ESPN host Stephen A. Smith apologized to Los Angeles Angels’ Japanese player Shohei Ohtani for his xenophobic comment.
Smith was accused of xenophobia after saying that Ohtani’s reliance on interpreters damages the popularity of the Major League Baseball.
“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,” said Smith on Monday in an episode of “First Take.”
Smith believes that players who speak English fluently could better improve baseball’s popularity instead, saying: “It needs to be somebody like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, those guys. And unfortunately at this point in time, that’s not the case.”
Ohtani speaks some English and Spanish. However, he chooses to use interpreters during interviews. For Smith, that was something that cannot be ignored.
“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,” Smith said. “And that’s what I’m trying to say.”
After being heavily criticized for his remark, Smith initially refused to acknowledge that he was wrong. However, later on that night, he issued an apology to the baseball star.
“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! Ohtani is one of the brightest stars in all of sports. He is making a difference, as it pertains to inclusiveness and leadership. I should have embraced that in my comments.”