Shohei Ohtani Responds to Stephen A. Smith’s Criticism About Not Speaking English

Adam WellsJanuary 12, 2022

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 03: Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels watches his home run against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning at T-Mobile Park on October 03, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Reigning American League MVP Shohei Ohtani took the high road in response to controversial comments ESPN's Stephen A. Smith made last summer about the Los Angeles Angels star not speaking English. 

Speaking to Daniel Riley of GQ in Japanese, Ohtani explained he "would speak English" if he could:

"Of course I would want to. Obviously it wouldn't hurt to be able to speak English. There would only be positive things to come from that. But I came here to play baseball, at the end of the day, and I've felt like my play on the field could be my way of communicating with the people, with the fans. That's all I really took from that in the end."

During an episode of First Take in July, Smith went on a rant about how Ohtani using an interpreter "contributes to harming" baseball in the United States: 

This brother is special, make no mistake about it. But the fact that you've 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. It needs to be somebody like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, those guys. ... 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 that you can understand what the hell he's saying in this country.

Amid backlash to those comments, Smith did issue an apology on Twitter by saying he "never intended to offend ANY COMMUNITY—and especially Shohei Ohtani, himself."

There is no doubt right now that Ohtani is the biggest star in Major League Baseball. He received the third-highest percentage of votes (63 percent; Toronto Blue Jays' Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had 74 percent of the vote and San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. received 64 percent) among finalists regardless of position for the 2021 All-Star Game. 

Ohtani also became the first player in MLB history to make the All-Star team as a position player and pitcher. He was voted as a starter at designated hitter and was named to the squad as a pitcher. 

American League manager Kevin Cash named Ohtani the starting pitcher for the Midsummer Classic. The 27-year-old also participated in the Home Run Derby and was the central focus for the media. 

Barbara McHugh, Major League Baseball's senior vice president of marketing, told CNBC's Jabari Young in July the league has been "planning and building" advertising campaigns around Ohtani. 

"It plays off his name and what he’s doing—he’s putting on a show,” McHugh said. “We want to make sure we’re capitalizing on that and making it as major as possible. He’s been one of the most unique and transformational players in baseball history."

Ohtani was the unanimous choice for AL MVP in 2021. He hit .257/.372/.592 with 46 homers, 26 stolen bases and 100 RBI as a hitter and posted a 3.18 ERA with 156 strikeouts in 130.1 innings as a pitcher.