ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith apologized overnight after receiving backlash for his remarks about Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani’s use of an interpreter.
“I never intend to offend ANY COMMUNITY, particularly the Asian Community — and especially SHOHEI Ohtani, himself,” Smith wrote in an apology late Monday. “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.”
“I screwed up,” he added. “In this day and age, with all the violence being perpetrated against the Asian Community, my comments — albeit unintentional — were clearly insensitive and regrettable.”
“I’m sincerely sorry for any angst I’ve caused with my comments.”
In a segment on ESPN’s morning talk show “First Take,” Smith said Monday that Ohtani, a Japanese-born Major League Baseball sensation who has drawn comparisons to Babe Ruth, couldn’t be the face of the sport because he uses an interpreter.
“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,” he said on the show.
Criticism was swift. Smith initially doubled down and clarified his comments in a video Monday afternoon, saying that he was “talking about the marketability and the promotion of the sport” — drawing more ire on social media, including from his fellow colleagues.
Pablo Torre, host of “ESPN Daily Podcast,” addressed Smith’s comments Monday on Twitter, writing that “perhaps we shouldn’t ask the most multitalented player in recorded baseball history to cut up lil morsels of English soundbites.”
And ESPN NFL analyst Mina Kimes responded to a tweet about Ohtani’s accomplishments, adding: “Gonna go ahead and say this translates in any language.”
ESPN did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Ohtani, a two-way Angels superstar, became the first Japanese-born player to participate in MLB’s Home Run Derby on Monday. After playing professional Japanese baseball for several years, Ohtani signed with the Angels in 2017. He was also named American League Rookie of the Year in 2018.