadcaster and I’m sure that that’s who you meant to call.” He laughed out loud and said I was the guy. He told me to go home and think about working with him. I went home to Lainie and I said, “you’re never going to believe this, I think that ESPN wants me to come work there." I'm a guy who would rather crash and burn and fail knowing that I can’t, then wonder 20 years from now sitting on that porch wondering if I could have. So I took the job. The first time that I was really on television was SportsCenter. Can you believe that? There are local reporters who are so talented, they work their asses off, they set up their own camera shots and dream of that chance and I was afforded that chance immediately. That’s never been lost on me and I’m so appreciative. From there, the company let me grow. They let me make mistakes, they let me look like – I needed a lot of work. My story is just unorthodox because I was sportcentric for 7 years – really 8 from ‘07-‘14 those 8 NASCAR seasons. I got to grow and learn my voice and ESPN afforded me that voice and no one has ever once asked me to change it. They’ve never asked me to try to lose this accent because I have always maintained that you can be Southern and articulate at the same time. It worked because I was covering NASCAR. Then we lost NASCAR and I thought, ok what do I do now? Do I pursue another network maybe, do I bet on myself again? I went home and told Lainie that I needed to bet on myself again and I was ready to see what was out there and I signed my 3rd ESPN contract which was ’15-’18 and bet on myself. My career has been beyond every fantastic dream that I could have ever imagined.
AM: You have covered so many different sports for the network. How do you prepare yourself when you’re reporting on College Football versus the NFL – is it the same for you?
MS: No. I’m voracious about study. I’m voracious about preparation and reading and listening and things that intrigue me, I put it in a document. Then I take that document and pair it down and then I study that document. Like, Tiger Woods. When I got the opportunity to interview him, I studied so hard and watched so much and I probably had a 40 question list and I paired that down to 15 and I studied those 15 until minutes before I was sitting in front of him and I crumpled the paper up and threw it away. Because I want to have a conversation with you. The best interviewers listen. Because the best question is more often than not, why, how, when, how did that come to be, what was your passion. That was most certainly the case with him. Can I tell you how I got there?
MS: 2012 I think it was, I interviewed Jeff Gordon for a NASCAR Countdown Pre Race Program and I had this specific thing that I wanted out of Jeff and I kept interrupting him during the interview to try to keep him on task. It worked for what I was sort of after. But after the race before which it ran which was New Hampshire, after that race – I was so proud of myself that I got this interview with Jeff Gordon man – 4X Champion – 80+ wins! After the race, I went out to interview Dale Jr. who is like my brother – we’re brothers – we’ve been through it together. The highest of highs and the most crushing of lows we’ve walked it together. I get out to his car because he wrecked and they’re looking all around the cars when they’re looking at the dings in it. He turns around and says, “come here, I’m pissed at you.” There’s other reporters around so he takes me to the entrance to the truck that carries the race cars and says, “you need to stop interrupting people.” I was like, "what?” He said he watched the interview with Jeff and he wanted to hear some of the things that he said, but I kept interrupting him and that I looked like an asshole, “stop interrupting people.” I was so mortified. He cut me and do you want to know that it was the single greatest advice that I have ever gotten in this job? I completely changed my interview approach. I let people expound upon their thoughts and thereby, be ing able to tell me their story rather than trying to conjure something that you desire. I tell that story sometimes when he’s around and he’s like, “damn, let it go.” I’m like, “no. You changed me and only a real dude does this.” You’re on this high and most dudes would be like, “hey man that’s cool.” I am forever grateful to him for that.
That’s what I do. I study, study, study and then throw it away. Because I want to hear you and want to be immersed with you. It has proven to be very successful for me.
AM: So what are all the shows that you’re on at ESPN?
MS: Wow. A lot of them! So SportsCenter, College Game Day, SEC Nation, Get Up, Marty & McGee – which is such a fascinating study. Marty & McGee is a Southern culture program almost more than a sports program. There was a lady named Cherita Johnson and for a time she kind of ran the podcast/digital arm at that time. I called her one day and said I had a proposal as I had a buddy Ryan McGee (she knew him because they were PA’s together) and him and I had covered NASCAR together and felt that ESPN could produce a really cool piece of content with a podcast, we would be willing to go to a studio so we wouldn’t have to hire a bunch of people. We just wanted to do a podcast about NASCAR if she would let us. She wasn’t sure if there was a market for it and she asked me to tell her a story. So, 45 minutes later, I’m telling her all these stories about Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jr. and Jimmie Johnson. She said that I was so passionate about that she would go ask. She did and they greenlit it. The magic of Marty & McGee is the chemistry, we’re buddies and have been so for 20 years! It went from a live radio show on Sat afternoons, then a few years ago they moved us to 7am on Sat! That’s when I said, “son, our lives just changed!” That’s when everybody is going to get the donuts and taking junior to baseball. It changed everything! Then, last year, they decide that the coaches in the South Eastern Conference they wanted to be engaged in a different way and they wanted the two if to make it happen. They asked what the set should like and I said, “a card table, an American flag and an eagle soaring by – I don’t know.” They built us that set. The coaches come in. They’re immediately disarmed. We’re laughing out loud with them. Nick Saban is talking about his dad, Nick Sr. had tears in our eyes. So they give us a weekly show on SEC Network which this fall moves to Weds. so that it ensures that it’s not pre-empted by soccer or a live program. We don’t even know what to make of it – we’re floored!
AM: What’s it like juggling all of these shows with your current schedule?
MS: It’s a lot and I’m afforded the ultimate blessing which is a patient, immersed, patient and loyal partner who appreciates all of this. She understands all of this and allows me to chase the dream. I can’t wait for people to read about Lainie in the book because they are going to see what a phenomenal soul she is. In this life, we meet people that are more successful, that may not have as much, we meet people who are more beautiful, we meet people who are the most blue collar down-home, people who grew up in the city all of that – all walks of life. Very rarely do you meat innate grace. Lainie has it. There is no way in hell that I could have this career, this life, have met these people that I am so fortunate to meet if she didn’t have that personality. I thank her everyday!
AM: Specifically during the college football season, what is your week like for that?
MS: We work every day. From now until mid January, we are gas on the throttle doing college football. Even on days off, we’re prepping. On days off, you’re reading, calling around, texting around, talking to coaches. Sports information people, in some rare cases – players. To make sure that you are at least ahead of the game but at least in the game. You go hard as hell man and I love every second of it.
AM: Who are you looking forward to interviewing this season from the college football side – what are 3 things that you’re pumped about?
MS: I’m blessed beyond what I deserve. We have a host and reporter who is among the most talented television professionals I have ever seen. Her name is Laura Rutledge. Laura makes all of it look easy – it’s not and she makes it look so simple. She is going to have her first child this fall. As a result of that, she will go on maternity leave and will miss a portion of the season. While she is away, she is the host of a show called SEC Nation and it’s a phenomenal show. I mean Tim Tebow, Marcus Spears and Paul Finebaum are the panelists. They are all great friends of mine already - Tim is like a brother to me. In the book, I share his influence on me which is dramatic. So when Laura is on maternity leave, I am going to get to host that show. When ESPN called me and told me this, my initial reaction was Euphoria and it was also, “you know I have never done that before and you know it’s something that I am going to have to learn.” They understood all that and said that my passion was what they needed. I can’t wait, a live atmosphere with a live audience in the South Eastern Conference, with those 3 guys and a producer – Baron Miller, who's a brother to me anyway. He has an artistic vision and unbelievable passion to help guide us through. I can’t wait for the energy change. My best friend, Eric Church, always says that there is going to be an energy exchange tonight. There is going to be my energy and your energy. I'm going to give it every last damn ounce of everything I got and if you give it back to me, there is going to be a moment and it’s going to live forever. Well I get to drive that moment and I can’t wait! Tebow man, Spears – I’m not Laura – I’m not as talented and polished as her or Joe Tessitore the first gentleman who hosted that show, or Maria Taylor who also hosted that show. They’re better broadcasters than me, but I’ll never be out passioned. I can control 3 things everyday: I can control kindness, effort and passion. If I max those out, I’m going to be alright and I’m maxing. In every single facet of my life: fatherhood, husbandry, professionally, friendships – there ain’t nobody going to ever say that I didn’t leave it all out there when the Lord calls me home.
AM: One of the things that draws me to your reporting is your passionate storytelling and being someone who grew up in Indiana, watched Hoosier basketball growing up, graduated Indiana University and was glad to have been there during Bobby Knight’s last year as coach, we believe in the concept of “Life is Sports and Sports is Life”. When college basketball happens, there is such a feeling that comes through which permeates all aspects of my life. Why does college football have that feeling for you that makes you so passionate about it?
MS: I was discussing this this morning. There is a country artist named Justin Moore. I have known Justin his entire career now. This is his 5th album he is putting out this week and he’s only 35 and having a tremendous career. He grew up in a little town called Poyne, Arkansas. The Arkansas Razorbacks are their pro team. I grew up 20 miles west of Virginia Tech’s campus on a cattle farm. The Virginia Tech Hokies are our pro team. They are also our identity, they also brought a national brand to a farming community. Because of Frank Beamers’ Hokies Virginia Tech Hoakies, Blacksburg is known in Seattle, in California, Clearwater, Fl and it’s known in Banger, Maine. Everybody knows Blacksburg because of those football teams. When I was a kid, we didn’t have a whole lot when I was real young. My daddy worked all the time and I didn’t get to be around him and he was a bit of mysterious and mythical figure to me. But there were some Saturday mornings when he’s wake me up and say, “boy get dressed, we’re going over the mountain.” I knew that meant we were going to watch Virginia Tech football. It was bad football. It was 0-8, 0-10, 1-9, 2-8 because Coach Beamer was still laying those foundation bricks to the amazing legacy that he built. But I got to go there with my daddy and I got to have a fountain coke and I got to have his attention and I got to feel his love and hope he felt mine and we got to watch Virginia Tech play football. To this second, I feel closer to him in Laine Stadium then I feel anywhere else. I lost daddy in ’08. When I go back there, I feel closer to him than anywhere else. My passion for it, is so much deeper than simply the game. It’s this father/son connection, it’s this family connection because so many little college towns take their identity from those athletic programs just like Bloomington does. I get to go in on Fridays and Saturdays in the fall and I get to be there with those people. Whether it’s Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Columbus, Ohio, Blacksburg, Virginia, Ann Arbor, Michigan – those towns are those schools. I get to live it. Hell, they pay me for it! Wow – it’s unbelievable to me!
AM: With such a busy schedule, you have a book coming out August 6th, Never Settle: Sports, Family and the American Soul. Why did you want to write this book and what do you hope that your fans and those who read this book take away from it?
MS: I have wanted to write a book for a really long time. It’s funny, I wasn’t ready until I got the deal. I didn’t have enough life experiences until last year. Back to Tiger, I interviewed him and of course I put a picture up with us on the ‘gram. You’ve gotta do it for the ‘gram and I came home that evening and my son has a YouTube channel and we were skateboarding. So I said, “you know what man, let’s go down this hill. I’ll be on my board and you’ll be on your board and I’ll kinda get crouched down and get a cool shot with my phone for you.” I put it on my Instagram Stories and this publisher saw it. I was blown away by that.
Long story short, the next thing you know, I’m meeting with this gentleman, a guy named Sean Desmond at Twelve Books, my publisher in NYC. Avenue of the Americas man, wow country boy comes to town. He talked about how his little boy who is 12 is fascinated by all the stuff that I get to do. Then he saw that and he was intrigued. How is this guy that was interviewing Tiger Woods in the morning and hanging with his son in the evening – he wanted that. He wanted my family in the book, he wanted Lainie, he wanted the husband Marty in the book, he wanted father Marty in the book. He wanted me to be so vulnerable and he wanted Tiger, he wanted Nick Saban and he wanted Cristiano Ronaldo in Shanghai, in Beijing. He wanted all of these experiences. He wanted me throwing a post pattern on the White House lawn. Thank God the Secret Service has a sense of humor! It’s all in the book. I actually did that! We were stupid, man. He wanted all of that and he pushed me throughout the writing process. Show me, don’t tell me. You’re telling me a good story, show me a good story. I loved that advice because it demanded of me to take another layer of veneer off.
Again, I have so many friends that are musical artists. They told me throughout time that anything worth its salt is vulnerable. But with that vulnerability comes a very unique emotion because you are putting this layer of yourself out into and this energy in the world. You have to be ok with whatever comes back good or bad. You’ve given this and holy crap it’s giving me anxiety and Lainie is like why? That was always my response to my friends too because they were putting out something good – but you’re putting this part of yourself out there and above all, I know it’s relatable and vulnerable. I think it will sing and I think that a lot of people will see themselves in that. I discuss things like the primal sorrow of losing my mom when I was barely an adult. She had breast cancer and died when she was 47 years old. My sister turns 47 in Feb so, Stacy and I go back and forth about what that’s like. Because when you’re 21 you don’t realize how young 47 is. When you’re 43, you think that she hadn’t even gotten started yet. I’d give anything – anything to be able to show her. She would be tickled and the coolest grandmother to these little people that we have running around.
My son has Tourette and so there is a lot that comes with Tourette. His tics, how people react to that. He’s used to people staring at him. Middle School is hard, he’s only recently gotten to a place where other kids sometimes aren’t nice. My mother, back to that innate grace, I never met anybody that was more Godly than my mom. She raised a lot of kids and I only have one sibling. She raised a lot of kids. I had a lot of buddies and she was there momma too. I wish she was here to see all of this and to be that for my kids. I go all the way into that primal sorrow. I write it in that way that’s really really raw. It’s a hell of a thing and I hope that people feel themselves in it. There’s a football coach that I have become very close with, Barry Odom – head coach of Missouri – Missouri Tigers. He wrote me the nicest text the other day. The 4th chapter of the book is about one of the most impactful people in my life. There is a Special Olympics athlete that I chronicled in '15, her name was Olivia Quigley. It’s all in there – why she was so important to me and Barry read the chapter. I sent him an advanced copy. He was like, “dude – I knew you were pretty cool on TV, but this is what you need to be doing. It’s changing lives.” That was very cool for him to say.
AM: How long did it take for your to put the book together?
MS: I started almost immediately when I met with Twelve last May. My deadline was Jan. 15th and I was very naïve about the time – really naïve. I wrote a lot of it in Ocean City Coffee. I would get up before dawn every morning when we were here last summer. I rode my bike down there and wrote until about 9:30am morning and then came back. Then, I thought I didn’t have to worry about being a present father or husband on airplanes and hotel rooms. But when you have covered a college football weekend, the last thing that you want to do is go to your hotel room and write! You just want a cold one and to laugh with your buddies a little bit, eat a meal and get on the pillow. I somehow managed to do it. That last week, I still had quite a bit to write. I came home from the National Championship in Santa Clara, California – immediately packed a bag, flew to NYC and spent 5 days holed up in the publisher’s office pounding on those keys. I’m not kidding ya, 5:30 on Jan 15th was when I needed to have that thing in and it was 5:30 on Jan 15th when I said, I don’t know if it’s done, hope it is - but here it’s yours.
AM: How did it make you feel when Eric Church wrote your forward as he’s your best friend.
MS: He’s my best friend. I was here – he called me about something else and he needed my opinion and perspective. We probably talked about it for 90 minutes. You get Eric Church on 90 seconds it's a miracle - we were on the phone for 90 mins! So I said, “before you go, I have something else to tell you about. I hate to bother you with it and I know you’re busy. I’m writing my first book.” He said, “it’s about fuckin’ time.” Truth be told, he thinks I’m wasting my time doing anything but writing and he has always been a fan of how I write and the way I paint pictures. He’s a writer, that’s what he does. So we have that mutual energy exchange and kinship. I said, “I would be really honored and I don’t think it would be complete the way that I need it to be complete if you don’t write my forward.” He said that it would be the pleasure and joy of his life that I would pick him to do that. I will tell you that it showed up near my deadline because it’s Eric. I was kind of badgering him saying, “hey bro – I have to have this thing in.” He asked me when it had to be in. I’m sitting in Charlotte and he texted me that he had sent it via email. Two other people had read it before he sent it, his most trusted confidentes in his life – his wife Katherine and his manager John Peets. I get my computer and Lainie is sitting next to me and I’m reading it and I can feel myself and she’s capturing it on video. I will tell you that it’s the most single kindest thing that I have ever read in terms of your impact on somebody. It made me belly laugh and ugly cry. He’s a real hard ass. He plays one for a living, he doesn’t suffer fools, he takes no crap. He taught me that my passion is ok and that my way is ok. Even when the bosses tell you something, if you believe it do it. For him to write what he wrote about me, I can’t wait for y’all to see it. I want to talk about it so much but I want y’all to have to read it. It’s awesome. It means the world to me that he would take the time to do it.
Like Greg Sankey is the commissioner of the SEC and I gave him the very first copy that I had ever held in my hands. McGee and I were interviewing him and he said he wanted one, but that I would have to sign it. So I sat down right there and signed it and said it was like handing him my first child. He wrote on the Internet how good it was and that Eric Church had written the greatest forward that he had ever read in years – he was right. I could talk for days about him – my hero!
AM: One of the things that we were struck by is the amount of people on Twitter who were talking about how those who pre-ordered received FaceTime messages thanking them for doing so.
MS: I have 52 people left to call! I was trying to think of a way – I felt bad that the people that pre-ordered the book that they invested in me and I wanted to make it personal. I saw that Kurt Busch, one of the NASCAR drivers, had FaceTimed some of his fans. So I thought that we should try that. I thought it would be 10 people. Marty will call you or FaceTime you if you pre-order his book. It was a lot more than 10 people. To see the reactions from the people! One young lady called me and said, “you’re always talking about people who give you that passion and this life direction to help you have that perspective and to stay focused – you’re that person for me.” She was in tears. She can’t wait to have the book. It was very fulfilling for me as well. They’re so appreciative.
AM: I mean just from the comments, people running out of the meetings in their offices and getting so excited.
MS: One guy worked in the Library of Congress and he was so excited that my book was going to be there. Another guy worked as a Missouri State Trooper or a Detective. He pulled over and took a picture of us talking. I still have a few people to contact and I will get to them. One of them was my high school football teammate, we were Defensive Backs a long time ago. We won the state championship together.
AM: Do you foresee writing another book?
MS: That’s up to the publisher, but if they afford me the opportunity – hell yes! There are 25 chapters in this book and there are at least 15 stories that I didn’t even get to. I talked to Paul George about what it was like when he broke his leg in half. The way he felt and the way he saw his team react. The vulnerability and how stripped he was. I talked to Anthony Davis – I was surprised it went down this road. It was in the middle of Black Lives Matter was such a movement in this country. We kind of brought up race and here I am having this great conversation of depth with this gentleman who grew up in Chicago, African American a face for those other young man growing up in that neighborhood. He got out, you can do this. Being interviewed by a 40 year old white man from a rural Appalachian town and how we were connecting and what an example we can be together. It was a wonderful conversation. Stuff like that that’s not even in the book. I hope this book is received well enough that I get that chance – I would be honored.
AM: As someone who travels as much as you do, what are 3 items in your carry-on that makes you feel comfortable or have a sense of home?
MS: Everything is a carry-on I don’t check bags. Bose Q35 Noise Cancelling headphones are my life blood because I am such a music guy. Costa Del Mar are my sunglass guys – I always have them with me because of the injured eye. I like having it covered. Either Jordan 1s, 3s, 4s or 11s. I don’t ever travel without at least 1 pair of Jordans - ever.
AM: The Sneaker Duffle is going to do well.
MS: Yes thank you! ESPN watchers know me for my sneakers. When I was growing up, once again, my dad never in a million years would have been like I would pay $140 for those shoes. Hell no! When I was in 8th grade maybe 9th. I saved enough money from throwing hay bales in the summer to buy my first pair of Js. They were 5s. The original pair of 5s, I don’t have any 5s in Ocean City or I would show you what I was talking about. The original 5s have clear bottoms – soles. The clear bottoms had the Jump Man in the ball of the foot. If you wore them outside, they would soil to this amber color. I was not about to let that happen. I would carry my Js to school and then put them on when I got there. I never lost that. If you guys had any idea of how neurotic I am about my shoes. All of my shoes are like that. I’m a Js guy and I love Air Max 90s the original Air Max and I am crazy about these. I would say those 3 things.
AM: How do you take time for yourself to decompress with all of the things that you do?
MS: Water. I grew up on a farm, I still own hundreds of acres in Southwest Virginia that is still farmed. When I was a little boy, I was always captivated by the beach. So we bought here 5 years ago I believe our families bought this home and last July, Lainie and I bought a home on Lake Norman in Charlotte and that’s where we live full time. It allows me to really reflect, be vulnerable and to consider who I want to be. It also allows my children to get away from their phones and for me to get away from it and get away from everything. It allows me to be a dad that is creating memories. That’s so important to me to be a present father and husband when I’m not on the road – to be here. I try very hard. It’s hard for any driven professional. I do my dead level best to demand that of myself. Last night, we sat on the beach. I didn’t have my phone other than to play music on a Bluetooth speaker from 3 o'clock in the afternoon to 10:30pm. I bet I had 50 or 60 text messages. Don't judge me – you promise – I have 193 unread text messages! When I’m here, I purposely don’t get on my phone. Tomorrow I will be in Charlotte for our college football seminar for the next 2 days, the day after that I have to shoot something for Marty & McGee all day for the SEC network, the day after that I’m in Clemson, SC all day covering the first practice for the Tigers and we’re kicking off August 24th. And I have a book coming out!
You know one thing that you will never hear me do – complain. I won’t do it. Do you know how many people would sever fingers – I’m aware. I’m very protective of my time in a demanding industry. But, I’m a grinder man.
AM: When you’re in Ocean City, where can we find you grabbing a meal, go shopping or working out?
MS: Kessel's Korner 28th & Asbury. We eat there that’s our spot. Express Pizza is right around the corner here too. They both have grilled buffalo wraps – grilled chicken buffalo. I’m a buffalo sauce freak show – I love it. I don’t only get the grilled buffalo wrap, I get extra buffalo on the side because I dunk it in there – buffalo sauce is my deal man. I go to the local gym and I’m also an endurance athlete. I was supposed to run the New York City Triathalon but they canceled it because of the Heat Index hitting 115 degrees. I was supposed to do the running portion and to be apart of a trio it’s called Challenged Athletes Foundation. Bob Babbitt one of the godfathers of triathlons in this country asked me to participate. There was going to be a double amputee as our swimmer, a world class cyclist as our cyclist and I was going to do the run in Central Park. I run the boardwalk all the time it’s 5 miles. 2.5 each way and I do it all the time.
Lainie gets on the Internet. She got all of our school supplies from Target. 7th Street Surf Shop is another one that we enjoy. Heritage Surf Shop is another one because I love surf T-shirts, big brim hats because I am super pale.
AM: We’re all about #TRIBEGOALS – people who inspire us to be our best selves. Who are those 3 people for you?
MS: Not to say that I want to be overwhelming about the book, but it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to write it. I wanted to champion those people. My parents would be one answer. I am so fortunate and I’m that guy who's an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. My momma was an angel and my daddy battled my demons. I got both of them inside me. I am so fortunate that I had them. They were very present for every game I ever played, they were very demanding, I was one of those guys that if I wasn’t on the honor roll then I didn’t get to play. I’m so thankful for that. I got spanked if I did something wrong and I got wooped – there were no time outs. I’m thankful for that. Everything I said about Eric applies here. It’s because he showed me through our friendship and through his approach to be absolutely unmitigated to be who you are. Be passionate, reach through that camera lens! I knew that when I was covering NASCAR working for ESPN on a Sat morning SportsCenter in the fall when people were ready to watch college football – you may not be interested in NASCAR but you will listen to me during that 2 months because of how much I love it. He helped me realize that that would be ok! Then my wife, Lainie is such a special person. She’s selfless, graceful, she don’t take no crap, she is my single greatest sounding board and will tell me the truth the whole time. That’s why she is reading the book for the first time. She is so astute and I am so appreciative of that. She also made me more selfless.
Our shoot took place in Ocean City, NJ which meant that we enjoyed showcasing menswear looks that are perfect for the beach.
LOOK 1 PG 16-25 | LE TIGRE Polo Shirt | KENNETH COLE Shorts | SPERRY Gold Cup Collection | TIMEX Watch | NAGICIA Bracelet | COSTA DEL MAR Sunglasses |
LOOK 2 COVER + PG 26 - 35 | KENNETH COLE Shirt | MAVI Shorts | SPERRY Gold Cup Collection | TiMEX Watch | CLEAR VISION OPTICAL/REVO Sunglasses | HEX BRAND Sneaker Duffle | JORDANS Sneakers |
LOOK 3 BACK COVER PG 37 - 49 | MAVI Denim Shirt + Shorts | TIMEX Watch | KENNETH COLE Sneakers | CLEAR VISION OPTICALS/REVO Sunglasses | EARTHCRUISER Bike |
You can hear the full interview with ESPN's Marty Smith in August on our show, #TRIBEGOALS which is a part of Athleisure Studio, our multi-media podcast network! Make sure to subscribe to find out when the episode drops. You can hear it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and wherever you enjoy listening to your favorite podcast.