ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith apologized on air Tuesday morning for comments he made about Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani, acknowledging the hot talk he typically offers on his program had elevated to boiling after he suggested the Japanese baseball star’s use of an interpreter diminished his appeal, as as well as that of the sport.
Smith used the opening minutes of his popular ESPN program, “First Take,” to apologize to the “Asian community, the Asian American community, to Walt Disney and ESPN” for his comments. “I also want to extend a personal apology to Ohtani himself,” Smith said.
Smith has been on a mission of atonement since yesterday’s conversation, during which he said Ohtani needed to speak English during public appearances. “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 you can understand what the hell he’s saying in this country,” Smith said during his Monday broadcast.
Criticism came quickly — and some of it from Smith’s own colleagues, including Mina Kimes and Pablo Torre.
After Monday’s broadcast, Smith took to social media to try and clarify his remarks in a short video, but did not apologize for them. He subsequently released a statement Monday saying that said he regretted his line of commentary. “As an African-American, keenly aware of the damage stereotyping has done to many in this country, it should’ve elevated my sensitives even more,” he said.
Smith is one of ESPN’s top on-air anchors, and recently launched a new show on the company’s streaming-video outlet ESPN Plus where he has made an effort to broaden his appeal beyond the world of sports. In January, he told Variety he would like to have the chance to launch a late-night show. “I want to be in that mix one day,” he said at the time.