By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Welcome to another edition of The Layup Drill. As the summer continues, we write about two up-and-coming athletes, as well as looking at a racial incident at a local event.
Sports and racism
Yushin Okami is an experienced mixed martial artist. Unfortunately, the rough and tumble world of combat sports is not immune to racist comments. A veteran of the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) and a former title contender to the UFC middleweight title, Okami was in Everett, Wash. last month as part of the Professional Fighters League (PFL). The PFL is not as big or glamorous as the UFC, but it still has professional fighters that are on the rise or on the decline in their career. Okami might be considered one on the decline. Yet, he still dominated his opponent on July 29 for the win.
Notably, as Okami’s bout started, someone in the sparse crowd of 2,000 or so in attendance at the Xfinity Arena in Everett yelled out, “Remember Pearl Harbor,” referring to Okami’s Japanese heritage. It served to show the ignorance of the one speaking, as it made no sense except for the fact that Okami is Japanese and the individual’s limited knowledge of anything Japan was Pearl Harbor. To compound its idiocy, the individual responded to a few that took issue with him by saying, “Come on, you know you all were thinking about saying it.”
Actually, no. I for one knew that I was not. The unfortunate fact was that despite some people upset with the heckle, some laughed about how “it was wrong, but still funny.” As I looked back in the crowd to see where the person was sitting, some around me were chuckling and saying, at least he didn’t say “Hiroshima,” another U.S.-Japan World War II reference.
Okami didn’t hear this racist taunt. As a trained fighter, and probably used to ignorant people, he focused on his fight and not the crowd. The taunts bring up an issue with racism in sports. While it seems that a lot has been improved in race relations, there are still people who feel compelled to spew hatred and ignorance. No other fighters were racially taunted that night. Of course, Okami was the only Asian athlete and he did stand out. Yet, the outright taunt should not be tolerated and the individual was not even met with a warning. Either security could not identify the individual or they didn’t care. Hopefully, it was the latter.
Liu wins Wimbledon Jr. title
Claire Liu, a teenager from Thousand Oaks, Calif. became the first U.S. junior singles tournament winner at Wimbledon in over 25 years. She defeated Ann Li of Devon, Pa. The Wimbledon junior women’s final assured the United States of a feat not repeated since 1992. The two juniors in the final was a sign that the U.S. tennis program is on the rise at a time when Venus and Serena Williams are slowly bowing out from the sport. While the Williams sisters have dominated women’s tennis for most of the 21st century, not many other women tennis players in the country have been as prominent. Perhaps Liu or Li will be the next great tennis star.
Wimbledon, one of the most esteemed places to play and one of the sport’s Grand Slam events, is a remarkable achievement for the 17-year-old. She won the junior girls double title last year at Wimbledon. Earlier this summer, Liu lost in the finals of the women’s junior tournament in another Grand Slam, the French Open. Her win at Wimbledon this summer vaulted her to the Number 1 ranking in the girls’ junior International Tennis Federation standings.
Liu is not physically imposing, but is an aggressive tennis player that attacks early and comes to the net, where she is exceptional at volleying (returning the ball at close distance to the net). She is also not afraid of speaking her mind. During the finals at Wimbledon, she took issue with an umpire’s call after it did not go her way. Despite losing her argument with the umpire, she was able to refocus and win the title.
Liu trains out of the United States Tennis Center in Carson, Calif. She is thought to be one of the top girls to come out of that training center and could very well be the next great American tennis star.
The next great Asian American basketball player: Jeremy Lin?
There may be another great Asian American point guard in basketball. His name is Jeremy Lin. What are the chances? A 14-year-old high school basketball player, with the same name as the Brooklyn Nets’ point guard, impressed at a recent summer league camp for elite high school basketball players, with his passing ability and outside shooting. There is no relation between the 28-year-old NBA player and the young high schooler, except that they are both high-level basketball players. The younger Lin’s play drew the eyes of Mr. Linsanity himself. Lin, the NBA Player, noted via Twitter that it was the coolest thing ever with the hashtag “asiancanhoop.”
Jeremy Lin’s NBA career is well-documented and he has been outspoken about racism. Lin is a native of Taiwan and became a global star with his surprising play with the New York Knicks as a bench player for a team that was beset with injuries. Lin’s trials and tribulations has likely paved the way for others like his namesake to play basketball without the stigma of being the “Asian” guy. Good luck to the younger Lin and maybe one day we’ll have another Jeremy Lin in the NBA.
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.