ESPN likes Marty Smith’s knack for storytelling, enough so that Smith is getting a monthly show on the cable sports network.
Smith, who has lived in metro Charlotte for many years, will host “Marty Smith’s America,” debuting Aug. 2 at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. The first episode will include interviews/profiles focused on, among others, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
Smith recently traveled to China to be with Ronaldo during a promotional tour. He said he and his Charlotte-based production crew are overwhelmed by this opportunity.
“I’m a small-town farm kid (from Southwest Virginia). I grew up with huge dreams. I was just stupid enough to think something like this was possible, without really believing it,” Smith told the Observer Thursday.
“I’m so blessed and a little bit shocked.”
Smith got his start as a motorsports reporter. When ESPN stopped televising NASCAR races in 2014, the network asked Smith to branch out into other sports, particularly college football. Smith said that was both scary and exhilarating, when he was embedded with the Ohio State football team entering the playoff system.
Smith did long-form profiles, mostly for SportsCenter or College Gameday, including a visit to Alabama coach Nick Saban’s lake house, that network executives liked. Now he’s getting 8 ½-minute segments – uncommon in television journalism – to get close to athletes, including Newton, who he interviewed during Newton’s annual kickball charity event in June.
“He is the face of Charlotte,” Smith said of Newton, a former NFL Most Valuable Player. “He’s unapologetic about who he is. It’s so interesting, when he came out of Auburn, that in addition to being an athlete, he wanted to be a brand. I wanted him to say what that brand is in his own words.”
Smith said he works to get close to athletes on a personal level, often becoming their friend in a manner frowned upon by classic journalism training.
“I like to be liked,” Smith said. “I know that’s a flaw.”
Smith is also doing pieces for the debut show on Southern Cal quarterback Sam Darnold (a candidate to be the top pick in the 2018 NFL draft) and Maverick Carter, business manager for NBA superstar LeBron James.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell