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13 Jul, 2021 15:38

‘I screwed up’: ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith ‘sorry’ after blasting baseball star Shohei Ohtani for inability to speak English

‘I screwed up’: ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith ‘sorry’ after blasting baseball star Shohei Ohtani for inability to speak English

ESPN mouthpiece Stephen A. Smith has issued a public apology after he was ripped online for comments made about baseball star Shohei Ohtani's continued use of an interpreter in interviews.

Smith drew backlash for comments about Japanese-born MLB player Ohtani on ESPN's 'First Take' in which he said that the Los Angeles Angels ace, who has drawn comparisons with some of the game's greatest-ever players, will never assume the role as the public face of the sport - because he can't speak English.

"I understand that baseball is an international sport itself in terms of participation, but 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 number one face is a dude that needs an interpreter, so you can understand what the hell he’s saying in this country," Smith said in his initial comments.

Smith – who has often found himself entangled in criticism due to his coverage of various other sports – initially refused to walk back his comments, saying that he was speaking solely from the perspective of marketability, but this too was slammed by fans of the sport along with several high profile analysts.

Pablo Torre, a colleague of Smith's at ESPN, was critical of Smith's position, saying that Ohtani shouldn't be forced to run through a list of sporting tropes after a game in a language in which he isn't comfortable.

"Perhaps we shouldn’t ask the most multitalented player in recorded baseball history to cut up lil morsels of English soundbites," said Torre.

Another ESPN employee, Mina Kimes, also highlighted the perceived insensitivity of Smith's statement by retweeting a social media post saying that Ohtani's has been selected as the American League all-star pitcher.

"Gonna go ahead and say this translates in any language," she said.

And noting the rancor from his colleagues at ESPN, and indeed the wider sporting community in the United States, Smith has since issued an apology for his "insensitive" statement.

"I never intend to offend ANY COMMUNITY, particularly the Asian Community – and especially SHOHEI Ohtani, himself," wrote Smith late on Monday.

"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.

"I screwed up," he concluded. "In this day and age, with all the violence being perpetrated against the Asian Community, my comments – albeit unintentional – were clearly insensitive and regrettable."

"I’m sincerely sorry for any angst I’ve caused with my comments."

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Smith's apology, of course, ignited a further debate online.

"English is just a language," wrote one person in response. "In sports talent and performance is the actual language. Messi doesn't speak English still he is global superstar. Judge athletes on the basis of performance not from where they come from or how they speak."

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