Update (July 13, 2021): Stephen A. Smith issued an apology on Monday following his controversial remarks about Japanese baseball player Shohei Ohtani.
“Let me apologize right now,” Smith wrote in a Twitter statement. “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 so many in this country, it should’ve elevated my sensitivities even more.”
“In this day and age, with all the violence being perpetrated against the Asian community, my comments — albeit unintentional — were clearly insensitive and regrettable,” Smith concluded. “There’s simply no other way to put it. I’m sincerely sorry for any angst I’ve caused with my comments on 'First Take' this morning.”
I'm sincerely sorry. pic.twitter.com/pANjWTrD4X
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) July 12, 2021
As Blavity previously reported, Smith criticized the Los Angeles Angels player for needing an interpreter when speaking to the press.
"When you talk about an audience gravitating to the tube or to the ballpark to actually watch you, OK, 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 during a Monday broadcast of First Take on ESPN. "And that’s what I’m trying to say."
In addition to a written apology on Twitter, the television host also verbally apologized to the Asian and Asian American communities on both Stephen A’s World and again on First Take.
“The reality of the situation is that you have Asians and Asian-Americans out there that obviously were very, very offended by what I had to say yesterday and I just want to look into the camera and extend my sincere apologies because that was not my intent at all,” he said.
“I was wrong, period. There is no excuse. This is not ESPN, it wasn’t Disney, this was me,” he continued. “It wasn’t Max, it wasn’t Molly, it wasn’t the producers on First Take, it wasn’t the bosses, it was me.”
During an episode of First Take, the television host criticized Ohtani, a Japanese native, for needing an interpreter when speaking to the press.
"When you talk about an audience gravitating to the tube or to the ballpark to actually watch you, OK, 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. "And that’s what I’m trying to say."
“The fact that you got a foreign player that doesn’t speak English, that needs an interpreter…believe it or not, I think contributes to harming the game in some degree when that’s your box office appeal. It needs to be somebody like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, those guys. And unfortunately, at this moment in time, that’s not the case," Smith continued.
Many were outraged at Smith’s comments, accusing him of xenophobia at a time when anti-Asian rhetoric has become increasingly prominent.
One user referenced Smith's comments from last week about the outfielder and pitcher, where he referred to him as a "modern-day Babe Ruth."
"Shohei Ohtani is arguably the greatest forces the sport of baseball has ever seen since Babe Ruth, one of the most famous people in the entire country a century ago," he said on Stephen A's World.
Subsequently, Smith attempted to clarify his sentiments in a video uploaded to Twitter, where he said he was "talking about the marketability and the promotion of the sport" and that it "is exactly what Sports Illustrated essentially alluded to in their article last month when they talked about 28 percent of the players in Major League Baseball are foreign players. A lot of them need translators."
In 2018, Ohtani was named the American League Rookie of the Year by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The award came after Ohtani played a remarkable season, becoming the MLB's first two-way star in a century.
"I'm really honored," Ohtani said through an interpreter during a conference call with reporters, according to MLB. "It's really unbelievable that I was able to win this award, and how I was able to win it at such a high level of competition in Major League Baseball. I'm really proud of this award."