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THE MIDDLE INITIAL IN STEPHEN A. SMITH STANDS FOR ASS
After the ESPN blowhard assailed two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani for not speaking English at media conferences, I am compelled to apologize for Smith in an open letter to Ohtani’s native Japan
Dear Japanese People:
On behalf of 331 million Americans, allow me to apologize for a rogue among us. His name is Stephen A. Smith — middle name: Ass — and rather than appreciate the historic baseball marvel that is Shohei Ohtani, he spent All-Star Game eve assailing your native son for not speaking English during U.S. news conferences.
‘‘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 to some degree, when that’s your box-office appeal. It needs to be somebody like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, those guys. Unfortunately at this moment in time, that’s just not the case,’’ blurted Smith, whose piggish xenophobia earns him $12 million per year, making him the highest-paid sportscaster (not named Tony Romo) in the history of Planet Earth.
‘‘When you talk about an audience gravitating to the tube or 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 is saying — IN THIS COUNTRY. And that’s what I’m trying to say.”
This is what Smith does as a commentator for ESPN, a sports network embroiled in so much cultural and racial chaos that Walt Disney himself has agreed to an emergency seance, hoping another company buys out this wretched operation. Stephen A. provokes and bloviates, human exhaust made worse when network executives allow him to be overworked. When he made his insensitive comments Monday morning, on the show ‘‘First Take,’’ Smith was coming off an exhausting weekend when he: (1) worked until the wee hours, analyzing a consumer-defrauding UFC fight that lasted just five minutes but deposited pay-per-view megamillions into his company’s pockets; (2) flew four hours to Milwaukee, where he hosted a ‘‘SportsCenter’’ special before Game 3 of the NBA Finals; and (3) was back on camera for more analysis afterward, subjecting his weary head to a second night of little sleep before appearing on set for his daily show.
I am not making excuses for Smith. I am trying to explain why his brain, already askew, works in lazy, sinister and uninformed ways. ‘‘In other sports like basketball, Dirk Nowitzki was German and Manu Ginobili and others were from other places, and guess what? They spoke fluent English,” he continued. ‘‘You understood what they were saying when somebody was interviewing them. They didn’t need an interpreter … for some reason with Major League Baseball, you got these guys that need those interpreters.”
As most clear-thinking, well-adjusted Americans understand, ‘‘those interpreters’’ are necessary because some sports stars prefer to speak their native language. Perhaps they’re simply more comfortable that way, not wanting their words to be misunderstood by irresponsible media people such as, well, Stephen A. Smith. Beyond his whirlwind sports assignments, he doesn’t seem to get out much, thinking New York and Philadelphia are the only two planets in the solar system.
Enabling this clown act are his network bosses, who should be horrified that Smith is on their airwaves, 24/7, after a recent racial showdown between Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor. Two men in particular, Jimmy Pitaro and Norby Williamson, have allowed the in-house wreckage. Nichols, a successful White host on ‘‘NBA Countdown,’’ cited ESPN’s ‘‘crappy longtime record on diversity’’ when she was replaced last year by Taylor, who is Black. Now you have Smith offending an entire Asian nation by insulting Ohtani, who only is trying to rescue our troubled, labor-doomed, ex-national pastime from itself. This as our country looks greedy and blind in the form of NBC, which is in disgraceful lockstep with multi-billion-dollar bedfellows at the International Olympic Committee in clumsily moving forward with the Summer Games. Again, most clear-thinking, well-adjusted Americans realize Japan is woefully undervaccined against the coronavirus amid an outbreak of the Delta variant, making Tokyo vulnerable as a superspread capital with 11,000 athletes and 40,000 auxiliary personnel arriving from 200-plus countries.
Naturally, after absorbing social-media backlash, Smith tried to say he was sorry. ‘‘Let me apologize right now," he wrote on Twitter. ‘‘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."
He should have been fired, especially after saying his comments were ‘‘unintentional.’’ But he’ll be right back on the air for his next show, talking about his own story to drive up his own ratings. That’s how the TV business operates in our warped culture.
You must hate us, Japan. You have the right.
I’m not sure if Stephen A. will be covering the Games. If so, please do us all a favor at the airport.
Refuse him entry. And don’t let him board a return flight.
An embarrassed American
Jay Mariotti, called ‘‘the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes sports columns for Substack and a Wednesday media column for Barrett Sports Media while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.