Stephen A. Smith dominated sports headlines on Monday for all of the wrong reasons, as he bungled the names of Nigerian basketball players while ripping Team USA for losing to D’Tigers and then later said Shohei Ohtani being the face of baseball wasn’t what the sport needed because he speaks through a translator.
The latter point, in particular, caused quite the uproar and garnered an awful lot of response from his own ESPN colleagues on Twitter, as they pointed out how bad those comments were and how they played into xenophobic tropes that foreign players have for years dealt with across all sports. Smith initially tried to clarify his statement, but eventually came to realize there was no clarifying and issued an apology for his “regrettable” comments, saying he “screwed up.”
On Tuesday morning, Smith again issued an apology saying he was “wrong, period” to open the show.
Stephen A. Smith addresses his previous statement about Shohei Ohtani not being ideal for the promotion of the MLB because he speaks through an interpreter. (Via @FirstTake) pic.twitter.com/V3hmekppw7
— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) July 13, 2021
Joon Lee, who was among the most vocal individuals from ESPN immediately after Smith’s comments on Twitter, was given ample airtime to talk about why those comments were so hurtful to hear as an Asian-American and pointed out the issues the sports media as a whole has in dealing with Asian athletes.
— Joon 이준엽 (@joonlee) July 13, 2021
Smith also got an earful from ESPN baseball analyst Jeff Passan, who offered an impassioned explanation for why Ohtani is the type of player and person that First Take, ESPN as a network, and baseball as a whole should be embracing fully, noting he is the embodiment of chasing the American dream — the full segment with Smith’s apology and Passan’s response can be seen in the video at the top.
Jeff Passan went hard in the paint pic.twitter.com/WkqLMsbyP7
— Chris Uno Cero (@ceroto60) July 13, 2021
Passan is right in that Ohtani is the type of player that should be celebrated across sports media. He is a magnetic, seemingly endlessly positive personality on the field who shows that joy for the game constantly, without even needing to express it verbally — which, again, he’ll happily do through an interpreter because that’s what is most comfortable. He also pointed out that Smith mentioned on Monday’s show that they’ve barely discussed Ohtani this year, and Passan pointed to that being a First Take problem, not an Ohtani one.
Smith has gotten rightfully blasted for his comments and has seemingly taken that in and recognized just how off-base he was. That said, we’ll have to see how long this lesson sticks with him, but it’s clear that there was no gray area here for his comments with his ESPN colleagues and how quickly he has walked it back and apologized has made it abundant he’s seen that.