Stephen A. Smith and MLS don’t really cross paths but his recent comments on Shohei Ohtani and his use of interpreter seem to expand outside the ballparks of North America.
In case you haven’t seen what Smith said about Ohtani here is the clip.
This is inexcusable. Stephen A should be ashamed of himself. pic.twitter.com/7SEuFpqTLL— Steve Benko (@SteveBenko) July 12, 2021
Smith argues that the fact that Ohtani needs an interpreter is a problem for baseball. Besides being just wrong it’s also grossly offensive.
You might wonder why a New England Revolution site is talking about an ESPN personality and his comments on a Los Angeles Angles star. Well these comments hit home to me.
As someone who has a Brazilian fiancé, I have gotten to be ingrained in the Brazilian community in my hometown on the North Shore of Massachusetts. From personal experience I can tell you that plenty of immigrants can speak English better than yours truly. Most rely on their first language because they are nervous or afraid to make a mistake.
This extends to some of the stars of the sports world. Ichiro was a player who spoke the language well but just felt more comfortable using an interpreter.
Then with my work here at The Bent Musket, I’ve become very used to interpreters taking part in press conferences. Soccer is an international game and with that you have players coming from all over the world coming together to try and lead their team to victory.
With these international stars, clubs can see their fanbases grow and become more diverse. For instance a whole lot of people from Argentina pay attention to the Revs, simply because they want to see how Gustavo Bou is doing.
Saying that the fact that Ohtani doesn’t speak English and needs an interpreter is bad for baseball is just patently false. As someone who has been in plenty of Carles Gil press conferences (including our first in-person media availability after the Toronto FC game), I can tell you that Carles Gil’s answers don’t change much whether he speaks English or uses an interpreter.
Gil would still be a star in New England and MLS no matter what. The fact that he recently started to feel comfortable enough to do media availability in English has had zero impact on his standing in MLS.
Fans from all different backgrounds around New England would still be wearing his jersey and cheering him on. With two goals and 11 assists he would still be in the MVP conversation. His ability to speak a language that is common among the fanbase has zero to do with that.
So frankly Smith’s comments are disgusting and he deserves to be punished. No one should be able to be outright racist and xenophobic no matter how much they are being paid by Mickey Mouse.
Players like Gil, Wilfrid Kaptoum, Maciel, or Gustavo Bou are not impacted in any way by their inability to speak English. Revolution fans will still be cheering them on wearing their jerseys every single match week.
Later in the day Smith would go on to issue an “apology” and he attempted to clarify his intentions.
On my earlier comments about Ohtani pic.twitter.com/FM0vnDDXBB— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) July 12, 2021
Smith says that he was misinterpreted and doubling down on the fact that since Ohtani doesn’t speak English it somehow diminishes his “marketability.”
Again this is just plain wrong. Consider Bou, who regularly receives media attention in Argentina. Similarly to Gil, Bou is asked questions in Spanish during press conferences. Players from other countries have the ability to expand fan bases both locally and abroad. Does Smith believe that their coverage isn’t as important or marketable simply because the questions are being asked in a different language?
Now this doesn’t just extend to Ohtani, whether it be a player who only speaks Spanish or literally any other language, they will be stars in the United States if they dominate the game like Ohtani has.
I even tuned into the Home Run Derby this year after not watching in about two or three years. Why? Because I wanted to watch Ohtani. All across the United States people were rooting for him to win the competition.
Three hours later it seemed like Smith might have actually realized where he messed up. Here is his second shot at an apology.
To Smith’s credit he actually says the words ‘I’m sorry” so that was a good start. He mentions that he didn’t intend to offend anyone but that is exactly what he ended up doing with his hateful comments.
Now all we can hope is that Smith actually means what he is saying here. This is a step in the right direction and while he should still be punished, it’s not like he should be banished from society. When First Take airs hopefully we will see Smith being sincere instead of doubling down on a bad take like he usually does.
At the end of the day, there’s no reason to divide people based on if they speak English or not and as the photo for this article says we are stronger together. The United States is supposed to be this great big melting pot where everyone comes together.
Whether it be language, culture, or lifestyle, the United States is supposed to be the place where that is embraced. Asking people to speak English as if that is the national language (it isn’t, the U.S. doesn’t have a national language) isn’t anything close to patriotism, it’s actually the opposite. It goes against everything that this country is supposed to stand for.