ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith issues groveling apology for criticizing Shohei Ohtani’s use of interpreter


A sports anchor has apologized to a Japanese baseball player for saying that his use of interpreters in interviews damages the sport.  

Stephen A. Smith, an ESPN host, who is black, was accused of xenophobia after saying that Los Angeles Angels pitching and hitting sensation Shohei Ohtani’s translators negatively impacts Major League Baseball’s popularity.

‘The fact that you got a foreign player that doesn’t speak English, believe it or not, I think contributes to harming the game to some degree, when that’s your box office appeal,’ Smith said during Monday’s episode of First Take.

Smith was fiercely criticized for his comments, but initially resisted backing down.

By Monday night, however, he had changed his mind and issued an apology.

ESPN host Stephen A. Smith (pictured) is facing accusations of racism after saying that Los Angeles Angels pitching and hitting sensation Shohei Ohtani’s reliance on interpreters in interviews is negatively impacting Major League Baseball’s popularity

Shohei Ohtani speaks with interpreter Ippei Mizuhara during the 2021 MLB Home Run Derby on Monday night in Denver, Colorado

Shohei Ohtani speaks with interpreter Ippei Mizuhara during the 2021 MLB Home Run Derby on Monday night in Denver, Colorado

Ohtani, the first two-way starter in All-Star Game history, does speak some English and knows Spanish as well, but has chosen to rely on interpreters when speaking with reporters since entering the Majors in 2017. In spite of his perceived language barrier, Ohtani made history on Monday by being named the leadoff hitter and starting pitcher for the American League in Tuesday's All-Star Game. He currently leads the majors in home runs (33) and boasts a solid 3.49 earned-run average on the mound in what many experts see as baseball's best two-way performance since Babe Ruth last played for the Boston Red Sox in 1918

Ohtani, the first two-way starter in All-Star Game history, does speak some English and knows Spanish as well, but has chosen to rely on interpreters when speaking with reporters since entering the Majors in 2017. In spite of his perceived language barrier, Ohtani made history on Monday by being named the leadoff hitter and starting pitcher for the American League in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. He currently leads the majors in home runs (33) and boasts a solid 3.49 earned-run average on the mound in what many experts see as baseball’s best two-way performance since Babe Ruth last played for the Boston Red Sox in 1918

‘Let me apologize right now,’ Smith wrote on Instagram. 

‘As I’m watching things unfold, let me say that I never intended to offend any community, particularly the Asian community – and especially Shohei Ohtani, himself. 

‘As an African-American, keenly aware of the damage stereotyping has done to many in this country, it should’ve elevated my sensitivities even more. 

‘Based on my words, I failed in that regard and it’s on me, and me alone.’

Smith, who earns $12 million a year in his sports anchor role, said that he had ‘screwed up’.

Ohtani has generated huge buzz across baseball for his exploits at the plate and on the mound. He leads the majors with 33 home runs and is 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA in 13 starts

Ohtani has generated huge buzz across baseball for his exploits at the plate and on the mound. He leads the majors with 33 home runs and is 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA in 13 starts

He said he was sorry for his remarks, particularly at a time when racist attacks against Asian Americans are on the rise. 

‘Ohtani is one of the brightest stars in all of sports,’ said Smith. 

‘He is making a difference, as it pertains to inclusiveness and leadership. I should have embraced that in my comments. 

‘Instead, I screwed up. In this day and age, with all the violence being perpetrated against the Asian Community, my comments — albeit unintentional — were clearly insensitive and regrettable.’ 

The 53-year-old New Yorker has had to apologize in the past for suggesting that women provoke domestic violence, and for saying that the German women’s soccer team might not want to mess up their hair.

On Monday he apologized again. 

‘There’s simply no other way to put it,’ he concluded. 

‘I’m sincerely sorry for any angst I’ve caused with my comments on First Take this morning. Again, I am sorry. 

‘And I’ll happily reiterate these words more extensively tomorrow morning, as well.’ 

Ohtani, the first two-way starter in the All-Star Game’s 88-year history, does speak some English and knows Spanish as well, but has chosen to rely on interpreters when speaking with reporters since entering the Majors in 2017.

In spite of his perceived language barrier, Ohtani made history on Monday by being named the leadoff hitter and starting pitcher for the American League in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. 

Ohtani is seen playing during the first round of the MLB All Star baseball Home Run Derby in Denver, Colorado, on Monday night

Ohtani is seen playing during the first round of the MLB All Star baseball Home Run Derby in Denver, Colorado, on Monday night

He currently leads the majors in home runs (33) and boasts a solid 3.49 earned-run average on the mound in what many experts see as baseball’s best two-way performance since Babe Ruth last played for the Boston Red Sox in 1919.

But to Smith, the fact that Ohtani requires the assistance of an interpreter was too much to ignore.

‘When you talk about an audience gravitating to the tube, or to the ballpark, to actually watch you, 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, in this country,’ he said. 

‘And that’s what I’m trying to say.’

Smith was strongly criticized for his remarks.

‘This xenophobic stance by Stephen A. Smith isn’t just an off the cuff ”hot take,”’ one critic wrote on Twitter. 

‘This isn’t ”barbershop talk.” This is a produced segment. 

‘This ”take” is accompanied by graphics. 

‘This ”take” is a segment that was previously discussed in morning meetings.’

Stephen A. Smith was specifically accused of making a xenophobic comment about Ohtani

Stephen A. Smith was specifically accused of making a xenophobic comment about Ohtani 

Sports radio host Arash Markazi agreed, tweeting: ‘This wasn’t an off the cuff comment.

‘The prepared chyron is cringeworthy too. Why the hell would it be bad for Shoehi Ohtani to be the No. 1 attraction? He’s a generational talent doing things we haven’t seen since Babe Ruth. 

‘Why, because he’s Japanese and learning English?’ 

Former ESPN host Keith Olbermann described himself as a supporter of Smith, but admitted that he deserves to be suspended.

‘I’ve supported @stephenasmith when he’s been big at @espn and when he hasn’t, and when he’s been right and when he’s been wrong,’ Olbermann tweeted. 

‘But this, about Shohei Ohtani, is straight up racism at a time of dangerous anti-Asian violence. This requires an apology, and a suspension. Now.’

Many athletes who speak English as a second language have chosen to stick with interpreters after mastering the dialect, including former Japanese Major Leaguer Ichiro Suzuki and Mexican boxer Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.

Former ESPN host Keith Olbermann described himself as a supporter of Smith, but admitted that he deserves to be suspended

Former ESPN host Keith Olbermann described himself as a supporter of Smith, but admitted that he deserves to be suspended

Many athletes who speak English as a second language have chosen to stick with interpreters after mastering the dialect, including former Japanese Major Leaguer Ichiro Suzuki (center) and Mexican boxer Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez

Many athletes who speak English as a second language have chosen to stick with interpreters after mastering the dialect, including former Japanese Major Leaguer Ichiro Suzuki (center) and Mexican boxer Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez

A 27-year-old in his fourth major league season with the Los Angeles Angels, Ohtani is the first two-way starter in the history of the All-Star Game, which began in 1933.

‘I was actually not expecting to be chosen as a pitcher at all,’ Ohtani said Monday through a translator. 

‘It’s a huge honor and I’m going to try my best.’

Ohtani has generated huge buzz across baseball for his exploits at the plate and on the mound. 

He leads the majors with 33 home runs and is 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA in 13 starts.

‘This is what the fans want to see. It’s personally what I wanted to see,’ said AL manager Kevin Cash of Tampa Bay.

Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals will be the starting pitcher for the National League in the game at Coors Field.

Ohtani was elected to start at DH by fans and was voted to the AL pitching staff by fellow players. 

He’s hitting .279 with 70 RBIs, trailing only Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (73) and Boston’s Rafael Devers (72).

On the mound, Ohtani has struck out 87 and walked 35 in 67 innings. 

His fastball averages 93.8 mph, essentially the same as the 93.7 mph exit velocity of balls off his bat, tops among qualified major league batters.

Ohtani is the most accomplished two-way player since Babe Ruth, who last pitched regularly in 1919. 

Fans saw him in action starting Monday night in the Home Run Derby.

Ohtani will become the second Japanese pitcher to start an All-Star game after Hideo Nomo in 1995 and the third Asian. Hyun Jin Ryu of South Korea started in 2019.

A rules change this year for the All-Star Game will allow Ohtani, listed as a DH, to be treated as two individual players and remain as a hitter when he is removed as a pitcher. 



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