ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith apologizes after rant on MLB phenom Shohei Ohtani’s ‘marketability’

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.

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  • Some users retweeted a video clip of Ohtani doing his Rookie of the Year speech in English back in 2019.

  • Another tweet highlighted how MLB star Ichiro Suzuki also chose to use an interpreter to express his message more consistently.

  • 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.”

Featured Image via The Undefeated (left), Los Angeles Angels (right)

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