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Stephen A. Smith apologizes for comments about Shohei Ohtani

Shohei Ohtani speaks during his introductory news conference at Angel Stadium in 2017.
Shohei Ohtani speaks during his introductory news conference at Angel Stadium in 2017. Four years later, he’s one of the best players in the major leagues.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith has offered an apology for saying the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani isn’t the best star for Major League Baseball because he doesn’t speak fluent English.

In Monday morning’s episode of “First Take,” 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.”

Smith mentioned other star athletes who also had to overcome the language barrier but made the adjustment during their time as professionals in America.

“In other sports, Max, like basketball, you notice, you know, Dirk Nowitzki was German, and Manu Ginóbili and others were from other places, and guess what, Max? They spoke fluent English. You understood what they were saying when somebody was interviewing them,” Smith said.

Smith later tried to clarify his comments in a tweet, but that appeared to miss the mark as well. Eventually, the ESPN host tweeted a full-throated apology.

“Let me apologize right now,” the tweet began. “As I’m watching things unfold, let me say that I never intended to offend ANY COMMUNITY, particularly the Asian Community — and especially SHOHEI Ohtani, himself. As an African-American, keenly aware of the damage stereotyping has done to many in this country, it should’ve elevated my sensitivities even more. Based on my words, I failed in that regard and it’s on me, and me alone! Ohtani is one of the brightest stars in all of sports. He is making a difference, as it pertains to inclusiveness and leadership. I should have embraced that in my comments. Instead, I screwed up.”

Ohtani will be a primary figure during the All-Star festivities in Denver. Not only is he in the home run derby Monday night, he has been selected to start on the mound for the American League.

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Contrary to Smith’s statement, Ohtani gave a speech in English when he received the 2019 rookie of the year award.

The social media realm went into an uproar of disgust after hearing Smith’s take early Monday.

Much of the criticism focused on the fact that in 2021, when people are starting to be accepted for their identities, Smith’s commentary might have set the sports world backward.

Shohei Ohtani’s two-way exploits will be among the highlights during the All-Star game and home run derby. Check out The Times’ complete coverage.


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