ESPN's Stephen A. Smith apologizes after saying Shohei Ohtani using interpreter hurts baseball

Shohei Ohtani ahead of the MLB Home Run Derby. (Credit: KJ Hiramoto) (FOX 11)

As Shohei Ohtani is set to compete in the MLB Home Run Derby on Monday night, ESPN’s top personality Stephen A. Smith has issued an apology after stating that the Japanese-born Los Angeles Angels superstar can't be the face of baseball because he needs an interpreter.

"Let me apologize right now," Smith started.

"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. 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. I’m sincerely sorry for any angst I’ve caused with my comments on ‘First Take’ this morning. Again, I am sorry. And I’ll happily reiterate these words more extensively tomorrow morning, as well."

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Smith initially caused a stir when he said Ohtani’s emergence as MLB’s top star wasn’t necessarily a good thing because he has to speak through an interpreter. He said that stars, like Ohtani, speaking through an interpreter isn’t good for baseball’s marketability in the United States.

"But 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," he said.

He cited NBA players who have played in Europe or South America who didn’t need an interpreter when playing and in MLB "you got these guys that need those interpreters and I think that compromises the ability for them to ingratiate themselves with the American public, which is what we’re really talking about."

Smith attempted to clarify his comments in a video on Twitter afterward.

"If you are a sport trying to ingratiate yourself with the American public the way Major League Baseball is because of the problems that you’ve been having to deal with in terms of proving the attractiveness of the sport, it helps if you spoke the English language. It doesn’t mean anything more than that."

Smith pointed out that baseball’s audience skews older than some of its competition, like the NBA and NFL in the U.S., and that Ohtani was only the focus of the conversation because of how well he’s performing in baseball right now.

"We know that it is an international sport. We know that that’s great and baseball having the global appeal that it is, fine. But in the United States, all I was saying is that when you’re a superstar, if you can speak the English language then guess what, that’s gonna make it that much easier and less challenging to promote the sport. That’s all I was saying about anybody."

Smith first said he was going to elaborate more on his comments but decided to give the lengthy statement instead.

FOX News contributed to this report.