ESPN columnist Jeff Passan came out swinging on Tuesday’s episode of “First Take,” challenging Stephen A. Smith’s comments about Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani that prompted universal backlash on Monday.
“The reality about Shohei Ohtani, Stephen A., is that he is a story that we should be wanting to tell. It’s unfortunate that something like yesterday happened, but this gives us the opportunity to come out here today and talk about what Shohei Ohtani is doing,” Passan said.
Smith, who on Monday said because Ohtani “doesn’t speak English, that needs an interpreter, believe it or not, I think contributes to harming the game to some degree” – opened the show addressing the situation before Passan entered the program.
The outspoken ESPN host and analyst apologized to the “Asian community, the Asian American community, to Walt Disney and ESPN” for his comments criticizing Ohtani’s use of an interpreter, adding, “I also want to extend a personal apology to Ohtani himself.”
Smith’s television apology followed a written statement he shared to social media Monday.
Passan, who teased his “First Take” appearance Monday, had a fiery presence in defense of Ohtani.
“What he’s doing right now is something we have not seen since Babe Ruth… someone who’s starting the All-Star game today and batting first, the day after putting on an electric performance at in the Home Run Derby yesterday,” he argued, adding that Smith only addressed Ohtani twice on Monday’s episode of “First Take.”
“Why? Look at what he’s doing. That’s what we should be asking ourselves. It’s not that Shohei Ohtani doesn’t speak English publicly and that people don’t embrace him. It’s that if people don’t embrace him publicly because he doesn’t speak English, they’re the problem — not Shohei Ohtani.”
Smith replied by stating that he’s “not running away” from the conversation topic unlike “past phonies.”
“My apology is to the Asian and Asian American community. Let me be very clear, I don’t owe an apology to anyone else,” Smith said, before asking Passan if Major League Baseball “markets Ohtani or anybody else to a satisfactory degree in your estimation.”
“No,” Passan said. “It’s been a problem for a long time. You’re not wrong when you say that.
“I think that baseball has had a problem reaching through to the younger generation because, for the longest time it was holding onto to this notion that the way the game has been played, the people inside of the game are stuck back in the 1960s and 1970s. And I think that has changed slowly but surely with the emergence of Fernando Tatis Jr., the dynamism of Ronald Acuna Jr. and this year, with Shohei Ohtani finally doing what he was supposed to be doing when he came over in 2018,” Passan explained.
Earlier in the show, Smith said he didn’t need press releases or statements from the company speaking on his behalf.
“I’m a Black man. I religiously go off about minorities being marginalized in this nation… the reason I bring up my blackness is because of this. On many occasions, what I have said this when people have said something that is offensive in any way to the minority community, it’s not about how you feel it’s about how they feel.
“I do understand that a lot of racists out there are quick to say, ‘That was not my intent.’ That’s not where I’m going here. I was wrong, period. There is no excuse,” Smith said, before declaring his comments had nothing to do with ESPN, Disney, “the bosses,” “First Take” and its producers and co-hosts, Max Kellerman and Molly Qerim Rose.
“It was me. I said it. And the reality is, is that I was completely clueless as to the kind of impact this would have on the Asian and Asian American community… I welcome this conversation and I don’t have a problem with it… I don’t intend to hurt people like that. That’s not who I am. If I have a problem with you, you know it… I don’t hide from it I let you know I’m coming and that wasn’t the case yesterday.”
Smith added that he contributed to the ongoing hate against the Asian and Asian American community, which he called “inexcusable.”
“That’s on me,” he said. “I’m not about bringing this kind of attention not he company and I did yesterday and that’s on me.”