Stephen A. Smith returns to ‘First Take’, details battle with COVID: ‘I didn’t know if I was gonna make it’

ESPN’s “First Take” commentator Stephen A. Smith returned to the show Tuesday after a battle with COVID-19, one that he says nearly cost him his life.

Smith, 54, announced on the show that he had tested positive for the virus on December 21 and was only experiencing “mild symptoms” at the time. However, his condition progressively worsened, as he had to be hospitalized on New Year’s Eve.

“I had a fever of 103 degrees every night, waking up with chills, a puddle of sweat, headaches and a profuse cough,” Smith said. “It got to a point where right before New Year’s Eve, I was in the hospital from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day. That’s how I brought in the new year.”

Smith said doctors told him his vaccination status was what was keeping him alive.

“They told me if I hadn’t gotten vaccinated, I wouldn’t be here. That’s how bad it was,” Smith said. “I had pneumonia in both lungs. My liver was bad. It had devastated me to the point where even now I have to control my volume, go to the gym every day, walk before I run. I worked my way back because I’m still not 100 percent cent with my lungs”.

Smith then advocated for people to continue wearing masks, saying mitigating the spread of the disease was important as it is not known how it will affect each person. Until that point, Smith said her sister, who smokes, recovered from COVID in about a week despite being at higher risk.

“The one thing to emphasize the importance of, no matter how you feel about the vaccine, that mask is important. The reason the mask is so important is that you don’t know how the next person is affected. How it affects me.” it’s different to me than how it affects you.

Smith’s comments come at a time when the Omicron variant, a more infectious strain of COVID, continues to spread. So has the debate over vaccination, including in sports.

A recent example of this is when world No. 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic was denied entry to Australia due to not being vaccinated. He will miss the Australian Open and the chance to overtake Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most Grand Slam titles of all time (21). He will also not be allowed to participate in the French Open in May unless he is vaccinated.

Regardless, Smith said he was happy to be back on “First Take.”

“I’m ecstatic to be back. I’ve missed being at work. I’ve used more sick days in the last month than I’ve used in my 28-year career in this business combined. I don’t take a lot of sick days, but I had to do it this month just to survive,” Smith said. “And I can’t tell you how lucky and truly blessed I am to be sitting here today, because two and a half weeks ago, three weeks ago, I didn’t know if I was going to make it.”