ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith apologized Monday evening for remarks earlier in the day that Japanese baseball star Shohei Ohtani’s need for an interpreter isn’t good for marketing the game.
In a lengthy statement put up to Twitter, Smith apologized to the Los Angeles Angels pitcher-slugger and to Asians in general.
“Let me apologize right now,” Smith posted as Ohtani prepared to compete in baseball’s Home Run Derby, an unprecedented quest for a man who’s also a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.
“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,” Smith said. “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.”
Earlier Monday, Smith started a firestorm by saying on “First Take” by saying that it’d be better for baseball if its biggest star, which Ohtani arguably now is, weren’t a “foreign player” with limited English.
“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 to some degree, when that’s your box-office appeal,” he told co-hosts Molly Qerim and Max Kellerman.
Smith initially defended his remarks, posting a video Monday in which he said it had nothing to do with Ohtani being specifically Japanese.
“People are misinterpreting what I’m saying,” Smith said. “If you are trying to ingratiate yourself with the American public the way Major League Baseball is because of the problems that you’re having to deal with in terms of approving the attractiveness of the sport, it helps if you spoke the English language.”
But in some commentators’ eyes, Smith was simply doubling down and at least two ESPN employees — MLB insider Jeff Passan and “SportsCenter” anchor Nicole Briscoe — expressed public dissatisfaction, with Briscoe saying “the bosses” at the network should get involved.
Smith backed off shortly after 6 p.m. Monday and said he would address the matter again on Tuesday’s “First Take” program.
“Again, I am sorry. And I’ll happily reiterate these words more extensively tomorrow morning, as well,” Smith concluded.