Blasian Athletes Shine at 2015 SEA Games

The 28th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games were held in Singapore from June 5 to June 16. A standout in the 2015 SEA Games was the performance of Team Philippines and their Fil-Heritage athletes, commonly known as Fil-Ams. The SEA Games Chief of Mission Julian Camacho confirmed that the Filipino team had the most United States-based entries. The final medal count for the Philippines included five gold medals, with four attributed to Fil-American athletes.

Eric Shauwn Cray (June 9)

Eric Cray and Kayla Richardson, a pair of blasian Fil-Americans won gold in their respective 100-meter races, earning the unofficial titles of “fastest man and fastest woman in the region”. Cray clocked in at 10.25 seconds, while Richardson finished at 11.76. Cray went on to set a new SEA Games record of 49.40 seconds on the way to gold in the 400-meter hurdles, breaking a twenty-year-old record. Richardson also secured a silver medal in the 200 meters at 23.71 seconds. These two blasian athletes earned three of Team Philippines’s five gold medals.

Kayla Anise Richardson (June 9)

Following the SEA Games, Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (PATAFA) president Philip Ella Juico faced criticism for the use of Fil-foreign players raised and trained overseas to mask the lack of programs for homegrown athletes. Juico took exception to the criticisms, saying Fil-Americans, are, in the end, still Filipinos.

“We have 10 million Filipinos around the world. We are sharing our human resources with the international community. When they are there, they inter-marry with locals and beget Filipino children who are half Filipino, half foreign. If we can use half foreign Filipinos for scientists, teachers, or engineers, why not use them for sports?”, said Juico. “Why all of a sudden discriminating and frowning on this?, the former Philippine Sports Commission chairman added.

Juico said the only difference is that Fil-foreign athletes are based outside the Philippines by force of circumstances, and should not be stripped of their privilege to represent the country in international competitions. “Of course, we prefer homegrown talents but it’s not their fault that they were born there.”

Despite the criticism, Juico said they intend to recruit more Fil-Americans to beef up the athletics team. Juico spoke on this matter in a previous interview, stating, “If there are Fil-foreign (athletes), (athletes) with Filipino blood, why not? It’s a global society now, it’s a global community…if other countries can use this internationally-shared resource, why not us?”

Eric Cray – dubbed the “Usain Bolt of Southeast Asia” – responded to critics regarding the policy of searching overseas for talent with Filipino ties stating, “I just feel that if you have Filipino blood and you cherish the traditions of the Philippines, you know it’s a great honor for me to be able to represent and I am just happy that they allow me to.”

Selected Sources:

* Sports Interactive Network Philippines, “What’s wrong with having Fil-foreign athletes, says Juico in face of SEA Games criticism“, June 19, 2015.

* ABS-CBN News Channel, “New PATAFA head welcomes Fil-foreign athletes, coaches“, August 7, 2014.

Blasian American Olympians

As we commemorate the end of the Games of the XXX Olympiad, let us recognize blasians who have represented Team USA throughout the history of the Olympics.

Tai Babilonia
Figure Skating

Tai with her skating partner, Randy

With partner Randy Gardner, Tai Babilonia was the 1979 World Champion and the gold medalist at the US Figure Skating Championships in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, and 1980.  Randy and Tai competed in the 1976 and 1980 Olympics.  They were medal favorites at the 1980 Winter Olympics but were forced to withdraw due to an injury to Gardner.

Tai Babilonia was the first figure skater of African American descent to win US and World titles.  Her mother was African American, and her father was part Filipino and part Native American (Hopi Indian). 

Sheila Hudson
Track & Field

Sheila Hudson (Korean-African American) dominated the triple jump in the US for years.  She started competing at age 10, took a two-year hiatus from competition when her family moved to Korea, and returned to track and field in high school.  She represented the United States at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.  Sheila was the only American to reach the finals in the first Olympic triple jump competition for women and finished 10th.  

Tora Harris
Track & Field

Tora Harris was a four-time National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Outdoor Track & Field All-American (1998, 1999, 2001, 2002) and an NCAA Indoor All-American in 2002.  Harris was the number 1 ranked high jumper in the United States, according to Track & Field News, in both 2002 and 2006 and was among the top 10 every year from 2001 through 2009.   He was a member of the United States team at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

His mother, Susan (Su-Chen), is Taiwanese, while his father, who passed away in 2000, was African American.  His parents made him take Chinese lessons when he was young, and he attended first grade in Taiwan.  Tora speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese.  His language skills made him very popular at the 2001 World University Games in Beijing, China, where he won a bronze medal.

Selected Sources:
* Tai Babilonia, Official website.
* HalfKorean.com: An online community for mixed-race Koreans, “Prominent People – Sheila Hudson“.
* USA Track & Field, Tora Harris.

Blasian Olympians Worldwide

Ding Hui
Volleyball
CHINA

In April 2009, the Chinese Volleyball Team announced the 18 members of the men’s national volleyball team for the 2012 Summer Olympics.  Among them was Ding Hui, the first black athlete on a Chinese national team.  While Ding is the first mixed-race athlete to play on a national team, a number of foreign players play in China’s professional football and basketball leagues, and foreign coaches have worked with China’s national teams.

Nicknamed “Xiao Hei” or “Little Black”, by his team mates, Ding Hui is the son of a South African father and a Chinese mother.  A native of the east China city of Hangzhou, he speaks Mandarin and the Hangzhou dialect.  He is a Chinese national and was raised by his single mother, Yu Jianxiu.  Ding never met his father, who left China before he was born.

Ding Hui’s selection has stirred up some racial prejudices among his countrymen.  Commentators have noted that he has a “pleasant and perky nature” and is talented at “singing and dancing”.  On Chinese internet forums, he has been lauded for the “whiteness” of his teeth and the “athleticism of his genes”.

China’s black population is tiny.  However, the black population is growing rapidly.  One predominately African suburb in the southern city of Guangzhou is referred to as “Chocolate City”.  Since 2003, when China started pouring investments into Africa, there has been a significant movement of Africans in the opposite direction.   Hopefully, as China’s population becomes more diverse, future minority athletes will be recognized for their skills and performance, rather than their heritage. 

Cheltzie Lee
Figure Skating
AUSTRALIA

Lee was named to the Australian team, competing as one of the youngest Australians on the 2010 Winter Olympic team at the age of 16.  At the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, she qualified 18th in the short program, scoring 52.16 (her career personal best score), and finished in 20th place overall.  Cheltzie is working towards a spot in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Lee’s father is Chinese and was born in Bangladesh, and her mother was born and raised in Louisiana and is African American. 

Yvonne Kanazawa (金沢 イボンヌ)
Track & Field
JAPAN

Although Yvonne Kanazawa grew up in Sacramento and trained and coached at California State University, she competed for Japan.  “I was born in Japan.  My mom is Japanese.  So, I have Japanese citizenship only.  I’m not a dual-citizenship person.  So, I had no choice but to compete for Japan, and it worked out pretty well,” Kanazawa said.

Kanazawa is an eight-time national champion in the 100-meter hurdles with six records to her name.  In 1996, she became the first female sprinter in 32 years to make an Olympic team in Japan.  A Japanese record holder, Kanazawa again competed for Japan at the 2000 Olympics.  She was a semi-finalist at the Summer Olympics in Sydney and retired from competition in 2004.

Selected Sources: 
* Wall Street Journal: China,China Welcomes Chinese-African Player to National Team“, April 14, 2009.
* Cheltzie Lee, Official website.
* Yvonne Kanazawa, The Study of Racialism.

Blasian Americans at the 2012 Olympics

As we celebrate the beginning of the Games of the XXX Olympiad, let us recognize the blasians representing Team USA in London this summer.

CONGRATS TO LIA, KYLA, & PAIGE Blasian Olympic medalists for Team USA!

Lia Neal
Swimming 
Lia with her parents, Siu & Rome

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Lia’s father, Jerome, is African American, and her mother, Siu, is from Hong Kong.  At age 17, she is the second woman of African descent to make the US Olympic swim team.

Lia competed in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay at the 2012 Summer Olympics.  She won the bronze medal on Saturday, July 28, with Missy Franklin, Jessica Hardy, and Allison Schmitt, behind Australia and the Netherlands.  The team finished with a total time of 3:34:24, an American record.

To learn more about Olympic medalist, Lia Neal, go to her official website. 

Kyla Ross
Gymnastics

Kyla with her parents, Kiana & Jason

 

Kyla was born in Honolulu, Hawai’i and currently lives in Aliso Viejo, California.  Her father, Jason, is Japanese and Black, and her mother, Kiana, is of Filipino and Puerto Rican descent.  Her look reflects the multi-racialism of Hawaii.  “We call it the quadruple effect,” says her father.

Kyla earned the second-highest score on the uneven bars at the 2012 Olympic trials.  Nicknamed “Mighty Mouse,” Ross, 15, is the youngest person on Team USA’s gymnastics roster.  According to the Olympic format, each team selects three gymnasts for each of the four apparatuses in the final – balance beam, uneven bars, vault, and floor.  Kyla performed on the beam and the uneven bars.  On Tuesday, July 31, the US women captured the gold medal with an overall score of 183.596.

To learn more about Olympic medalist, Kyla Ross, go to her official website.

UPDATED
Tuesday, July 31, 2012 

Paige McPherson
Taekwondo

A native of Sturgis, South Dakota, Paige currently resides in Miami, Florida.  Born in Abilene, Texas, she was adopted when she was just four days old.  Her parents also adopted children from South Korea and Saint Lucia.  Paige is half Filipino and half African American (with a little Spanish and Japanese on her Asian side), and she likes to call herself “Blasian”.

Paige is looking forward to her first Olympics after defeating 2004 silver medalist Nia Abdallah to earn a spot on the 2012 roster.  Nicknamed “McFierce”, she is the youngest member of the US national team, having just graduated high school in January 2009.

Since turning 18, Paige has sought to connect with her biological roots.  She has an older brother, who she has already met.  She also has a half-brother and a half-sister, and she has spoken to her biological mother.  Paige plans to meet all of them after the Olympics. 

Paige represented the USA in the 67 kg women’s taekwondo event. In the preliminary round, Paige secured a surprise defeat over Sarah Stevenson of Team Great Britain, 5-1.  She went on to win a bronze medal by defeating Franka Anić of Slovenia 8-3.

UPDATED
Saturday, August 11, 2012 

Selected Sources:
* New America Media, Asian American Athletes Represent U.S. at 2012 Olympics“, July 25, 2012.
* Mas TaeKwonDo, Paige McPherson hopes to bring home a gold medal“, July 25, 2012.
* The Epoch Times,Lia Neal, Olympic Star Rising from Brooklyn“, July 5, 2012.
* The Madeleine Brand Show, SoCal gymnast Kyla Ross brings poise, nerves of steel to London Olympics“, July 11, 2012.

Blasian Olympic Medalists

Bryan Clay

Track & Field

Bryan Ezra Tsumoru Clay – often referred to as the “World’s Greatest Athlete” – was born to a Japanese mother (Michele Ishimoto) and African American father (Greg Clay) and raised in Hawaii. He won the silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and went on to win the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Bryan is among the very few decathletes to hold two Olympic medals.

Bryan had his eyes set on a third. He had hoped to become the only decathlete to win three Olympic medals.  Bryan Clay – the reigning Olympic decathlon gold medalist – was eliminated from the London Games after stumbling in the 110-meter hurdles at the U.S. track trials on Saturday, June 23, 2012.

To see him in action, check out this Olympic highlights video of Bryan Clay.

Peter Westbrook

Fencing

The first Blasian American Olympian was Peter Westbrook.  The child of an African American father (Ulysses) and a Japanese mother (Mariko), Peter was harassed by other children because of his mixed race.  His mother paid him $5 to attend local fencing classes.  She wanted to divert his attention to a sport that was similar to the style of Samurai fighting that she was familiar with in Japan.

Peter Westbrook was a member of six American Olympic teams – 1976 in Montreal, 1980 (US boycott of Moscow games), 1984 in Los Angeles, 1988 in Seoul, 1992 in Barcelona, and 1996 in Atlanta.  He won the bronze medal in Individual Sabre at the 1984 Olympics.  In 1992, he was selected to serve as flag bearer for the closing ceremonies, an honor conferred by a vote of that year’s Olympians.  He was the oldest member of the fencing team at the 1996 Olympics.

One of the first prominent biracial fencers and the first African American to medal in fencing, Peter began the Peter Westbrook Foundation in 1991.  The Foundation provides inner city children with access to fencing and works to guide them away from gang activity.  It is hailed as one of the most successful inner city sports programs in the country.

To learn about Peter Westbrook and his not-for-profit organization, visit www.PeterWestbrook.org.

UPDATED
Sunday, July 29, 2012 

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 first 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.

REVISED
Thursday, March 22, 2012