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AAPI sportspeople you should know about

General

Did you know that May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in the United States and Asian Heritage Month in Canada? To celebrate, we’ve put together an extra special Sunday Scroll to highlight the awe-inspiring accomplishments of some of the greatest Asian American and Asian Canadian athletes of all time.

May 02, 2021
Photo source: WTA/Giphy
Photo source: WTA/Giphy

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I don’t really know what feeling Japanese or Haitian or American is supposed to feel like. I just feel like me.”

― Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka, who plays under the Japanese flag, was raised in America, has a Japanese mom and a Haitian dad and is 100% herself.

🥇 International love

SOURCE: CRESCENTA VALLEY HISTORICAL SOCIETY

The Olympics are sports’ biggest stage, and some of our most accomplished Olympians have Asian heritage. During the 1948 London Summer Olympics, Filipino American diver Vicki Draves became the first Asian American to win Olympic gold and first American woman to win multiple gold medals in diving. That’s how you make a splash.

  • She was the first of many North American Olympians with Asian heritage, including hockey players Julie Chu and Vicky Sunohara, wrestler Carol Huynh, gymnasts Victoria Moors and Kyla Ross, swimmer Nathan Adrian, and speed skater Apolo Ohno.

These days, Chloe Kim is one of the most recognizable Olympians, and the biggest name in snowboarding. The youngest woman to win an Olympic snowboarding gold medal at 17 years old, Kim recently spoke out about anti-Asian hate in North America, but also her pride in her Korean heritage.

⭐️ The best and brightest

SOURCE: PHELAN M. EDENHACK/AP PHOTOS

⛳️Let's talk about the most transcendent Asian American and Asian Canadian athletes. Exhibit A: Tiger Woods, of Thai and Chinese heritage. In 1997, he became the first Asian American to win a pro golf major (his first of 15) and is currently tied for the most PGA Tour wins at 82. 

  • Tiger’s GOAT status led the way for other Asian American golfers, like LPGA star Michelle Wie West, 2020 PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa and the PGA’s first player of Tongan and Samoan descent, Tony Finau.

A few Canadian and American figure skaters of Asian descent are also considered amongst the GOATs. Michelle Kwan — the greatest Olympian to never win gold — and Kristi Yamaguchi owned the figure skating spotlight in the late 20th century, leading the way for Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen.

  • On the men’s side, Patrick Chan is the best Canadian figure skater there ever was, winning three world championships and a few Olympic medals, while American Nathan Chen is working on being the best ever — he hasn’t lost since the 2018 Winter Olympics.

🏀🏈⚾️🏒 Welcome to the big leagues

SOURCE: MELISSA MAJCHRZAK/NBAE

For as long as we can remember, the major sports leagues — NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL — have had a severe lack of Asian representation. But the players who have made it to the big leagues have certainly made their marks.

🏀Basketball: Remember Jeremy Lin? The American-born son of Taiwanese parents who set the NBA on fire for a period in 2012? While Linsanity was short-lived, he went on to win an NBA championship with the Toronto Raptors in 2019.

  • Lin should probably thank Wataru Misaka — a second-generation Japanese American who excelled in college basketball during a time of intense anti-Japanese racism in and around WWII.
  • In 1947, Misaka broke the NBA’s color barrier as the first non-white player and first player of Asian descent.

🏈Football: Wide receiver Hines Ward is a Pittsburgh Steelers legend, winning two Super Bowls and setting copious franchise records during his 14-season career. Born in Seoul, South Korea, Ward aimed to grow the popularity of American football in his birthplace by introducing other biracial kids (like himself) to the game.

  • Nowadays, players like Miami Dolphin Tua Tagovailoa (pronounced TUNG-o-vai-LOA), Los Angeles Ram Taylor Rapp and Atlanta Falcon Younghoe Koo are some of the NFL’s standout players boasting Asian and Pacific Islander heritage.
  • In the Great White North, Norman “King” Kwong reigned over the CFL in the ’50s and ’60s. The first Canadian pro football player of Chinese heritage and winner of four Grey Cups, Kwong set 30 league records.

⚾️Baseball: Many MLB players are from Asia, largely due to the sport’s popularity in East Asian countries. Players like 10-time All-Star Ichiro Suzuki and 2009 World Series MVP Hideki Matsui were both born across the Pacific while others, including three-time World Series champion Tim Lincecum, boast Asian heritage.

🏒Hockey: Though he only played one minute of one game in the NHL, Larry Kwong’s mark on the league was indelible. The Canadian of Cantonese descent broke the NHL’s color barrier in 1948 as the first non-white player and first of Asian heritage.

  • Kwong skated so Montreal Canadien Nick Suzuki, Minnesota Wild Matt Dumba and Dallas Star Jason Robertson could soar...and so Paul Kariya could star in the most iconic hockey film franchise of all time, The Mighty Ducks.

💪 Who’s the boss?

SOURCE: MLB/TWITTER

Asian dominance isn’t limited to on-field/ice/court action, though: there are plenty of proud Asian Americans making their marks from the bench and the front office. Kim Ng (pronounced ANG) made herstory last year when she joined the Miami Marlins as the first MLB general manager (GM) of East Asian descent and the first female GM in a major sports league.

Over in the NBA, Rich Cho (who was born in Burma) became the first Asian American GM in major league history when he took the job with the Portland Trail Blazers in 2010, while Toronto Raptors’ GM Bobby Webster of Hawaii was the first Asian American to win a championship when the Raps won it all in 2019. 

  • From the bench, Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is the first Asian American head coach in the history of the major leagues and the first Asian American head coach to win an NBA championship. Feeling hot hot hot.

❤️ #StopAAPIHate

SOURCE: JONATHAN YIM/TWITTER

As we celebrate these amazing athletes and leaders and their illustrious careers, we also must recognize the hurdles they’ve faced, and continue to face. Anti-Asian violence and hate has reached unimaginable levels, and even the most elite sportspeople are subjected to AAPI racism every day.

  • Honor these athletes, Americans and Canadians of Asian and Pacific Islander descent across North America, by helping put an end to AAPI hate. Visit GoFundMe’s Stop AAPI Hate campaign to find out how you can support.