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ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith Apologizes After Saying Shohei Ohtani’s Need For An Interpreter Is ‘Harming The Game’
PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 20: ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith looks on prior to the game between the Dallas Mavericks and Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on December 20, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Stephen A. Smith is paid to talk, and he does so very well. But every once in a while, all that talking can get you in trouble. 

On Monday, Smith was on ESPN’s “First Take” — as he is every weekday — when the topic of Los Angeles Angels star pitcher and hitter Shohei Ohtani was brought up. Smith was asked if it was good for Major League Baseball that Ohtani has become the sport’s number one attraction. Smith — well known for never holding back — took a controversial angle. 

“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,” Smith said. “It needs to be somebody like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, those guys. And unfortunately at this moment in time, that’s not the case.” 

Ohtani is from Japan, and while he is not fluent, he can speak English. He also speaks Spanish. 

“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.” 

It was a very bad take from Smith, who usually has a very firm grip on the happenings of the sports world, and is generally fair in his criticism of athletes. But he missed the mark on Ohtani — and badly. 

Smith attempted to clarify his stance after the show, saying that his comments were “misinterpreted.” 

“Some of the greatest players in the world are foreign players. Tatis [San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.] comes to my mind, and Ohtani is the second coming of Babe Ruth,” Smith said in a video posted to Twitter. “That’s not what I was trying to say. I’m talking about the marketability and the promotion of the sport.” 

Major League Baseball has a problem — they aren’t attracting the younger generation of fans. 

The game of baseball lacks the highlight plays of the NBA and the big hits of the NFL, all while taking around three hours to complete a game. Most adults don’t have time to watch a three-hour baseball game on a weeknight, and the younger generation of fans are too busy watching YouTube to care. 

A superstar is desperately needed in the game of baseball to give fans a reason to tune in. 

Ohtani is that superstar. 

Many have not been paying attention to what Ohtani has been doing on the baseball diamond, but they will soon. 

Last week, Ohtani became the first player in Major League Baseball history to be selected to the All-Star Game as both a hitter and a pitcher. He’ll get the start on the mound for the American League in Tuesday’s All-Star Game while also batting leadoff for the AL. 

Ohtani also participated in Monday night’s 2021 Home Run Derby. He lost in the first-round of the Derby to Washington Nationals star Juan Soto, but based on the attention around him at Coors Field, his early departure was irrelevant. 

“I don’t know if I should be preparing,” Home Derby participant Trey Mancini said. “But I don’t want to miss Shohei.”

Ohtani is must see television. At the halfway mark of the baseball season, Ohtani is hitting .279 with a league-leading 33 home runs, 70 RBI’s, 65 runs scored, and 12 steals. On the mound, Ohtani has a 3.49 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 67 innings. 

He’s the modern day Babe Ruth. 

Smith was blasted on social media after his comments began to trend. On Monday evening, Smith issued an apology:

Let me apologize right now. As I’m watching things unfold, let me say that I never intend 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. 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. There’s simply no other way to put it. 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.  


Smith will undoubtedly have more to say on Tuesday’s edition of “First Take,” but he missed the mark on Monday. 

Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to

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