On an early Saturday morning, I found myself in a familiar setting among a group of parents and excited 8 to 11 year old boys in their favorite football jerseys ready to delve themselves in a make-believe world of NFL, otherwise known as flag football.
Although I’ve never been a fan of the game, being that my 8 year old son was a diehard San Francisco 49ers fan, I could not deny him the opportunity to be part of a team any longer.
So, there we were on a crisp autumn morning, standing on a field full of boys who dreamed of becoming the next Colin Kaepernick or Cam Newton.
Oblivious to the cold wind and fog, the boys played hard, and when the coaches started to pick players for key positions, little hands shot up as if they were in the midst of NFL Scouting Combine.
Even from the sideline, I could see the excitement on their faces at the prospect of being chosen as they raised their hands, and the disappointment, as one by one, the positions were being filled. At the end, four boys were chosen, two running backs, one wide receiver and one quarterback, a familiar sight as four white boys stood before the group.
In sea of Asian American boys, four key positions being were filled by white players. Then again, I can’t say I was surprised, as that was a scenario in which my son often finds himself, the paradigm of race relations in our country.
Racial stereotypes still play a huge role in sports. Even in a city where Asian Americans make up over one third of the population, our children are burdened by the “model minority” stereotype from the young age, the notion that Asian Americans excel academically but have limited physical and athletic abilities. Asian American children are reminded that they expected to become accountants and doctors rather than the next Steph Curry.
Over the years, my son has played many sports. Football, baseball, soccer. You name it; he’s done it. Through it all, I’ve witnessed him and Asian American children like him become virtually invisible. It’s not because they lack the talent, passion or the drive, but simply because there is lack of recognition from the coaches.
As in the classroom, children need encouragement and thrive on being praised for their abilities. When a child is overlooked and passed on, they internalize the message that they’re not good enough, and coaches, like teachers, have an ability to foster or stunt a child’s passion.
We tend to think of sports as a meritocracy, a rare space where talent will always shine. Sadly, sports looks just like the rest of the world when it comes to how talent is located and groomed. Asian American boys and girls are still overlooked despite their untapped potential, hidden talents, and innate abilities because of unfounded racial stereotypes about their athletic ability.
As much as I like to think and hope that my son’s race will no longer be a factor when it comes to achieving his life’s ambitions, I am reminded all too often that we’re not there yet.