By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The Olympics may be over, and many celebrated the U.S. winning the highest number of gold medals, as well as the total overall medals. Asian American athletes have done well by achieving two gold medals, and several silver and bronze medals. Yet, one unsettling trend still lingers in my mind…
Have you noticed that there weren’t too many Asian Americans on Team USA? Of the 622 members, fewer than 15 were Asian Americans. That’s about 2%. Among them, only one was involved in a team sport—the rest were individual performances, such as gymnastics, badminton, karate, golf, and swimming.
What are the barriers for Asian Americans to be accepted not only in the Olympics, but sports in general? There are a large number of Black athletes on Team USA, winning medals in diverse categories, and I am proud of them. I wish that Asian Americans had more opportunities in the athletic field. What does the Asian community miss by not being able to participate in team sports, such as basketball, soccer, softball, lacrosse, baseball, and volleyball?
Wait, I take it back. The only Asian American participating in the Olympics team sport was Justine Wong-Orantes. She and her team won a gold medal for women’s volleyball. I was ecstatic watching her excellent returns in the final game beating Brazil. And Wong-Orantes is known to be one of the best in the country for her position. The point is, how can we have more than just one Wong-Orantes? How can we nurture more young Asian Americans to dream big in sports?
But the real question is, why aren’t more Asian American kids playing group sports? One obvious reason is the lack of role models. So far, I can name only one Asian American NBA star, Jeremy Lin. There are several prominent baseball players, but they are Asian nationals imported from Japan and Korea. Samoan American Tua Tagovailoa and Filipino American Doug Baldwin were successful NFL players. Currently in the NFL are Younghoe Koo, a placekicker for the Atlanta Falcons; Josh Jacobs (Filipino), a running back for the Las Vegas Raiders; and Taylor Rapp (Chinese), a safety for the Los Angeles Rams and former Husky. I watch sports programs only when they have Asian American players. Does that tell franchise owners that it is simply good business to expand their market by having an Asian American on their team?
The stereotypical view is, Asian Americans are not big or tall enough for these major American sports. But the underlying cause is racism. I bet if Asian American youth were given opportunities, inspiration, and training, they would be just as promising as other athletes.
In the last decade, I have observed the Sounders, Seahawks, and Mariners increase their Asian American fan base, as many have passed through Chinatown-International District to eat and shop before and after games. And several fans bring their kids along to see the games, although tickets are quite pricey. Don’t tell me none of those kids will aspire to play for these teams. And if the parents nudge them, kids would likely give more thought to those careers.
To some extent, the problem lies with Asian parents. They tend to influence their children to pursue good-paying careers, rather than pursuing their passions. If their kids dream about playing for the Mariners, I bet their mom would say, “Son, you will never make it.” And they would likely tell their daughters, “No girls succeed in baseball.” Wrong! Kim Ng became the first woman and the highest-ranking female baseball executive for the Miami Marlins last November. She broke the gender and race barrier. Her passion for baseball began when she played stickball in the streets, and her father was the coach, according to Wikipedia. She also played college softball for four years.
I have to confess that I was one of those typical Asian parents who would be less enthused about my sons’ involvement in sports when they were little. Like many Asian immigrant parents, I was old school. Subconsciously, I made my kids focus too much on academics. If I could do it over, sports would be an important aspect of their school life.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want children to play sports with the goal of being an Olympian. Not everyone can be Michelle Kwan or Apollo Ohno. I don’t applaud how the media play the medal game, pitting one country against another: Which country has the most gold medals? Nor do I like China’s or Japan’s emphasis on the gold medal. Those who received silver or bronze medals, got nothing back home—no prize money, publicity, commercial endorsements, or public celebrations. In Japan, the second and third place athletes had to apologize in public for making the country “lose face.” Such is the pressure and humiliation for athletes who don’t make it to the top. How unfair! And many of them have dedicated and sacrificed much of their youth in training for the games.
Countries who refuse to honor athletes without achieving medals are short-sighted. Just being in the Olympics is an honor because these athletes represent their country as goodwill ambassadors and showcase the nation’s best.
What we can teach our kids about sports participation is to be proud of their involvement, and de-emphasize winning and losing. Have fun first and make friends, results are secondary. Being in team sports develops character and skills. You learn to be part of a team through collaboration and cooperation. Studies have found that people who play sports can handle stress better and are happy. Getting along well with people is an asset. You build sportsmanship, strategy, and leadership skills simultaneously. Children can also build life-long friendships with their teammates. The benefits of team sports for children’s mental and physical development can’t be underestimated.
If you are one of those parents who discourage your kids from playing sports, think again. We need to change our perception towards the role of education and redefine great careers. Learning extends beyond books and grades. What books can’t teach, sports can. It teaches athletes to be confident, take risks, and not be afraid to make mistakes.
It’s too late for me to parent my kids. However, it’s never too late for the younger generation to rethink what’s best for their sons and daughters. Talk to them and expand both your and their horizons. And you will be surprised at what you both can discover. You never know—you might raise a future Jeremy Lin, Doug Baldwin, and even a future mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell, who was once a 1978 Rose Bowl champion when he played for the UW Huskies football team. ν
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.