Sports commentator Stephen A. Smith made a public apology Monday night after his xenophobic rant on Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani drew backlash online.
Controversial comments: During his ESPN show, “First Take,” on Monday, Smith claimed Ohtani’s rise in Major League Baseball (MLB) would potentially harm the sport because he doesn’t speak English.
- “In the United States of America, when you talk about the sport of Major League Baseball, you talk about its lack of diversity in terms of African American players, you talk about the influx of foreign players,” he said.
- According to Smith, Ohtani’s use of an interpreter is hurting baseball’s marketability: “But the fact that you got a foreign player that doesn’t speak English, that needs an interpreter… Believe it or not, I think, contributes to harming the game in 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.”
- He also compared the MLB players who need interpreters to foreign NBA stars, such as Dirk Nowitzki and Manu Ginobili, who speak fluent English, and other NBA stars in Europe or South American who don’t need interpreters.
- “For some reason, with Major League Baseball, you got these guys that need those interpreters, and I think that compromises the ability for them to ingratiate themselves with the American public, which is what we’re really talking about,” he said.
False claims: Despite Smith’s claims that the face of baseball needs to be English-speaking players to succeed and listed famous white American players as examples, there are reports that Ohtani’s continued rise on the field draws fans to the sport.
- Ohtani, who leads the league in home runs this year, has earned the slot as the starting pitcher and leadoff hitter for the American League in the All-Star Game, NextShark previously reported.
- Ohtani is the most-searched player on the MLB Film Room video tool, reported Reuters.
Immediate backlash: Reactions to Smith’s rant on Ohtani online were largely negative, with many social media users pointing out how insensitive and ignorant the statements were.
I couldn’t care less if Ohtani needs an interpreter. It doesn’t stop me from being in awe of what he’s doing in the bigs.
— Hendy (@HendyLA) July 12, 2021
Telling anyone — let alone a generational, one-in-a-lifetime baseball talent who’s currently doing something completely unprecedented — to just “learn English” completely underestimates and devalues the difficulty of immigrating to the United States
— Joon 이준엽 (@joonlee) July 12, 2021
You know what a generational talent Shoehi Ohtani is. He also just turned 27 and is working on his English everyday. Like many athletes from other countries learning a new language, he uses an interpreter to help the media; not to get knocked by the media. pic.twitter.com/79SxEkco2Q
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) July 12, 2021
I’d rather listen to Shohei Ohtani speak Japanese than Stephen A. Smith speak English.
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) July 12, 2021
- Some users retweeted a video clip of Ohtani doing his Rookie of the Year speech in English back in 2019.
“What an honor it is to share this stage with so many great players.”
— Los Angeles Angels (@Angels) January 27, 2019
- Another tweet highlighted how MLB star Ichiro Suzuki also chose to use an interpreter to express his message more consistently.
Ichiro once explained it perfectly. Perhaps someone can show this to Stephen A. Smith… pic.twitter.com/K3DZQsaagi
— Shannon (@Miss_Met) July 12, 2021
- Smith tried to clarify his controversial statements with a Twitter video, but social media users were not having it.
Stephen A- Your comments basically moves the issue from what you said on your segment over to the American people.
The fact that a Japanese man isn’t marketable in the US because of his language barrier is part of the problem, along with how your remarks came off.
— Chaz Inouye (@Chazcast) July 12, 2021
“people are misinterpreting what i’m saying”
dude just apologize for saying stupid shit and own up to it
— Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) July 12, 2021
This is so stupid. When it comes to sports, the number one thing I care about is if they can play. If Kobe only spoke Italian I’d still admire the man just as much and love the Lakers. Diversity brings in more fans, not turns them away. Your point is 🗑
— Jay (@Lkrsfan17) July 12, 2021
- As criticisms continued to grow online, Smith eventually released a lengthy apology on Twitter followed by another apology on screen at the beginning of Tuesday’s episode.
I’m sincerely sorry. pic.twitter.com/pANjWTrD4X
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) July 12, 2021
Stephen A. Smith addresses his previous statement about Shohei Ohtani not being ideal for the promotion of the MLB because he speaks through an interpreter. (Via @FirstTake) pic.twitter.com/V3hmekppw7
— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) July 13, 2021
- ESPN baseball analyst Jeff Passan also weighed in on the controversy: “Shohei Ohtani came to this country at 23 years old. He left behind his family. He left behind his culture. He left behind his country. He left behind everything he knows to go and pursue the American dream. He wanted to come here and be great. And he is the sort of person who this show and who this network and who this country should embrace. We are not the ones who should be trafficking in ignorance.”