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Asian Americans In Sports Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 2968 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The role of sports in our modern society has grown out of being just a game. The popularity, media coverage, and the money involved provide a platform on which sports stand as a vital component of the American society. It is one of the most discussed topics over lunch and is a huge business with hundreds of billion dollars in annual revenue. Being such an integral part of our lives grants sports with the power to bring social change.

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Through the spirit of sport – fairness, justice, dedication, excellence, and discipline our society has learned to promote racial and gender equality and brought people together regardless of their language, culture, and religion. Jackie Robinson educated people about racial equality through baseball; Mia Ham proved that women could be athletic on the soccer field; Muhammad Ali earned respect as a Muslim in and outside of the ring, and Dallas Mavericks showed great chemistry with five different nationalities in the locker room.

Despite the recent progress in intergrading professional sports, the issues regarding Asians and Asian Americans are rarely discussed. The focus of the discussion on racial issues in sports has mostly been on African Americans and Latinos, the two largest minority groups in the U.S. The letter of Paul Soo Hoo to New York Times sports editor shows how Asian athletes are not recognized by others in the U.S. Paul Soo Hoo is a Chinese man who lives in the United State for several years. Despite of stereotypes toward to Asian Athletes, he hopes for the new recognition of Asian sports-man in the U.S (S7). Considering the increasing number of both the Asian American population and athletes with Asian heritage in the sports, it is time for both sports and society to take a look at the role of Asians and Asian Americans in sports and provide a direction for the future.

Asian and Asian American Athletes

The number of Asian and Asian American athletes in the sports in the U.S. grows noticeably in last few years. While still a small portion of professional athletes, it has grown to 2% in Major League Baseball (MLB), and 1% in National Football league (NFL) from being literally a couple of players a decade ago. National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) still lag with less than 1% of the players with Asian heritage, but the number is growing (Lapchick, 2003). Along with the increase in number, more Asian players have reached the status of superstar such as Ichiro Suzuki (Seattle Mariners, native of Japan), Yao Ming (Houston Rockets, native of China) and Tiger Woods (Golf player, Asian American).

Breaking Stereotypes

How do these athletes change society? According to an article by Richard Lapchick on ESPN.com, “the presence of Asian and Asian American athletes in the sports has a symbolic significance in fighting the stereotypes imposed on Asian descents. One of the common stereotypes is that Asians are smart, but not athletic. Asians are often considered to be too small and too slow to compete in the highest level of sports” (Lapchick). Many pioneers opened the door for the next generation, and more Asian American kids picked up the sports after watching them shine. People became understandable that Hideo Nomo and Chan Ho Park can strikeout the big league sluggers, Ichiro Suzuki can hit anyone’s fast ball, Yao Ming can be the ‘big man’, and Manny Pacquiao can take down everyone. These Asian and Asian American athletes and many others before and after them taught not only the Asian Americans but everyone that Asians have their share of athletes just as any other ethnic group does.

A Typical Asian

In addition to the common stereotype of Asians being small and slow, a deeper problem is related to the fact that Asians are not a homogeneous group of people. Asia and Pacific

Islands have more than two dozen countries with different languages, religion, culture, and economic systems. It makes it literally impossible to describe a typical Asian, and therefore, the stereotypes are bound to be wrong. For example, Census 2000 shows that the average household income for Asian Americans is $45,249, which is higher than Whites (338,972), Hispanics (326,628), and African Americans (325,050). Both high school and college graduation rates for Asian Americans are higher than any other ethnic group. These figures often lead to a stereotype that Asians are affluent and well educated.

However, the reality of poverty is that 67.2%, 46.9%, and 33.5% of Laotian /Americans, Cambodian Americans, and Vietnamese Americans, respectively (Brooks, 1994). These figures are much higher than the poverty rates for African Americans (26.5%) and Latinos (27.1%). It shows that the term Asian American is nothing but a convenient label, which cannot be any farther from reflecting who Asian Americans really are. Yet common stereotypes are held against Asian Americans in general. Therefore, the role of Asian American athletes has to be more than just breaking the stereotypes. Sports should serve as an effective instrument to educate the society that the term ‘Asian’ does not represent any particular ethnicity, religion, or culture, but a mixture of multiple groups of people with their own unique heritages.

Connecting People

In addition to breaking the stereotypes and educating the others about the multiplicity of Asian cultures, Asian and Asian American athletes connect the Asian American communities to the other ethnic groups. Sports provide a platform where fans of all skin colors come together with a common interest. Se Ri Pak made many avid golf fans out of Korean Americans, and Yao Ming converted many Chinese Americans to fanatic basketball fans even outside of Houston. This heightened interest has a broader implication than simply creating more Asian American sports fans. They get to understand the game better and become a life-long fan of the sport even after the Asian or Asian American athlete is gone.

As a result, Asian Americans can join a conversation about sports with others, which is a significant change from the past. In other words, sports serve as a shared interest among different ethnic groups, and it reduces the impact of race in the community. For example, there is no doubt that former and current Latino and Korean players in Dodger uniform brought these two ethnic groups closer. When you are a Dodger fan, your ethnic background seems a lot less important. Dodger fan is a Dodger fan, no matter what. A stadium full of fans with different ethnic heritages cheers for a homerun by Shin-Soo Choo or Jose Valentin and it has an enduring impact on how different ethnic groups relate to each other.

Asian and Asian American Athletes

Another issue that has an impact on how it connects different ethnic groups through sports is the differential impact of Asian and Asian American athletes. Asian athletes are defined as citizens of an Asian country who came over to the U.S. to play sports. On the other hand, Asian American athletes are U.S. citizens or permanent residents who call the U.S. home. The recent trend of athletes with Asian heritage has been led mostly by foreign players who have already proved themselves in their own countries. Ichiro Suzuki came over after winning the Japanese Pacific league batting title for Japanese-record seven consecutive seasons and Hideo Nomo won at least 17 games in his first four seasons with Kinsetsu Buffaloes in Japan.

In contrast to these successes by so called “imports,” Asian Americans in professional sports have been relatively invisible. Most of the well-known Asian American athletes play or played an individual sport such as diving (Sammy Lee and Greg Louganis), weight lifting (Monia “Tommy” T. Kono), gymnastics (Amy Chow), figure skating (Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan), tennis (Michael Chang), and golf (Michelle Wie and Grace Park) (Hanson, 2005) . However, it is not easy to find a famous Asian American athlete in the sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL). In other words, it seems that the opportunities to develop talent in major team sports are limited for Asian Americans. Asian Americans need to prove themselves a little more than Whites, African Americans, or Latinos because the scouts seem to have more doubts about their potential.

Ron Darling, an all-star pitcher who is Hawaiian American with a Chinese Hawaiian mother, says scouts may find it easy to overlook Asian American talent. He agrees that the success of Asian baseball talent from around the world will result in more Asian American prospects being recruited. However, he believes that the scouts need to put more emphasis on looking in their own backyard for hidden talent as well as around the world (Hayes, 2000). We have to understand that the stereotypes still play a critical role in the lack of Asian American athletes in the sports, and these scouts are not likely take a risk on an Asian American athlete. A few already-proven “imports” would not be able to change it.

A Lapchick’s research shows that the number of non-resident aliens, a.k.a. “imports,” has increased over the last decade, but Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders are not getting the same opportunity (Lapchick, 2003). Non-resident aliens are often the ones who have already proved themselves as an outstanding athlete, and the figures show a good example of ‘having to prove yourself first’ mentality by the recruiters even at the college level. Non-resident alien category’ includes both Asian and non-Asians, but these contrasting numbers give us an idea on the disadvantage of Asian American athletes with raw talent that needs further development.

Asian American athletes have much bigger impacts on changing the society and fighting the stereotypes because they are Americans after all. Foreign athletes often have language barriers to be an active influencer on the fans, and the admiration stops at the talent and skills. On the other hand, Asian American athletes grew up here, went through the same school system, and represent the U.S. in international competition. It means that the fans can relate to Asian American athletes in more personal level, and this close relationship has a more effective influence on the society.

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In one of the LPGA tournaments, a commentator mentioned that it is exciting to see a young U.S. born player with tremendous potential while the field is dominated by foreign players. Of course, she was referring to Michelle Wie, a teenager who is a second generation Korean American. She is an Asian American whose role is quite different from that of Se Ri Pak, who is a native of Korea. They both have a similar impact on the Korean community; but Wie plays for the U.S. in the Curtis Cup against Great Britain, and will soon play in the U.S. Solheim Cup team against European golfers. Even with her ethnicity clearly noticeable, she is not a foreigner with broken English who came over to the U.S. to play a sport. To Americans, she is ‘one of us’ who represents the excellence of the country. This is why more Asian American athletes should be visible in the sports to effectively break the stereotypes and racial barriers in American society.

More Money for Everyone

Another added benefit of Asian and Asian American athletes in the sports in the U.S is the financial gain. Domestically the teams with Asian American athletes can convert Asian American communities to a strong supporter group. Over 10 million Asian Americans live in the U.S., which is around 4% of the population, but the growth in the past decade has been higher than Whites and African Americans. The number of Asian Americans grew 63% over the 9O’s compared to 5% growth for Whites and 15% for African Americans. Hispanics are growing as fast as Asian Americans, which make these two ethnic groups the most attractive markets for professional sports (Rowe and Gilmour, 2010).

Asian and Asian American athletes can produce more ticket and merchandise sales, and bring in higher media right fees because more Asian Americans will watch the broadcast if a star Asian or Asian American athlete is in the game. Advertisers would be willing to pay higher rates because being able to reach the Asian American market is a very attractive proposition. The buying power of Asian Americans is expected to reach $526 billion in 2008, and this is a significant number considering that the Asian American population in 2008 is expected to be only 5% of the whole population. In comparison, both Hispanic and African American populations will each account for over four times the Asian American population in 2005, and their buying powers are projected to be S773 billion and $778 billion, respectively (Gordon, 2004).

The financial benefits do not stop at the domestic market. All of these sport leagues are trying to take advantage of the globalization of sports and Asian and Asian American athletes can make the expansion a lot easier. Major League Baseball games are televised live in Korea since Chan Ho Park started playing in the U.S., and the fan base continues to grow as Koreans team to appreciate the style of MLB games. NBA is gaining popularity’ as well after Portland Trailblazers drafted Ha Seung-Jin, a native of Korea.

In addition to media rights, foreign companies are showing more interest in sponsorships for the sports one of their own plays. After the continuous inflow of Korean female golfers to the U.S., LPGA has three tournaments in 2005 of which the title sponsor is a Korean company:

SBS Open, Samsung World Championship, and Sports Today Classic. SBS is a broadcasting partner for LPGA in Korea, Samsung is one of the largest Korean conglomerates, and Sports Today is a Korean daily newspaper specialized in sports and entertainment. Samsung’s sponsorship is mainly for its global exposure, but SBS and Sports Today joined the LPGA even though they do not have any business interest outside of Korea. However, the popularity of women’s golf in Korea by itself can justify these sponsorships, and it is a dramatic change brought to LPGA by the Korean and Korean American female golfers on the tour.(Yomee, 2005)

Of course, player recruiting is mainly based on the talent of the athlete, but the financial benefits are worth giving more opportunities to Asian and Asian American athletes and taking more risk in developing them. Breaking the stereotype is a tough challenge, but it becomes a little bit easier when all these entities involved in sports play a part. It is not only the right thing to do, but also a profitable proposition in the long run.


I have discussed the social and financial impact of Asian and Asian American athletes in the sports. When we trim to what we should do maximize the positive impact, two aspects have to be balanced – the rights and the responsibilities. Asian and Asian American athletes have the right to receive equal opportunity to participate in sports at any level starring at the youth sports. They also have the right to ask the teammates, team, league, and the fans to understand their own culture and heritage and refuse to be labeled with a stereotype. Along with these rights, there come responsibilities. Asian and Asian athletes have to accept the role as an ambassador of their culture and heritage and actively educate the people around them. They have to understand the importance of being a role model because they are the first wave of Asian and Asian American athletes who set the standard for the ones to follow.

In addition to these responsibilities, there are more complicated issues. A professional sport league such as LPGA is a business entity. Running a profitable business requires the contribution from everyone involved. Can we say that Asian LPGA members did their best to do their share? We have to go back to the notion of responsibility here. The athletes have to understand that they have the responsibility’ to help the league succeed. When people are paying a lot of money to play with an LPGA professional in a pro-am, it is a marketing event where the LPGA member becomes the spokesperson for the tour.

There are many obstacles to actually practice these responsibilities because of the cultural differences and language barriers. More importantly, most athletes are fairy young, and it is often a challenge to put them into a role to influence others. Therefore, it is not solely the responsibility of the athletes. The league and the teams have to understand that they also have the responsibility to educate the players and help them prepare for the task. To take on this responsibility, the league or the team first has to possess the understanding of different cultures and how they can take advantage of the differences. NBA is a good example of proactively organizing rookie orientations and diversity- training programs for its players no matter what ethnic group they belong to.

Balancing these rights and responsibilities of all involved entities in sports to encourage positive social change is not an easy task. However, the growth in Asian and Asian American athletes in the sports can and should serve as an effective foundation for the effort. In this era of globalization, the world of sports is again called to serve as an instrument to better our lives as it did many times in the past. It is up to all of us to make it happen whether you are involved in sport industry’ or are just a fan.


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