Korean Basketball League Ethnic Draft

As we experience the excitement of Jeremy Lin and his meteoric rise in the NBA, I reflected on the limitations of racial diversity in Korea, my mother’s homeland.  It’s always been a reality to me that my opportunities in Korea would be limited due to my biracial status.  Koreans revere the idea of their country being monoethnic.  However, the Korean War (1950-1953) threatened the country’s homogenous status.  Since then, there have been mixed race Koreans in Korea and around the world.

Three years ago, a professional sports association in Korea initiated an action to incorporate biracial Koreans for the first time.  The Korean Basketball League held an “Ethnic” draft.  The 10 professional basketball teams in Korea agreed to allow foreign players with a Korean parent to play in the Korean Basketball Leagues as signed players.  What’s more, the draft allowed these foreign players with Korean ties to not be considered “foreign players”.  (There is a limit of 1 foreign player per team.)  While it was not without controversy, the draft was a huge step toward the acceptance of diversity in Korea.

The inaugural KBL draft for “ethnic Korean players” was held in February of 2009.  To be defined as “ethnic Korean”, the player had to verify that his biological father or mother had previously held Korean citizenship and had since gained foreign citizenship.  A copy of the Korean parent’s family register document or Korean passport had to be presented.

Players selected in the 1st “ethnic Korean” draft

In the 2009 “Ethnic” draft, 5 players were selected ― Tony Akins (전태풍 / KCC Egis), Eric Sandrin (이승준 / Samsung Thunders), Greg Stevenson (문태영 / LG Sakers), Kevin Mitchell (원하준 / KT&G Kites), and Chris Vann (박태양 / KT Sonic Boom) ― and 4 of them were blasian.  The draft was held again in 2010 and 2011.  In 2010, only 1 player was selected ― Jarod Stevenson (문태종 / ET Land Elephants), Greg Stevenson’s older brother.  No players were selected in 2011.

Here’s the rub.  The KBL implemented a limit of 3 years on 1 team for ethnic Koreans.  So, the players that were signed in the 2009 “ethnic Korean” draft are now required to participate in the 2012 draft.  The native Korean players are not subject to this rule.  Different signing rules apply to ethnic versus native Korean players.  The rule was designed to balance the teams and prevent a monopoly on ethnic Koreans, who are often better than the Korean players.  The idea is that having the ethnic Korean players continue on long-term with a single team could give too much of an advantage to one club.

Greg & Jarod Stevenson

Note that, when an ethnic Korean player is drafted, he has to become a Korean citizen.  To sweeten the pot, the Nationality Act was revised in January of 2011 to allow foreigners with “outstanding talents” wishing to acquire Korean citizenship to maintain dual citizenship.  Subsequently, the Korean Basketball League and the Korean Olympic committee have recommended that the government allow ethnic Koreans to play for the Korean national team.

While the KBL benefits from the skills of ethnic Koreans, the association has also been accused of discriminating against ethnic Koreans.  The status of ethnic Koreans has been a point of contention since the initiation of the ethnic draft.  If ethnic Koreans are also Korean citizens and are not considered “foreign players”, why do different rules apply?  Such regulations single out ethnic Koreans and defeat the concept of equal access to the League.

The 2012 KBL Pre-Draft Tryout and draft for “Ethnic Korean Players” will be held on May 7, 2012 in South Korea.  Basketball players who are interested in becoming eligible to play in the KBL must apply by April 25, 2012 (Korea Time).  More information is available on the Korean Basketball League website.

Selected Sources:
* Korean Basketball League, “Rules & Procedures“.
* The Korea Times, “KBL Accused of Discrimination“, January 9, 2012.
* The Korea Herald, “Half Korean Brothers Get Citizenship“, July 21, 2011.
* HalfKorean.com: An online community for mixed-race Koreans, “KBL Ethnic Draft Feature“.


Asians & Football

After spending some time thinking about Asians in the game of basketball in the US, I thought – what about football?  It can be stated that – just as there are very few players of Asian descent who have played the game of basketball – the same can be said of professional football.  In fact, most would assume there are no Asian football players.  While the game of baseball is popular in Asia, and it’s not unusual for players from China or Japan to play Major League Baseball, football remains an extremely American game, and Asian football players remain few and far between.

Dayton Triangles – 1920s

The 1st Asian professional football player was Walter Achiu, of Chinese and Hawaiian ancestry.  He was one of the first minorities to play in any major American professional sports league.  He played pro football for the now defunct Dayton Triangles in 1927 – 20 years before Jackie Robinson’s debut in Major League Baseball in 1947!

Roman Gabriel

After Achiu, Roman Gabriel (half Filipino/half Irish) was drafted in 1962.  He was the 1st Asian American to start as an NFL quarterback.  Then there wasn’t another Asian football player until Eugene Yon Chong (Korean) was drafted in 1992.

The majority of professional football players of Asian descent have been of mixed heritage, and surprise, surprise, most of them were blasian.  There have been  9 blasian pro football players, including 2 sets of brothers.

Hines Ward

The most well-known blasian football player is Hines Ward.  Born in Seoul, South Korea to an African American father and Korean mother, Young He Kim (김영희).  Ward was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1998.  He gained worldwide fame when he was named MVP in Super Bowl XL (2006), becoming the 1st Korean American and 2nd foreign born player to earn the award.

For the first time since he left the country as a 1-year-old, Ward returned to South Korea in 2006.  He traveled the country, speaking out against biracial discrimination.  In order to support reform regarding multiracial Korean children, he created the Hines Ward Helping Hands Korea Foundation.

In 2009, President Barack Obama established the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to improve the health, education, and economic status of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.  Ward was appointed as a member of the Commission.

After 14 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ward retired from the NFL in March 2012.  A 4-time Pro Bowl selection, Ward finished his Steelers career with 1,000 catches, 12,083 yards, and 85 receiving touchdowns.  He helped Pittsburgh to 3 AFC championships and 2 Super Bowl wins.

Johnnie James Morton, Jr. and Chad Akio Morton are the sons of Johnnie Sr. (African American) and Katsuko (Japanese).

Johnnie Morton

Johnnie was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 1994 NFL Draft and played for the team until 2001.  He went on to play for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2002 to 2004 and ended his football career with the San Francisco 49ers in 2005.

Chad played for the New Orleans Saints in 2000, the New York Jets from 2001 to 2002, the Washington Redskins from 2003 to 2004, and the New York Giants from 2005 to 2006.  He was released by the Giants in 2007.

Wesly Mallard

Wesly Mallard is half Korean and half African American.
As a child, he attended Seoul American High School in Seoul, South Korea.
Mallard was drafted by the New York Giants in 2002 and remained with the team until 2004.  He played for the New England Patriots in 2005, Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2005 to 2006, Denver Broncos in 2007, and Seattle Seahawks in 2008.

Will Demps

Will and Marcus Demps are the sons of William Sr. (African American) and Kye (Korean).

Will was signed by the Baltimore Ravens in 2002 and played for the team until 2005.  He went on to the New York Giants in 2006 and played for the Houston Texans from 2007 to 2008.

Marcus was signed by the Detroit Lions in May 2006 but was released with a knee injury in September of the same year.

Patrick Chung

Patrick Chung was born to a Chinese-Jamaican father and an Afro-Jamaican mother.  He is of 1/4 Han Chinese ancestry.  Chung was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2009.

Marcus Freeman

Marcus Freeman, a Korean-African American, was drafted in the 2009 draft by the Chicago Bears.  He was waived on September 4.  Freeman was signed to the Buffalo Bills practice squad on September 22.  He was released in October.  On November 4, he signed with the Houston Texans.  Freeman retired due to an enlarged heart condition in May 2010.  He is now a quality control assistant coach for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Emmanuel Moody

Emmanuel Moody’s is the son of an African American father and a Korean mother, Young Sun Chang.  In July 2011, Moody signed with the Buffalo Bills.  He was released in August.

Thursday, March 22, 2012