Most people know Pete Carroll for being an NCAA and Super Bowl champion with both USC and the Seattle Seahawks — two teams very close to my heart.
However, not many people know about Rocky Seto, Carroll’s longtime right-hand man and assistant coach. Not only was his journey to becoming one of Carroll’s most important partners unique, but Seto is one of the very few Asian coaches in the history of the NFL. In the 2014 Super Bowl, he was the only coach or player of Asian decent.
Asians make up a disproportionately small number of the athletes in each of the top four professional sports leagues in America. Compared to the 17.3 million Asians who live in the United States (according to the 2010 census), the number of Asians who play professional sports is miniscule at best.
In the NCAA, for example, just 2.1% of student-athletes are Asian. This is troublesome considering more than 5% of America’s population is Asian. For comparison, African Americans make up 13% of the United States population but 16% of the NCAA.
Why is there so little Asian representation in American sports?
The biggest reason may be simply because not many Asians participate in sports early in life. This was definitely true when I was in high school. Never in my four years did I witness an Asian athlete play basketball or take the football field on Friday nights.
Most of the Asians in my high school friend group played tennis, including me. I used to always joke that a “typical Asian” was known for being in orchestra and playing tennis. Now, looking back at it, I realize I partially internalized it.
It wasn’t until college that I realized not all Asians had to fit under a certain athletic stereotype. One of my Asian friends was a four-year varsity member of her high school basketball team; in fact, she was one of the star players, averaging 16 points over her career. That would’ve been almost unheard of at my high school.
She made me think about why there isn’t more Asian representation in the four biggest professional sports in America — football, baseball, basketball and hockey. I believe this is mainly because the majority of Asians don’t devote as much time to sports as people of different ethnicities, but even if this is the case, Asian professional athletes should be more common.
The major sport with the most Asian players is, of course, baseball. Unlike football, which is really only widely popular in the United States, there are a number of high-quality baseball leagues around the world.
As a matter of fact, baseball is one of the most popular sports in Japan. Many baseball players in America go to the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization. Yet with many skilled baseball players in Japan, MLB still does not consist of many Asian players.
Nonetheless, there are still Asian players who have made a profound impact on MLB. One, and perhaps the most notable, is Ichiro Suzuki. As a Mariners fan, I had the privilege of watching Ichiro play during his years in Seattle. In 2001, his first year in the Major Leagues, Ichiro won Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player.
If Ichiro never had the level of success he did, there might not be as many Asian athletes playing in MLB — or other sport leagues, for that matter. The Los Angeles Angels have superstar two-way player Shohei Ohtani, and the Los Angeles Dodgers have pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu, the first player from Korea’s professional baseball league to come to the Major Leagues.
Likewise, in the NBA, Jeremy Lin became a household name when he burst onto the scene in 2011. Unlike Ichiro and Ryu, Lin was born in Southern California. However, when he entered the NBA in 2010 with the Golden State Warriors, Lin became one of the few players of Chinese descent to play in the NBA.
Even though there is not much Asian representation in the world of professional sports, there are still those that can make a significant impact. Whether it’s someone of Ichiro’s Hall of Fame caliber or not, Asians deserve to be equally recognized for their contributions to their respective sports as anyone else.
Nathan Hyun is a sophomore writing about underrepresentation in sports. His column, “Hyun-derrated,” runs every other Wednesday.