Emil Guillermo: Ohtani attacks make Stephen A. Smith the modern-day Al Campanis

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Stephen A. Smith? If you’re not a sports fan and don’t know Smith, get to know him. He’s the most ignorant anti-Asian, xenophobic man currently employed by ESPN and Disney at a reported $12 million a year.

He’s the African American Tucker Carlson of sports. Or maybe, if you are of a certain age, he’s the next Al Campanis–who got fired in 1987 for saying things that were every bit as racist as Smith said this week.

Can Smith survive after his own words on ESPN’S “First Take” show Monday, when Smith went after the most exciting player today in Major League Baseball, Shohei Ohtani:

“When I look at Ohtani, he is big time, Babe Ruth, 33 home runs, batting .279, got a 4-1 record with an 3.79 (earned run average) as a pitcher. This brother is special, make no mistake about it,” said Smith about the Japanese national who pitches, bats and plays every day for the Los Angeles Angels.

But here comes the big but.

“But the fact that you have a foreign player who 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, and unfortunately at this moment in time, that’s not the case.”

That paragraph is the damning crux of Smith’s diatribe. It’s couched in criticism of MLB’s marketing, but that’s no excuse for racism. It’s just one big rolling snowball of hate that deserves to be broken down.

Did Stephen A. really say that? Yes, he did.

A Black man calling Ohtani a foreigner is worse than racist. It’s xenophobic. Asian Americans are always confused as being Asian nationals, not Asian Americans. Going after Ohtani’s for being “foreign” is an attack on anyone of Asian ancestry.

Rest assured, the hatemongers who went after Asians and Asian Americans more than 7,000 times during the pandemic didn’t ask for green cards.

Smith then turns his attention to Ohtani’s lack of English skills and the need for an interpreter. That’s similar to political conservatives advocating English-only policies in America. Is Smith saying American sports—and America’s pastime, baseball–should be English-only?

This quickly veers into Tucker Carlson/Fox News territory. Just remember: the Voting Rights Act guarantees that all citizens have the right to vote, including Asian Americans not proficient in English. It guarantees our participation in democracy. Or do we not count because English-only matters?

Going after Ohtani for needing an interpreter is a significant and damning way to “other” us. But as Smith concludes, “ it contributes to harming the game to some degree when that’s your box office appeal.”

So he’s saying a yellow face is not a good face for MLB, not even a yellow face with 33 home runs and a 4-1 pitching record?

So who should be the face of baseball? The African American Smith says it should be “Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, those guys…”

Oh, the white guys. THE WHITE GUYS?

It’s astonishing to hear that coming from a Black man in sports, who should know all about the segregation of the Negro Leagues.

I’d suspect Jackie Robinson is rolling in his grave.

Smith apologized later on Twitter Monday. And again on Tuesday morning on his ESPN show, saying “It’s not who I am.”

But it is.

Smith delivered the words passionately in his inimitable bullying style. He can’t undo it with a simple, “I apologize.” You dig a ten foot hole; it takes more than a teaspoon of sugar to cover it.

ESPN columnist Jeff Passan appeared on the Tuesday show and went after Smith. “We are not the ones who should be trafficking in ignorance. We are not the ones who should be perpetuating false ideas that unfortunately far too many people out there believe.”

You know the sentiments–that Ohtani is a foreigner, should speak English, and can’t be the face of the American game. All racist sentiments stoked by Smith. All of it entangled in an era of anti-Asian hate.

ESPN writer Joon Lee also appeared on the Tuesday show to give an Asian American perspective, enlightening Smith on the perpetual foreigner stereotype.

But Smith’s ego kept getting in the way as he tried to elevate his apology on his own show by actually congratulating himself for being “willing to put my ignorance on display.”

“The problem is that when you have folks that make mistakes, they double down, they try to defend it, and then want to run and don’t want to talk about it,” Smith said. “See, I want to be able to talk about it…and I want to be able to expose my level of ignorance, so you can then piggyback off that, combat it and we can knock down some of these barriers that you’ve alluded to that you guys face.”

Smith is trying to make his ignorance serve us all! It’s a narcissist’s remedy, to make his ignorance heroic, our savior.

What’s needed is for ESPN to weigh in on their $12 million dollar man. It has already suffered on the race front in recent weeks when Rachel Nichols, a white show host, was caught criticizing ESPN’s diversity record as the excuse for hiring a black colleague.

Now they have the xenophobic and ignorant Smith.

And that brings us to Al Campanis, who has a special place in the American Racism Hall of Shame. It was Campanis, an executive of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who appeared on ABC’s “Nightline” with Ted Koppel in 1987. Campanis told Koppel that Blacks “may not have some of the necessities to be a field manager or general manager in baseball.”

For that racist comment, Campanis lost his career.

But he also made other stereotypical remarks about Blacks as “gifted” athletes, except for swimming, “because they don’t have buoyancy.”

Smith may have buoyancy if he survives his racist Ohtani attacks.

Is there any doubt Smith deserves to be the Al Campanis of 2021?

It’s really up to ESPN and Disney now. If they don’t put the hammer on Smith, or at least some quiet time for Smith to meditate (I’ll teach him some mindfulness techniques), then we’ll know how little the networks value their Asian and Asian American audience.

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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