12:21 PM PT -- Stephen A. Smithhas been facing a ton of backlash for his comments ... and it's gotten to the point where he recorded a video to apologize to Rihanna.
"I want Rihanna to know you're a superstar, you're sensational, you're spectacular. You're no joke and you are a worthy person to be doing Super Bowl halftime show," Smith said on Wednesday.
Stephen A. clarified his words ... saying he personally believes Beyoncé's performance was so iconic, that anyone who gets the opportunity to do the halftime show will "have to measure up to that."
"I meant it as no disrespect to Rihanna. I know she's phenomenal and she's my sister. Nothing but love for her, but Beyoncé is my sister, too."
Stephen A. ends his apology by saying he knows Rihanna will do her thing next month ... and he's looking forward to watching her perform.
The Navy isn't gonna be happy with this.
Stephen A. Smith had a BOLD take this week, but it wasn't about whether Dak Prescott is elite ... it was his reaction to Rihanna performing the Super Bowl halftime show -- simply saying, "she ain't Beyoncé."
The ESPN personality made the comment during his appearance on "The Sherri Show" Wednesday ... claiming it's no shade to RiRi, but will most certainly come across that way with the singer's diehard fanbase.
"Rihanna's music is fantastic," SAS said during the interview. "She's great. She's a sister. I love her dearly, I listen to her music, I'm gonna support her 'til the cows come home."
"I'm just telling you, for me, there's Beyoncé and there's everybody else. Just like there's Michael Jackson and there's everybody else."
Smith says he isn't NOT excited to see Rihanna do her thing ... but makes it clear there's only room for one at the top.
Waiting for your permission to load the Instagram Media.
"Ladies and gentlemen, [Rihanna is] a lot of things. She's spectacular actually and congratulations on new mamahood. There's one thing she's not -- she ain't Beyoncé."
SAS says he mentioned Beyoncé because the icon did the SB XLVII show in 2013 without the likes of Coldplay and Bruno Mars ... although she did have support from her former Destiny's Child groupmates, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams.
Here's the thing, though -- Rihanna could certainly do her gig alone as well ... as her show has been completely under wraps since it was announced.
Smith goes on to explain his stance ... comparing the situation to the show's host.
"I like television," he added. "I like a lot of talent out there. There's some spectacular females in television, I just want to say that. Everybody ain't Sherri. That's not throwing shading on them. That's appreciating their greatness but understanding, there's levels!"