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Stephen A. Smith’s Hot Take on Shohei Ohtani Proves Sports Media Can Be Toxic

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The recent situation involving Stephen A. Smith and Shohei Ohtani exemplifies the poor culture around sports media. If you’re not familiar with the situation, ESPN’s Smith sparked a major controversy on social media when he said on-air that Ohtani, the Japanese All-Star player for the Los Angeles Angels, cannot be the face of Major League Baseball because he uses an interpreter during interviews. His comments were received as xenophobic, and he later issued an apology on Twitter.

How “hot take” culture is problematic

Takes like this are a big part of what’s wrong with sports media culture in general. With 24-hour news cycles, saturated markets and a sports lull in the summer months, sports talk shows feel pressured to get their numbers up. Unfortunately, many of these hosts resort to capitalizing on human outrage, leading to divisive issues and cancel culture, also called “hot take” culture.

Having the “hottest take” could mean anything from having a wildly unique perspective of a player/team to saying something so outrageous that people aren’t sure if you’re serious. Essentially, this method is a way to measure how far you can move the needle. And with the sports media audience being constantly connected to their phones, the more you move the needle, the more money you make. To some, this goal means you have to get your name in the news by any means necessary. And some of the best athletes—such as Shohei Ohtani—are caught in the middle.

This behavior is common in sports.

But Stephen A. Smith isn’t the first to do this and won’t be the last. Fox Sports presenter Shannon Sharpe called Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Mike McCarthy “racist” for smashing watermelons to get his team hyped up for a game. Fox Sports host Colin Cowherd said Carson Wentz didn’t deserve his job as starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles because he wore his hat backward. All of this is lunacy: The comments are desperate attempts to get the camera pointing back in their direction.

Will sports media culture get better?

I do feel a change in the coming months. The appreciation for real insight and analysis is growing; it’s just hard to sift through the “hot takes” at the moment. With the rising intrigue of sports gambling content, hosts will have to start putting their money where their mouth is, which should limit the number of people trying to say something wild enough to make a headline.

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