Sports

Stephen A. Smith Is Getting Rightfully Ripped For Saying Shohei Ohtani Can’t Be The Face Of Baseball Because He Needs An Interpreter

Shohei Ohtani has become baseball’s biggest star in 2021, as he does things for the Angels that no one has done in MLB since Babe Ruth, leading the league in home runs with 33 while posting a 3.49 ERA in 13 starts on the mound. He is a two-way superstar, earning an All-Star nod as both a pitcher and position player, and is also going to compete in the Home Run Derby, making it one of the most anticipated Derbys in recent history. He’s also going to start as the American League’s pitcher and bat leadoff on Tuesday.

All of this is to say, Ohtani is a superstar and every time he hits another mammoth home run it gets shared far and wide across social media. With ESPN set to carry the Derby where he is the undoubted face, one would think they’d look to their biggest program to build more excitement for the Ohtani show. However, on First Take, the debate on Monday wasn’t about Ohtani’s skills on the field but instead Stephen A. Smith offering a xenophobic argument that it’s bad for baseball that he’s the face of the sport when he communicates to English-speaking reporters through an interpreter.

The full segment, which can be viewed here, isn’t any better, and Smith’s comments immediately went viral for all the wrong reasons and have brought rightful fury his way for trotting out old, racist tropes about foreign players. ESPN’s Joon Lee, in particular, offered a thread explaining exactly why Stephen A.’s comments were so hurtful and wrong.

Others also chimed in, pointing out how dreadful the First Take segment was and how Smith’s comments also were just flat-out wrong given the immense popularity of Ohtani and how he’s brought more eyes to baseball by the sheer magnetism of his play on the field.

Many pointed out that Smith had a segment on his ESPN+ show last week talking about how baseball wasn’t doing enough to market Ohtani, and then turned around on the show where he has the biggest platform and trotted out this horrible argument as to why it’s bad for baseball that Ohtani could be the face of the sport.

There are a lot of things that could’ve been said in this space that would’ve been far more productive. Hell, just talking about how great Ohtani is for five minutes over clips of all of his ridiculous home runs and his filthy pitching would’ve done plenty to help out baseball in marketing its best player, which Smith seems so incredibly concerned about. That he at one point even asks how many times they’ve talked about him on the show only further proves how disingenuous his point is, as they could very easily talk about Ohtani more if they simply wanted to.

Instead, they crossed the line into the ugliest side of the sports discourse in America when it comes to foreign players, which so often focuses on language barriers when what we are told is so great about sports is that it transcends boundaries and backgrounds. What you do on the field is supposed to be the thing that matters the most, and Ohtani does things no one has seen in this lifetime, so why not celebrate those and enjoy that he is clearly a larger than life personality who has such clear joy for the game while on the field that we don’t need him to necessarily articulate that to us afterwards — which he also happily does through an interpreter, which isn’t a difficult thing to deal with at all despite what some will try to tell you.

UPDATE: Smith tried to clarify his comments later in a video and said he’s always willing to apologize when he gets something wrong. Although in the video he doesn’t seem to quite capture exactly why folks were upset, as he says the issue is baseball’s marketing and that it makes it more difficult when people don’t speak English, which many are pointing shouldn’t be the case.

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