Xenophobia at ESPN and what now on DACA?
Emil Amok!

Xenophobia at ESPN and what now on DACA?

Members of the Border Network for Human Rights and Borders Dreamers and Youth Alliance (BDYA) hold a banner during protest outside a U.S. Federal Courthouse to demand that Congress pass a Clean Dream Act in El Paso, Texas, U.S. March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Members of the Border Network for Human Rights and Borders Dreamers and Youth Alliance (BDYA) hold a banner during protest outside a U.S. Federal Courthouse to demand that Congress pass a Clean Dream Act in El Paso, Texas, U.S. March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

My father, one of the Manongs from the 1920s, loved baseball when it really was America’s pastime and a guy named Babe Ruth reigned from the mound as a pitcher and from the batter’s box as home run king.

If he were alive, my father would know how to appreciate Los Angeles Angel’s Shohei Ohtani, the biggest star in Major League Baseball who had 33 homers and a 4-1 pitching record.


He’d be crazy about the guy.

That’s one of the reasons I’m not done sounding the alarm over ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith’s remarks about Ohtani, an Asian, being the biggest star in baseball.

Hate needs to be called out.

Listen to my show (No. 94 on www.amok.com where I play back  the audio tape of Smith singling out Ohtani as a foreigner “harming the game” because  the box office draw is an Asian face.

Who should it be? Said ESPN’s Smith: “It needs to be somebody like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, those guys.”

Not us Asians, but “those guys” Harper and Trout. They’re W.B.I.A.—White Born In America.


You don’t have to be a baseball player to feel that sting.

You can be a broadcast veteran like me, who so often in my forty years in media found myself to be the only Asian American, or the only Filipino American, in the room.

I was never WBIA. But I was FBIA—Filipino Born In America. And I was fortunate to be the first Asian American to host NPR’s “All Things Considered” as a senior host back in 1989. There hasn’t exactly been a glut of Asian American hosts since then. I could have been the Shohei Ohtani of broadcasting. Doesn’t matter. To people with Smith’s mentality, there’s an insidious racist, xenophobic message in the media industry. You’re not good enough, thanks for applying to WBIA.


And now we hear that message from a Black man paid $12 million by ESPN, Stephen A. Smith.

Smith has admitted to his ignorance. But this is going to take more than, “I’m sorry.”

And where’s ESPN on their $12 million dollar loudmouth? This is more serious than the recent Rachel Nichols debacle, in which the white female ESPN sportscaster is caught on tape saying disparaging things about a Black colleague and ESPN’s diversity record.

ESPN has said it will hold a “town hall” on the Nichols matter. But it has said nothing on the Smith/Ohtani outburst, which is far more significant.

Maybe it’s not significant enough? Sure, there’s just 22 million or so Asian Americans, and Ohtani is an Asian who can’t speak English. What’s he going to say? ESPN must think it can play dumb, and the whole thing will just go away. (In this era of the short attention span news cycle, it probably will.)

More likely, the issue will fade and we’ll turn silent, again.

But it won’t.

There’s this other problem—that Asian Americans are still in the “seen one, seen them all” category.

America’s Asian confusion
They can’t tell us apart. And no one bothers to drill down and get granular. An “Asian” can be from as many as 50 countries, each with a unique Asian flavor. Mix your curry and your fish sauces at your own risk.

Add the American part to the equation and it further adds to people’s confusion. Ohtani is an Asian who just came to the U.S. But there are some Japanese Americans who have been in the U.S. for generations, most of whom are born here and are not immigrants.

When Smith goes after Ohtani, he fails to see the nuance in Asian and Asian American. He did in his apology, no doubt with help from Asian Americans at ESPN. But his initial attitude is common. Hey, foreigner: Not on my team.

We know it all too well in the pandemic, when someone sees any Asian face and, at the prompting of a scapegoating xenophobic ex-president, goes into hate mode. China Virus? Then why are Filipinos, Thai, Vietnamese, Indians, etc. among those attacked?

You’ll notice, no hateful perp is asking to see green cards.

And that’s why I keep talking about Smith’s xenophobia. Because history does and will repeat itself. Ignorance assures it. The ignorance Smith displayed last week plays into a general ignorance in America.

We will see it again. We always have.

American xenophobic rhetoric goes back to the entire history of Asians in America.

It’s quite a list. Executive Order 9066 incarcerated Japanese Americans at the start of WWII. Then there’s the more recent Muslim Ban.

In the 1930s, the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1934 turned colonized Filipinos who came to America  back into aliens. The Immigration Acts of the 1920s went after all countries. But the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 specifically targeted immigrants from China.

That’s the legacy of ignorant rhetoric in America.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, in full-throated passion when he dissed the “foreigner” Ohtani, is part of that legacy.

Back in 1987, Los Angeles Dodgers executive Al Campanis, was interviewed on ABC’s “Nightline,” and said ignorant, racist remarks about blacks for which he was fired and lost his career.

History compels ESPN to say and do something about their $12 million dollar loudmouth now.

Certainly, Smith must do more.

Judge obstructs DACA

If you haven’t noticed, to be an Asian American is really a political act. And in 2021, aside from ESPN and Stephen A. Smith, we have issues.

DACA is one of those issues, and the Texas judge who dropped a bombshell last Friday knew how to wreck a weekend. Not just for the Dreamers, but for all fair-minded Americans.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, a G.W. Bush appointee, ruled that President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was “unlawful,” and that he had overstepped his authority when he created DACA.

The judge agreed with Texas and other states that have rejected DACA. But the judge didn’t stop the program because he doesn’t have authority to legislate from the bench. So who gets to legislate? Congress.

And that’s where we are with DACA right now. No new applicants can be accepted or approved at this point. And the more than 600,000 DACA dreamers are still in a kind of limbo. Legal but in an “unlawful” program.

What to do?

Call your member of Congress. DACA recipients will continue to be a political football until Congress takes action to protect the DACA recipients and give them a pathway to citizenship.

That means something more than getting money into the budget Reconciliation Act being discussed now. But if the votes aren’t there for an immigration overhaul that includes DACA, the reconciliation maneuver in Congress may be the only way to protect the Dreamers.

The lives of hundreds of thousands of people on the line, including more Asians who were brought here as young kids to America than you think.

Your member of Congress is the answer here.

It’s also yet another reminder. To be Asian in America, to be Asian American, is to be in a constant unresolved political state. We have issues. We must keep talking about them to remind them that we matter.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes a column for the North American Bureau. He vlogs  at www.amok.com. Watch him on Facebook Watch Live @2pPacific M-F.  [email protected]

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TAGS: anti-Asian hate, DACA, immigration US, xenophobia
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