The Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, a player who traveled from his native Japan to play Major League Baseball, leads the MLB with 33 home runs and, as a pitcher, he boasts a 3.49 ERA. While his combination of power hitting and pitching have made him a superstar, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith isn’t sure that Ohtani can work as a face of the league, and Smith’s comments regarding that are now at the center of a controversy.
Appearing on “First Take” earlier today (July 12), Smith spoke on what he sees as marketing issues surrounding the MLB, and during one part of the segment, he touched on the phenomenon that is Ohtani. While Smith acknowledged Ohtani’s skill, he suggested that, because Ohtani needs an interpreter to communicate with English speaking audiences, having Ohtani be the league’s biggest draw is a marketing problem.
“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 after comparing Ohtani to Babe Ruth. “It needs to be somebody like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, those guys. And unfortunately at this point in time, that’s not the case.”
Within minutes of making those comments, Twitter began bashing Smith, accusing him of xenophobia and racism.
“Stephen A Smith going full MAGA on Shohei Ohtani,” wrote one Twitter user. “This is fucking gross!” “Apologize to Ohtani & all of Japan on live tv you Xenophobe and recognize the man’s greatness,” wrote another.
Smith has since come forth to speak on his initial comments. In a video he uploaded to Twitter hours after he made his comments, he said that people misunderstood what he said. You can watch him explain below.
Smith’s comments arrive a little over a week after his fellow ESPN personality Rachel Nichols faced controversy for comments she made in a leaked phone call in July 2020. Last week, The New York Times published a story with the leaked audio, and in it, Nichols suggests that fellow ESPN reporter Maria Taylor would be getting a job because ESPN wanted to improve their diversity record. The comments apparently caused a big fall out in ESPN after they surfaced last year, and now that the comments are public, Nichols has faced a large wave of criticism.
Now, ESPN will face more heat after Smith’s comments hit the internet today. See Smith’s comments about Ohtani, as well as reactions to the comments below.