Stephen A. Smith Apologizes After Receiving Backlash over Shohei Ohtani Criticism

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVJuly 12, 2021

Stephen A. Smith attends ESPN: The Party 2017 held on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, in Houston, Texas. (Photo by John Salangsang/Invision/AP)
John Salangsang/Invision/AP

ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith apologized for his criticism of Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani after posting a video suggesting "people are misinterpreting what I'm saying" when his initial opinion drew so much backlash.

Smith said that he "screwed up" in his apology and is "sincerely sorry for any angst I've caused with my comments" while explaining he "never intended to offend any community, particularly the Asian community—and especially Shohei Ohtani, himself."

Stephen A Smith @stephenasmith

I'm sincerely sorry. <a href="https://t.co/pANjWTrD4X">pic.twitter.com/pANjWTrD4X</a>

The lengthy apology came after he posted a video in which he said, in part, "I'm talking about the marketability and the promotion of the sport ... If you are a sport trying to ingratiate yourself to the American public the way Major League Baseball is because of the problems that you've been having to deal with in terms of improving the attractiveness of the sport, it helps then if you speak the English language. It doesn't mean anything more than that."

Stephen A Smith @stephenasmith

On my earlier comments about Ohtani <a href="https://t.co/FM0vnDDXBB">pic.twitter.com/FM0vnDDXBB</a>

Smith also pointed to an "older" audience for baseball compared to basketball and football and called Ohtani "the second coming of Babe Ruth."

He then ended the video by saying, "When you're a superstar, if you can speak the English language, then guess what? That's gonna make it that much easier and less challenging to promote the sport. That's all I was saying about anybody. Later."

The video followed his comments on Monday's episode of First Take in which he said the fact Ohtani, who is from Japan, uses an interpreter rather than speaking to the media in English is actually harmful to 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," Smith said (h/t Chris Bumbaca of USA Today). "It needs to be somebody like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, those guys. And unfortunately at this point in time, that's not the case."

Ethan Sands of the Los Angeles Times shared more of the ESPN personality's comments in which Smith said, "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."

It should be noted that Ohtani gave a speech in English after winning the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year award:

Los Angeles Angels @Angels

"What an honor it is to share this stage with so many great players."<br><br>Shohei Ohtani received his Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award from GM Billy Eppler at the <a href="https://twitter.com/officialBBWAA?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@officialBBWAA</a> Awards Dinner. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/OhtaniROY?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#OhtaniROY</a> <a href="https://t.co/6ce206lCtm">pic.twitter.com/6ce206lCtm</a>

Smith's comments also come after he recently complained MLB was not doing enough to market the Angels star:


"Baseball has a damn modern day Babe Ruth on their hands and what are they doing about it?"<a href="https://twitter.com/stephenasmith?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@StephenASmith</a> is mad about the lack of marketing of Shohei Ohtani. <a href="https://t.co/nY4sg7iQHx">pic.twitter.com/nY4sg7iQHx</a>

Despite Smith's opinion, Ohtani has been a dominant force throughout the 2021 MLB season and has inspired Ruthian comparisons because of his ability both at the plate and on the mound. He leads all hitters with 33 home runs and a .698 slugging percentage and has a 1.062 OPS and 70 RBI all while posting a 3.49 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 87 strikeouts in 67 innings as a pitcher.

He has become must-watch television for baseball fans and will be a major part of this week's All-Star Game festivities.

Ohtani is participating in Monday's Home Run Derby, will be the starting pitcher for the American League in Tuesday's contest and will lead off the game as a designated hitter.