Nearly 2,000 miles from Madison Square Garden, Linsanity is hitting Boulder.
The New York Knicks’ Jeremy Lin is creating a media firestorm for his impressive NBA season. However, like it or not, he also raises many questions about how we talk about race, particularly in sports.
Leslie Wong, the programs manager at the Center for Multicultural Affairs, said while Jeremy Lin is a phenomenal inspiration for young Asian Americans in the realm of sports, there is still oversight when it comes to discrimination against Asian Americans.
She cites a Wall Street Journal study that says Asians and Asian Americans are the least represented group in managerial roles.
“Jeremy Lin is pushing open those doors courtside but the real question is why is there a glass ceiling to begin with?” Wong said. “Why is society so surprised or elated when a Jeremy Lin or a Tiger Woods excel? We also see a disparate representation with Latinos and American Indians in the sports arena as well and that doesn’t get much air-time.”
At CU, Asian Americans are the second largest minority group. According to the 2010-11 Diversity Report, there are 1,579 Asian American undergraduate students. While these students have much more on-campus visibility than African Americans and American Indians, Asian Americans still only make up 6.3 percent of undergraduate students.
CU's Sabatino Chen is one of the few Asian American athletes on campus. (Courtesy CU Sports Information Department)
Perhaps one of CU’s most visible Asian American students is men’s basketball player Sabatino Chen. Chen transferred from the University of Denver and sat out last year per NCAA rules. This season, the point guard has played in all 27 games, averaging 2.4 points per game, and has recorded nine steals and three blocks.
The redshirt junior has become a cult sensation in CU’s crazed student section. Chen is humble about hearing “Chen chants” and says the growing support for the team has made for a great season.
Chen describes himself as a “slasher,” who comes off the bench to give the team energy and play defense. He said his strengths are penetrating to the basket and creating shots for teammates. With 15 assists on the season, Chen has done just that.
“I hope (the fans) just see me as a guy that contributes and gives it everything he’s got, whether it’s scoring or defense or getting steals or just making a hustle play that changes the momentum of the game,” Chen said.
Chen grew up watching and admiring Michael Jordan and point guards John Stockton and Steve Nash. Now, Chen has another NBA point guard to look up to: He said Lin’s rise to fame has the potential to make big things happen in the sport. Chen hopes to play overseas in China or Europe and thinks that Lin’s story will only make basketball even more popular in China.
“I just think it kind of opens your eyes,” Chen said. “It’s just an inspirational story because he was like fourth on the depth chart and now he’s the starting point guard for the Knicks.”
Daryl Maeda, an ethnic studies professor at CU, has also been inspired by Linsanity. Maeda said he kept an eye on Jeremy Lin even before he joined the Knicks, but really took note when Lin put up 25 points against the New Jersey Nets.
Even though Maeda is a huge Los Angeles Lakers fan, he found himself rooting for Lin over the Lakers. He said watching Lin play has been pure joy. He especially enjoys the fact that Lin breaks stereotypes of what an Asian American athlete should be.
“You’d think that the stereotypical Asian American player might be really small, super quick, a great outside shooter, but he’s none of those,” Maeda said. “He makes his living taking contact in the paint. He’s fearless.”
Maeda said Lin also helps break the stereotype that Asian Americans can only be good at technical fields or math and science, but not athletics. With this idea in mind, Maeda hopes that in the future we’ll see more Asian Americans at the highest levels of sports.
Maeda noted that Asian American participation, and even success, in sports is not a new concept. Maeda said Lin’s emergence as a sports figure pushes other stories to the backburner. He mentioned self-described “Cablinasian” Tiger Woods and “Wat” Misaka, the first Asian American NBA player. Misaka actually integrated the league in 1947.
Linsanity is so visible only because it is at the highest level. Maeda hopes players like Chen can get more due, not simply because of their race but because of their skills. However, Maeda did say that the Lin phenomenon shows how consistently invisible Asian Americans are in the history of the country.
“I think one of the things that’s really important to take from all this Linsanity is that sports really are a microcosm of society,” Maeda said. “All of the racial stereotypes that exist in society are played out in sports as well. Just like it’s important for us to talk about race in society, it’s important to talk about race in the case of Jeremy Lin.”
Maeda disagreed with commentators who think race should be taken out of the equation. He personally found headlines like “Amasian” completely acceptable because Lin’s race is a big part of how he’s perceived in the game. He said in this David versus Goliath story, Lin was always discredited simply because he didn’t pass the looks test.
He does, however, have an issue with the ESPN headline “A chink in the armor” that got one writer fired and an anchor suspended. He said puns and double entendres are common within sports headlines, and the writer clearly knew that his headline was meant to mean two things: a legitimate phrase and a racial slur. Maeda said the writer was fired not for being racist, but for being stupid.
Despite the media controversy, Maeda said Lin is a feel good story for fans of all races, but understands why Asian Americans have adopted him as a role model. Overall, Maeda hopes this story will show people that sports, just like our country, aren’t colorblind.
“I think Linsanity should give us a way to talk more about race and what’s in bounds and what’s out of bounds, what’s acceptable discourse and what’s unacceptable discourse, of course all the while bringing us together to talk about a great basketball player.”
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Marlee Horn at Marlee.email@example.com.
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