ESPN's Stephen A. Smith Apologizes for Comments on MLB Star Shohei Ohtani: 'I Screwed Up'

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Stephen A Smith, Shohei Ohtani
Stephen A Smith, Shohei Ohtani

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ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith is apologizing after his on-air comments of Los Angeles Angels player Shohei Ohtani.

On Monday, during a segment on the network's talk show First Take, Smith, 53, claimed Ohtani, 27, can't be the face of baseball because he uses an interpreter. The Japanese-born MLB star has often been compared to legend Babe Ruth due to his success as a pitcher and hitter on the field.

"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 No. 1 face is a dude that needs an interpreter, so you can understand what the hell he's saying in this country," Smith said on the show Monday.

Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels
Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels

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Following his comments, Smith immediately received backlash online and he later clarified that he was talking about the "marketability and the promotion" of baseball and his words were being misinterpreted.

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Smith then issued an apology on Monday evening. He wrote on his social media accounts that he "screwed up," telling his followers that he never intended to offend the Asian community and, specifically, Ohtani.

"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!" he wrote. "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."

Stephen A. Smith
Stephen A. Smith

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Smith's statement continued, "Instead, I screwed up. In this day and age, with all the violence being perpetrated against the Asian Community, my comments – albeit unintentional – were clearly insensitive and regrettable. There's simply no other way to put it."

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Ohtani has yet to comment on the First Take host's initial comments or apology, but he reshared tweets slamming his criticism as well as a video of Smith's on-air apology from Tuesday morning's show.

"The reality is that I was completely clueless as to the kind of impact that this would have on the Asian and Asian American community. That was not my intent at all," Smith said on-air Tuesday. "I just want people to know here's where I stand. The second that I was informed about how hurt a group of people in this nation were off of what I said, that's all that matters to me. All that matters to me because I don't intend to hurt people like that. That's not who I am, that's not who I've ever been. If I have a problem with you, you would know it. If I mean to offend you, you'd know it. I don't hide from it. I let you know I'm coming. That wasn't the case yesterday."

Smith added, "Nevertheless, it doesn't negate the fact they were detrimentally affected by my words. I have friends from the Asian American community that expressed their disappointment in what I had to say because of all the things I've had to deal with. The anti-Asian stuff going on. The Asian hate that's been percolating in this nation over the last few years that we all now from some degree why that is. I contributed to that yesterday and that's inexcusable."