The New York Yankees are the most successful franchise in the history of sport — and they deserve to have a non-xenophobe as their main television play-by-play announcer and as the host of CenterStage on YES.

For some reason, Bronx native Michael Kay — Fordham educated and nephew of actor Danny Aiello — has a problem with Japanese players who use interpreters when speaking with the Press.

For the past few years, Kay has repeatedly, on-air during Yankee game broadcasts, quietly mocked and coquettishly tarred Japanese players Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners and former Yankee player — now Anaheim Angel — Hideki Matsui for using interpreters.  If the Yankees are playing in Seattle or Anaheim, it’s become a baseball meme that Kay is going to wind up his xenophobic calliope and play it for you.

In that snarky, but subtle, and oh-so-wondering-aloud Fordham-trained pseudo-intelligentsia way, Kay will ask why those players need interpreters when he sees them “speaking perfect english!” with their teammates.

Kay, over many broadcasts over the years, has repeatedly implied that the Japanese players are somehow putting one over on us by, I guess, “pretending not to understand English” when they understand it just fine.

I don’t know when Kay became a communication and language expert — he has also often said during broadcasts that his Spanish is terrible and that he studied the language, but doesn’t remember it — and when he chooses to publicly pick on Japanese players for not being more American, he diminishes the Yankee brand and his own sense of a punishing, Fordham-trained, inebriation.

Why is it so important to Kay that Japanese players speak English and not use interpreters?  Why does he care?  Why even mention it during official Yankees broadcasts?

Let’s pause for a moment, and substitute “Deaf” for “Japanese” — and you’ll quickly see how Kay’s refusal to accept Ichiro and Hideki on their own terms as men — is petty and cruel and xenophobic.

Deaf people are easily stereotyped by the Hearing majority:  The Deaf use sign language; they can’t hear; they don’t speak; they use hearing aids and they rely on interpreters.

Those are blanket definitions of the Deaf that do not prove any universal truths in the real world, but stereotypes always make convenient cudgels for pre-pressing cultural minorities into pre-constructed boxes by the majority for easy labeling.

Some Deaf people do not sign.  Some Deaf people can hear a little bit.  Some Deaf people have beautiful voices.  Some Deaf people sometimes use hearing aids and sometimes not.  Some Deaf people talk on their iPhones.  Some Deaf people use interpreters in some situations and, under other conditions, they do not.

I can tell you, however, that during an important meeting, or for a court date, or during a college class — the Deaf will demand an interpreter — even if they don’t need to rely on one during their colloquial lives.  When there is something at stake, and when there is a risk of being misunderstood, or misunderstanding, having an interpreter on hand is vital to forcing/facilitating a fair and equal communication dyad.  The ADA fights for that legal right.

Our pause is over and “Japanese” now replaces “Deaf” in our edification of Michael Kay saga.

If Ichiro and Hideki speak “perfect English” with their teammates in private — that is their right and that means they are comfortable in that colloquial setting.  No one is judging their intelligence or trying to “get them” in, perhaps, the context of a hostile Press interview.

When Ichiro and Hideki use an interpreter, they are upping the stakes of the conversation by semiotically demonstrating and semantically expressing their interest in understanding and in being understood.

Instead of pointing out their want for an interpreter — or identifying their facilitators on-air every chance you get, “That man standing next to Hideki is his interpreter!” — Michael Kay should be celebrating the fact that those Japanese players want to be clear and precise in every communicative exchange.

I always wished at least one of the color commentators in the booth with Kay over the years would have spoken up and said — “They can use interpreters if they want to.” — instead of silently sitting there and supporting Kay’s xenophobia in context during broadcast.

The interpreter’s job is to be invisible and to facilitate understanding.  Do not interview the interpreter.  Do not ask the interpreter questions intended for the player.  Do not use “he” when you mean “you” in terms of the player.  Just speak directly to the person, and let the interpreter work to smoothly make the interview work for broadcast.

Fordham is a great school — but it is also highly conservative, Catholic and Republican — and when Michael Kay wields his punishing Fordham credo on-air to “Be Like Me, Not Like You!” and uses his “superior American education” to try to pin down and restrict and define how Japanese players should behave and interact with their teammates and the Press, he creates rivulets of hatred and deep-water resentment that overflows into stereotypes that drown both riversides whether Michael Kay comprehends that or not.


  1. It’s like casual conversation versus writing poetry — you don’t want to try writing poetry in a language you don’t fully understand if it’s going to be put out there for everyone to see. You want to make sure you are communicating clearly when it’s important. How rude of Kay — and xenophobic, for sure.

    1. I’m sure Kay doesn’t think he’s being xenophobic — even though he is — and bringing up the matter only demonizes the Japanese players.

      I’m certain Kay isn’t intending to do any harm — even though he is doing harm — he needs to let it go, and let it be, and stop bringing up the topic in what can only be a negative light unless there is a purposeful and obvious and determined attempt at adding insight and understanding.

  2. The Yankees can do better than that, David. They deserve better and so do the fans. The Yankees should be accepting of all cultures and especially during the games on tv. What Michael Kay is doing is wrong and I think it veiled racism.

    1. I agree, Anne. The Yankees need to solve this problem. Baseball is becoming an international pastime, and this kind of on-air announcer xenophobia must cease.

Comments are closed.