Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Impact of Athletes on Asian Americans

The public often regards the Asian male as feminine and passive due to the images portrayed in the mainstream media. There are also the stereotypes of Asians being intelligent but not athletic and unable to compete at a high level because of their physiological make up (slow and short). Whenever conversations or images of race and sports arise, it almost always centers around the African American and white community. Almost no movie focusing on sports made the star actor, or even a role player, of Asian decent. If an Asian actor is chosen to play a member of the team, movie directors always make sure to show him at the end of the bench cheering excitedly. Asians are meant to dominate the classroom, are supposed to be happy just to be part of a sports team, and are responsible for holding up the team GPA. However, there has been a recent emergence of the Asian American athlete in the sporting world. Thus, it is important to examine certain questions like will sports stars change the image of the Asian Americans? Can sports reverse the stereotypes in movies and television shows? Can Asians only assert themselves as athletes when a dominant football player, homerun hitter, or skilled point guard surfaces?

There is no Jackie Robinson or Roberto Clemente figure for Asians in athletics. Se Ri Pak is the athlete whom I most associate with this type of revolutionary impact. Women’s professional golf, however, is not one America’s big three/four sports, and golf has an underlying stigma of it not even being a ‘real’ sport. As a result, she is not really recognized outside of the Korean community for her accomplishments, and this lack of a central figure makes it even more difficult for Asians to get past racial stereotypes. However, Hideo Nomo broke into the league in 1994 with his unique delivery. Chan Ho Park came over from Korea the following year and showed an unexpected style of power pitching. They both proved that an Asian could strike out a major league slugger. Byung-Hyun Kim made multiple appearances in the major league postseason and helped put Korean baseball even further on the map.

Unfortunately, Chan Ho Park is recognized as one of, if not the most, overpaid players in baseball. Meanwhile, BH Kim is most known more for choking in the clutch (2001 World Series games 5 and 6, semifinals of the World Baseball Classic against arch rival Japan, and giving up Bonds’ 715). Ichiro Suzuki has obviously made a tremendous impact on the game and is rightfully regarded as one of the premier outfielders in the league. However, his location in Seattle makes it more difficult for the media with its East Coast bias to report on his success at length and make average fans appreciate his skill. Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian stirred interest in the NBA throughout China and with Chinese Americans. While this is great for the sport, the public still has a tendency to reinforce Asian stereotypes by viewing these players as “freaks” because of their height. With all these negatives being said, there are many positive impacts that should be addressed from simply having professional athletes who are Asian.

There has been an enormous influx of Korean, Japanese, and even Taiwanese talent into the baseball world of late. The numbers show an exponential increase in basketball throughout Asia over the past few years. These baseball players, basketball players, and other athletes on television are helping transform ideologies in Asian American communities so that athletic talent is beginning to be valued more. Asian American children can now see people who like them on ESPN, become much more interested in the sport, and have a role model for their dream of becoming a professional athlete. Asian athletes seem to have had a noticeable impact on the Asian American community, however, the influence on America as a whole is yet to be determined.

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