HomeSportsWhat's next for Shohei Ohtani after his translator's alleged gambling scandal?

What’s next for Shohei Ohtani after his translator’s alleged gambling scandal?

by Matthew Yoshimoto, AsAmNews intern

Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Dodgers dismissed baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani’s translator and longtime friend, Ippei Mizuhara, after he was accused of stealing $4.5 million to pay off gambling debts. Dozens of questions remain regarding Ohtani’s role in the scandal. 

Mike Paul, CEO of Reputation Doctor LLC who deals with crisis management globally, said that the main question surrounding this scandal is whether or not Ohtani knew of his translator’s actions.

Noting that spinning the truth “never works,” Paul explained the importance for Ohtani to convey the full truth to his audiences and sponsors. He noted the “building blocks of reputation management” focus on truth, honesty, transparency, accountability and consistency.

“The ultimate currency he needs to focus on now is trust,” Paul said in an interview with AsAmNews. “Look for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to bubble to the top within the coming weeks, not months.” 

Paul said the scandal could have major implications on Ohtani’s reputation and brand, his sponsors, the Major Baseball League, the sports gambling industry and even his family members. Noting that this is a “global story” since Ohtani has millions of these stakeholders worldwide, Paul emphasized Ohtani’s responsibility to come forward with a statement to lessen the impact of the scandal on Ohtani’s image. 

Paul compared the scandal to having several injuries on one’s self, explaining that Ohtani must tie up all loose ends otherwise his injuries will continue to bleed. 

“He is a franchise player and that comes with added responsibility, which means he has a higher obligation to all his stakeholders and the societal expectation of truth is greater,” Paul said. “The goal is to fill the void of information with the truth or face further reputational damage.”

From his experiences working in similar cases, Paul said he anticipates Ohtani will release a statement, whether individually or a joint statement with the league, in the coming weeks. 

“Emotional crises require emotional solutions,” Paul said. “This crisis is emotional because every stakeholder expects more of him, not less. A boilerplate solution will not work. It must be heartfelt, complete and with a solution to prevent it from happening again in the future to re-win trust.”

May Lee, a journalism professor at Chapman University Dodge College of Film and Media Arts who has kept up with Ohtani’s translator scandal, said there are reports of several conflicting stories. She explained Mizuhara initially said in an ESPN interview on Tuesday, March 19, that Ohtani helped Mizuhara pay off his debt. In the interview, Mizuhara said that Ohtani did not know the person he owed money to was a bookie.

“I just told him I need to send a wire to pay off the debt,” Mizuhara said, according to ESPN. “He didn’t ask if it was illegal, didn’t question me about that.”

However, Lee said the story took a “complete 180 in one day” when representatives of Ohtani said Mizuhara’s statements were untrue and Ohtani knew nothing of the debt payments. On Wednesday, March 20, Mizuhara retracted his statements over the phone to ESPN and said he lied. 

Given the uncertainty of Ohtani’s role in the scandal, Lee said questions surrounding Ohtani are largely fair considering his representatives caused “more of a firestorm of confusion and speculation.” 

Lee said regardless of Ohtani’s knowledge about Mizuhara’s debt payments, the scandal could nonetheless impact his ability to focus on baseball, given he will likely be swarmed with media outlets asking for comment.

In terms of public perception toward Ohtani, Lee said she believes his image could be salvaged if it is revealed Ohtani had little knowledge of the debt payments or of the illegal nature of helping Mizuhara pay off his debt. 

“Unless the investigation finds that he was directly involved in blatant and direct gambling along with Mizuhara, I don’t think his status among his fan base will change,” Lee said in an email to AsAmNews. “It’s been reported that Mizuhara told ESPN that Ohtani ‘hates’ the idea of gambling and doesn’t understand why people do it. So if this is a case of Ohtani just trying to help his friend get out of a terrible debt, then the public will perceive this as, perhaps, an honorable gesture to help a friend in need.” 

As a journalist in Japan for nearly five years, Lee said she was “shocked” to learn about the scandal since Japan’s code of conduct revolves around the “Bushido” philosophy which stresses principles of justice, courage, compassion, respect, integrity, honor, loyalty and self-control. 

From her observations in media coverage, Lee said she believes Ohtani may have covered his friend’s debts to help Mizuhara but retracted from the story which Mizuhara stated in his ESPN interview because Ohtani and his team likely “realized that truth was going to lead to much bigger issues for Ohtani.” 

She compared Mizuhara’s sudden denial of the initial story to him “falling on the sword to protect Ohtani” and “metaphorically sacrificing himself out of honor and loyalty.”

“These hypotheses are more believable to me given what I know about Japanese culture, BUT I am certainly not suggesting that everyone strictly follows the Bushido code of conduct in this day and age so there is always the possibility of inappropriate and even criminal behavior no matter what the culturally background may be,” said Lee in the email to AsAmNews. 

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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