By Jason Cruz
“Most of the time, people think I’m a nerd because I’m Asian, especially when I first joined football,” Michael Nguyen said. However, the sophomore at Edmonds–Woodway High School enjoys playing high school football. Despite having a smaller frame, Nguyen likes the physical contact sport.
Although the Super Bowl wrapped up the football season until next fall, it is interesting to reflect on the limited number of Asian American football players.
Currently, there are only a few Asian Pacific Islander Americans playing in the NFL, most of whom are Samoan in ethnicity. East Asian and Filipino players are hard to come by. The only four are Haruki Nakamura, Will Demps, Hines Ward, and Eugene Amano.
Nakamura could have been an Olympic judo champion. His family consists of successful judo champions. However, he decided that football was his sport.
Nakamura, a Japanese American, attended the University of Cincinnati and is a rookie safety for the Baltimore Ravens.
Nakamura expresses pride of his heritage. “It’s kind of special; it’s unique to be a representative of a group,” he said in an interview with a Japanese newspaper. “It actually means a lot to me.”
Will Demps, a free safety for the Houston Texans, speaks conversational Korean; his mo-ther is Korean and his father is Black.
Eugene Amano, a Filipino American, is an offensive lineman for the Tennessee Titans. He is the first NFL player born in the Phillipines.
The most successful of Asian American NFL football players, Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was the NFL MVP in Super Bowl XL for his performance against the Seattle Seahawks. Similar to Demps, Ward was born to a Black father and Korean mother.
After his Super Bowl victory against the Seahawks, Ward used his status to help people of mixed race in South Korea. In 2006, he visited children of mixed race in South Korea and donated $1 million to create a foundation that would raise awareness of the discrimination biracial children face.
For high school football players like himself, Nguyen recognizes what it takes to play past high school. “You need to get stronger, and play well. I plan to play in college but not professionally.” Nguyen plays middle linebacker.
“Personally, I think professional football players get dumped after 30 [years of age], so it’s not a long-term career.” Thinking logically about his future, Nguyen has other plans after college football. “I’m looking more toward a long-term career.”
Bryant Young, a Chinese American, plays on the offensive and defensive line at Edmonds–Woodway. Young decided to play football because of the teamwork, challenges, and fun involved. In order to make it to the next level, Young realizes that he has to be both a student and athlete; he said it takes “dedication and good grades [and] managing your time — but mostly good grades.” He also embraces the belief that all Asians are hardworking. “Being the Asian I am, I work hard in the weight room in the off-season, and [I] wrestle and do track to get in shape.” He added,
“Although other people are taller than me, [it] doesn’t mean that they are better. It doesn’t affect me.”
The representation of Asian Americans playing football may be small, but the players are determined. In order to overcome negative Asian stereotypes, Nguyen said, “I just try harder to prove them wrong.” (end)
Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not only do Asian Americans play, they coach
Norm Chow — As a longtime offensive coordinator, Chow, a Chinese American, is back in southern California after a stint in the NFL for the Tennessee Titans. He previously coached at USC prior to taking the job in the NFL, and he now calls plays for former University of Washington head coach Rich Neuheisel at UCLA.
Rocky Seto — Former USC linebacker Rocky Seto took over the defensive coordinator position after the previous coordinator left to join the UW. Rumored to have turned down the defensive coordinator position at the UW, Seto, a Japanese American, is in his seventh year of coaching at USC.
Lloyd Lee — Lee, a Korean American, served as linebackers coach for the Chicago Bears from 2004–2008. He was on staff during Chicago’s performance at Super Bowl XLI in 2006.
• 'Avatar' Whitewashed?