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  • Writer's pictureDanita Gibbs

Stephen A. Smith ‘Sincerely Sorry’ for Xenophobic Comments About Asian Baseball Player

ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith has issued an apology after receiving backlash for xenophobic comments about Major League Baseball player Shohei Ohtani. What We Know:

  • Ohtani is a designated pitcher and hitter for the Los Angeles Angels and joined the MLB team back in December 2017. He leads the pack with 33 home runs this season and has a 3.49 ERA on the pitcher’s mound, prompting many to consider him the best two-way baseball player in decades. Ohtani was voted by fans to participate in the 2021 MLB All-Star Game as the American League’s starting designated hitter and was chosen to also be the team’s starting pitcher for the game.

  • The 27-year-old was born in Japan and moved to the country when he signed with the Angels. He tends to speak in his native language of Japanese and uses an interpreter when interviewing with reporters. According to USA Today, the baseball player knows how to speak English and Spanish, but isn’t fluent enough in English to confidently speak it at press conferences.

  • During Monday’s episode of Smith’s show “First Take,” he stated that Ohtani shouldn’t be the face of the league if he has to speak through an interpreter. Smith believes that the use of an interpreter in the MLB “compromises the ability for [foreign players] to ingratiate themselves with the American public.” He was asked if it was good for the MLB to have Ohtani as their “No. 1 attraction,” in which Smith responded no, it should be Bryce Harper or Mike Trout -both white players- due to Ohtani’s language barrier making it hard for the MLB to market him.

  • Smith received backlash on social media and from colleagues for the “xenophobic” comments. Pablo Torre, host of “ESPN Daily Podcast,” stated that Ohtani shouldn’t have to “cut up little English soundbites,” in order to communicate to the public. Mina Kimes, an NFL analyst for ESPN, brought up Ohtani’s skills on the baseball field and how his success translates in all languages. Former ESPN commentator Keith Olbermann wants Smith suspended because his comments contribute to the increase of “anti-Asian” violence that the country has seen since the start of the pandemic.

  • The opinionated sports analyst released an apology Monday night on his Twitter page voicing his “sincere apologies” for offending the Asian and Asian American communities. He admitted that he stereotyped Ohtani, and as a Black man, he knows the damage that stems from stereotyping individuals. Smith wrote that Ohtani is one of the “biggest stars in sports” and that he presents inclusiveness and leadership skills within the sport. He acknowledged that he screwed up and that his comments were insensitive, especially during a time of racial and social change. Smith also gave a verbal apology Tuesday on his show.

ESPN baseball reporter Jeff Passan and staff writer Joon Lee were brought onto Tuesday’s episode to speak on the subject with Smith and hold him accountable for his comments. Meanwhile, Ohtani went on to make history by being the first Japanese-born player to participate in the Home Run Derby and the first player to be starting pitcher and leadoff hitter in an MLB All-Star Game. He secured the American League’s win over the National League in Tuesday night’s game, 5-2.

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