Athletes changing stereotypes

July 8, 2006

BY JOHN R. IRBY

TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER

Wednesday, July 5, 2006


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THE NUMBERS: How many Asian-Americans are in the Richmond area?

When Brian Nguyen gets down on himself, he reads the message on his sneakers: RIP David.

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“It reminds me to play harder,” he said

A rising junior at J.R. Tucker High School, Nguyen, 16, lives for basketball. His brother, who played basketball at James River High School, died four years ago at the age of 18. According to Brian, peer pressure led to drugs and other complications and David took his own life.

But David’s support of Brian lives on, and the 6-4 center expects to play varsity for the Tigers next season.

“The reason I got into basketball was because my brother wanted me to play,” Brian said. “He wanted me to play to make my parents happy and to see me do something. He made it to college, but he failed . . . drugs and stuff . . . he didn’t want me to do that.”

. . .

Nguyen hopes to graduate from high school and college, then get a good job and support his parents. Those kinds of dreams fit the Asian stereotype of the model minority. But Nguyen doesn’t fit the stereotype of some Asian groups being genetically smaller and only able to challenge in sports that feature quickness and agility, such as soccer.

While some stereotypes may have at least a partial basis in fact, many do not. Just ask Nguyen.

“Not that many [Asians] play basketball, most play soccer or track . . . but don’t judge us, everyone is different,” Nguyen said. “I don’t think about race. Black, white, whatever, we’re all just playing sports.”

Asian-Americans playing sports in the Richmond metro area, however, are a silent minority. Some believe stereotypes, prejudice and bias still must be overcome.

“I’m Filipino. There’s a stereotype saying all Asians are the same, but Asians in this area come from many countries,” said Gerry Quindoza, a vice president at SunTrust Bank. “Filipinos, Koreans and Japanese might be smaller, but Chinese are not. Look at Yao Ming. He’s 7-foot-6.”

Quindoza, who has played sports most of his life, came to Richmond in 2003 from Hampton Roads. He believes Asians face subtle scrutiny in sports.

“Some people haven’t educated themselves. They might subconsciously perceive something that is not true. It’s more of a matter of ignorance or unconscious bias, not racism.”

Quindoza said that while basketball is big in the Philippines, he hasn’t seen nearly as many Asian-Americans playing the sport in this area as he has in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. “Some play tennis and golf, but you don’t see many playing basketball, football and baseball.

“Soccer is big with the Indian, Pakistani and Korean populations. But with the second generation, there is increasing interest in all sports.”

. . .

Soccer has been the most noticeable of sports played by Asian-Americans in the area, underscored by a large annual tournament the past three years.

“We had six teams – China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, Thailand and India,” said Dave Duong, event organizer and chair of the committee for the Asian American Society of Central Virginia. “Soccer is our primary sport, followed by ping-pong.”

Duong said each of the six teams had 22 players. He believes soccer is popular for two reasons. First, it is “played in the streets” of the 17 countries he says Richmond’s Asian-Americans are from. Second, soccer is not as physically demanding as football. Ping-pong, he says, is popular because it is inexpensive to play.

He doesn’t believe Asian-Americans in area high schools face scrutiny, even though coaches can have expectations for various sports.

“I think coaches can have a prototype in any sport,” said J.R. Tucker Athletic Director John Carroll. “But any unconscious bias goes by the wayside when a coach finds a kid who can maximize the effectiveness of the team. Every coach wants to win.”

Darrell Jenkins, athletic director at Deep Run High School, agrees. “Our coaches want to be as successful as possible. We are looking at ability. They are looking for bigger, stronger, faster, but that isn’t tied to ethnicity. They just want the best athletes.”

Asked if Asian parents encourage their children to play sports, Quindoza said, “I think they push them more toward academics. Sports are not a primary focus for Asian parents.”

He said, however, he will encourage his 2½-year-old son to play golf, basketball and baseball and that his 5-year-old daughter likes soccer and already is playing tennis.

“Second-generation Asian-Americans are different than first-generation,” he said. “I was talking to a . . . guy who called the second generation ‘confused.’ ” Confused, in the sense, he said, that later generations of American immigrants no longer just are interested in sports of their home country, but are becoming Americanized in overall sports interests.

Brian Nguyen is not sure about his basketball future. If he has a chance to play in college, he says he will take it. For now, however, he understands he will continue to face peer pressures to change and possibly conform, just like his brother David.

“My friends smoke and they want me to do it, but I won’t. I wasn’t real close to my brother [because of the age difference], but I listened and looked up to him.”

Now he looks down to reconnect with his brother and focus on the future.

This story can be found at: http://www.timesdispatch.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=RTD%2FMGArticle%2FRTD_BasicArticle&c=MGArticle&cid=1149188939137&path=!sports&s=1045855934844

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