It is pretty clear to anyone that follows the sport that Los Angeles Angels phenom Shohei Ohtani is becoming the face of baseball. The slugger/power pitcher is doing things that we haven’t seen since Babe Ruth, with a joy and swagger all his own. Stephen A. Smith apparently disagrees.
On Monday, he dismissed Ohtani’s ability to be the face of the sport, largely because the Japanese superstar uses a translator to speak to the media. Ohtani speaks English pretty well for someone who has only been in the U.S. for a few years, but feels more comfortable expressing his thoughts through a translator.
““This brother is special, make no mistake about it. But the fact you got a foreign player that doesn’t speak English that needs an interpreter, believe it or not, contributes to harming the game to some degree when that’s your box office appeal. It needs to be somebody like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, those guys and, unfortunately at this moment in time, that’s not the case,” Smith said.
“When you talk about an audience gravitating to the tube, or to the ballpark, to actually watch you, okay, I don’t think it helps that the No. 1 face is a dude that needs an interpreter so you can understand what the hell he’s saying,” he continued, the dismay of many around the sports world, including a number of his ESPN colleagues. His implication was that the fact that the face of the game was not a native English speaker was bad for the sport, despite his incredible achievements on the field.
Stephen A. Smith was called on to apologize for the statement. After attempting to clarify his point in a video, he did so in a written statement on Monday night. Today, at the top of First Take, Smith continued that apology.
“Let me be the first to stand up and say that I want to express my sincere apologies to the Asian community and the Asian-American community,” Smith said. “I am a Black man. I religiously go off about minorities being marginalized in this nation. I instantly go off, repeatedly bring up the fact that if you are a member of a community that feels disenfranchised in any way, that’s something we need to battle, we need to fend off to the best of our ability as a nation.
“These are the kinds of things that I bring up, and the reason that I bring up my Blackness is because of this: on many occasions, what I have said when people have said something that is offensive, in any way, to the minority community, it’s not about how you feel. It is about how they feel. And the reality of the situation is that you have Asians and Asian-Americans out there that obviously were very, very offended by what I had to say yesterday. I want to extend my apologies, that was not my intent at all….
“I was wrong. Period. This is not ESPN, this is not Disney… This was me. I said it. The reality is that I was completely clueless as to the kind of impact that this would have on the Asian and Asian-American community.”
MLB insider Jeff Passan would then appear on First Take to discuss Ohtani’s impact with Stephen A. and Max Kellerman in a very pointed manner.
"He is the sort of person who this show, who this network, who this country should embrace. We are not the ones who should be trafficking in ignorance."
– Jeff Passan on Shohei Ohtani pic.twitter.com/6YIFKNlEYh
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) July 13, 2021
Ohtani, who participated in last night’s Home Run Derby, will be the American League starting pitcher for tonight’s All-Star Game.