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ESPN hot-button talking head Stephen A. Smith fired off a controversial statement on burgeoning baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani, a statement critics are rebuking as anti-Asian, if not racist.
Smith, a Black sports commentator who often opines on racial issues, asserted that Major League Baseball is hurt by having its “face” of the All-Star Game being unable to speak English without an interpreter.
“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,” Smith said on ESPN, which is 80% owned by Walt Disney Co., the parent company of the ABC network.
Smith did acknowledge that baseball is an international game “in terms of participation,” but his statement might have also suggested the baseball “audience gravitating to the tube or to the ballpark” is racist or anti-Asian.
After initially doubling down in a tweeted video, Smith issued a lengthy apologetic statement, lamenting his “stereotyping”: “I’m sincerely sorry.”
But the damage was done, and Twitter posters noted the racially charged comment was planned because the chyron read: “Good for MLB That Ohtani Is No. 1 Attraction?”
Sports commentator Arash Markazi tweeted:
“This wasn’t an off the cuff comment. The prepared chyron is cringeworthy too. Why the hell would it be bad for Shohei 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? GTFOH”
Ohtani is slated to be the starting pitcher and the leadoff man for the American League All-Star Team in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game. He was also a featured performer in Monday night’s Home Run Derby, the first pitcher ever invited to participate.