ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith is slammed for ‘racism’ over complaint that Shohei Ohtani needs interpreter

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ESPN host Stephen A. Smith is facing accusations of xenophobia after saying that Los Angeles Angels pitching and hitting sensation Shohei Ohtani’s reliance on interpreters in interviews is negatively impacting Major League Baseball’s popularity.

‘The fact that you got a foreign player that doesn’t speak English, believe it or not, I think contributes to harming the game to some degree, when that’s your box office appeal,’ Smith said during Monday’s ‘First Take in reference to Japan‘s Ohtani.

Smith, who is black, then offered the names of several white MLB stars whom he believes stand a better chance of improving baseball’s popularity: ‘It needs to be somebody like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, those guys. And unfortunately at this point in time, that’s not the case.’

Ohtani, the first two-way starter in the All-Star Game’s 88-year history, does speak some English and knows Spanish as well, but has chosen to rely on interpreters when speaking with reporters since entering the Majors in 2017.

In spite of his perceived language barrier, Ohtani made history on Monday by being named the leadoff hitter and starting pitcher for the American League in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. He currently leads the majors in home runs (33) and boasts a solid 3.49 earned-run average on the mound in what many experts see as baseball’s best two-way performance since Babe Ruth last played for the Boston Red Sox in 1919.

But to Smith, the fact that Ohtani requires the assistance of an interpreter is too much to ignore.

‘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 No. 1 face is a dude that needs an interpreter so you can understand what the hell he’s saying, in this country,’ he said. ‘And that’s what I’m trying to say.’

ESPN host Stephen A. Smith (pictured) is facing accusations of racism after saying that Los Angeles Angels pitching and hitting sensation Shohei Ohtani’s reliance on interpreters in interviews is negatively impacting Major League Baseball’s popularity

Ohtani, the first two-way starter in All-Star Game history, does speak some English and knows Spanish as well, but has chosen to rely on interpreters when speaking with reporters since entering the Majors in 2017. In spite of his perceived language barrier, Ohtani made history on Monday by being named the leadoff hitter and starting pitcher for the American League in Tuesday's All-Star Game. He currently leads the majors in home runs (33) and boasts a solid 3.49 earned-run average on the mound in what many experts see as baseball's best two-way performance since Babe Ruth last played for the Boston Red Sox in 1918

Ohtani, the first two-way starter in All-Star Game history, does speak some English and knows Spanish as well, but has chosen to rely on interpreters when speaking with reporters since entering the Majors in 2017. In spite of his perceived language barrier, Ohtani made history on Monday by being named the leadoff hitter and starting pitcher for the American League in Tuesday's All-Star Game. He currently leads the majors in home runs (33) and boasts a solid 3.49 earned-run average on the mound in what many experts see as baseball's best two-way performance since Babe Ruth last played for the Boston Red Sox in 1918

Ohtani, the first two-way starter in All-Star Game history, does speak some English and knows Spanish as well, but has chosen to rely on interpreters when speaking with reporters since entering the Majors in 2017. In spite of his perceived language barrier, Ohtani made history on Monday by being named the leadoff hitter and starting pitcher for the American League in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. He currently leads the majors in home runs (33) and boasts a solid 3.49 earned-run average on the mound in what many experts see as baseball’s best two-way performance since Babe Ruth last played for the Boston Red Sox in 1918

Smith is now facing an onslaught of criticism, both from people who were offended by his comments, and those who feel his opinion is irrelevant.

‘This wasn’t an off the cuff comment,’ tweeted sports radio host Arash Markazi. ‘The prepared chyron is cringeworthy too. Why the hell would it be bad for Shoehi Ohtani to be the No. 1 attraction? He’s a generational talent doing things we haven’t seen since Babe Ruth. Why, because he’s Japanese and learning English?’

‘Why are people getting so worked up about Stephen A Smith like anything he’s ever had to say about baseball has mattered even a little bit?’ Wrote Barstool Sports’ Jared Carrabis on Twitter.

Former ESPN host Keith Olberman described himself as a supporter of Smith, but admitted that he deserves to be suspended.

‘I’ve supported @stephenasmith when he’s been big at @espn and when he hasn’t, and when he’s been right and when he’s been wrong,’ Olberman tweeted. ‘But this, about Shohei Ohtani, is straight up racism at a time of dangerous anti-Asian violence. This requires an apology, and a suspension. Now.’

Many athletes who speak English as a second language have chosen to stick with interpreters after mastering the dialect, including former Japanese Major Leaguer Ichiro Suzuki and Mexican boxer Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.

Many athletes who speak English as a second language have chosen to stick with interpreters after mastering the dialect, including former Japanese Major Leaguer Ichiro Suzuki (center) and Mexican boxer Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez

Many athletes who speak English as a second language have chosen to stick with interpreters after mastering the dialect, including former Japanese Major Leaguer Ichiro Suzuki (center) and Mexican boxer Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez

Many athletes who speak English as a second language have chosen to stick with interpreters after mastering the dialect, including former Japanese Major Leaguer Ichiro Suzuki (center) and Mexican boxer Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez

A 27-year-old in his fourth major league season with the Los Angeles Angels, Ohtani is the first two-way starter in the history of the All-Star Game, which began in 1933.

‘I was actually not expecting to be chosen as a pitcher at all,’ Ohtani said Monday through a translator. ‘It’s a huge honor and I’m going to try my best.’

Ohtani has generated huge buzz across baseball for his exploits at the plate and on the mound. He leads the majors with 33 home runs and is 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA in 13 starts.

Ohtani has generated huge buzz across baseball for his exploits at the plate and on the mound. He leads the majors with 33 home runs and is 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA in 13 starts

Ohtani has generated huge buzz across baseball for his exploits at the plate and on the mound. He leads the majors with 33 home runs and is 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA in 13 starts

Ohtani has generated huge buzz across baseball for his exploits at the plate and on the mound. He leads the majors with 33 home runs and is 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA in 13 starts

‘This is what the fans want to see. It’s personally what I wanted to see,’ said AL manager Kevin Cash of Tampa Bay.

Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals will be the starting pitcher for the National League in the game at Coors Field.

Ohtani was elected to start at DH by fans and was voted to the AL pitching staff by fellow players. He’s hitting .279 with 70 RBIs, trailing only Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (73) and Boston’s Rafael Devers (72).

On the mound, Ohtani has struck out 87 and walked 35 in 67 innings. His fastball averages 93.8 mph, essentially the same as the 93.7 mph exit velocity of balls off his bat, tops among qualified major league batters.

Ohtani is the most accomplished two-way player since Babe Ruth, who last pitched regularly in 1919. Fans were to see him in action starting Monday night in the Home Run Derby.

Ohtani will become the second Japanese pitcher to start an All-Star game after Hideo Nomo in 1995 and the third Asian. Hyun Jin Ryu of South Korea started in 2019.

A rules change this year for the All-Star Game will allow Ohtani, listed as a DH, to be treated as two individual players and remain as a hitter when he is removed as a pitcher.

‘I begged Major League Baseball to tweak the rule,’ Cash said.

Ohtani is the most accomplished two-way player since Babe Ruth, who last pitched regularly in 1919. Fans were to see him in action starting Monday night in the Home Run Derby

Ohtani is the most accomplished two-way player since Babe Ruth, who last pitched regularly in 1919. Fans were to see him in action starting Monday night in the Home Run Derby

Ohtani is the most accomplished two-way player since Babe Ruth, who last pitched regularly in 1919. Fans were to see him in action starting Monday night in the Home Run Derby

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