Stephen A. Smith’s comments about Ohtani reveal wider problem of sports talk shows

By Max Baker, News + Record Staff
Posted 7/21/21

If you’ve ever watched ESPN’s “First Take,” you know it’s full of wild opinions, heated debates and a discussion table for trending topics in the world of sports. I’m not a regular viewer …

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Stephen A. Smith’s comments about Ohtani reveal wider problem of sports talk shows

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If you’ve ever watched ESPN’s “First Take,” you know it’s full of wild opinions, heated debates and a discussion table for trending topics in the world of sports. I’m not a regular viewer of the show itself anymore, but clips of it often appear on my social media timeline.

However, before the MLB All-Star break, Stephen A. Smith made headlines after comments he made about Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani.

“I understand that baseball is an international sport itself in terms of participation, but when you talk about an audience gravitating to the tube or to 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’s saying in this country,” Smith said.

He added that Ohtani could not be the face of the game and that could actually be harming the sport. Smith faced loads of backlash on social media and later apologized on the show and online. His comments were insensitive and they were completely disproved during All-Star week.

Ohtani merchandise accounted for 28% of all All-Star merchandise revenue and he starred in the Home Run Derby and in the game itself. Since July 1, Ohtani has been the top-selling athlete on Fanatics across all sports, ESPN reported on July 20. People are going to the ballpark to watch Ohtani play. Although Smith’s comments deserved to be ridiculed, there’s another issue at play.

ESPN prides itself on serving sports fans anytime, anywhere, but the reality is that they focus their attention heavily on the NBA and NFL. Yes, they show regular baseball and sometimes soccer games on their networks, but odds are that if you flip on a talk-show during the morning or afternoon, the conversation is about those two sports. And while that may seem annoying to sports fans, it’s what drives their ratings.

First Take is a prime example of this. Much of their content focuses on the NBA and NFL, so when they decided to speak about Ohtani on Monday, July 12, in the midst of the 2021 NBA Finals, it came as a surprise to me.

Smith had just returned for the show Monday after a flight from Milwaukee after Game 3 on Sunday, one day after attending UFC 264 in Las Vegas on Saturday. It seems unlikely that with that schedule, Smith had any time to be catching a late-night Angels-Mariners game or many Angels games, for that matter.

And while his comments were pretty unexplainable and had nothing to do with his busy schedule, maybe ESPN television personalities shouldn’t debate sports topics they aren’t as familiar with. Smith is an expert in many areas and deserves credit for his knowledge and work ethic, but given the lack of coverage ESPN gives baseball on “First Take,” his large platform should be used to discuss topics he does know something about. Let’s leave topics like Ohtani’s place in the game for experts who are fully immersed within the sport, and next time around avoid that kind of embarrassment.

Reporter Max Baker can be reached at max@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Maxbaker_15.

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