Linsanity leads to understanding
The rise of -- and reaction to -- Jeremy Lin raises awareness and opens dialogue
You can't walk around Madison Square Garden without seeing fans of all ages and ethnicities wearing No. 17 jerseys and Linsanity T-shirts.
In less than three weeks, Jeremy Lin, a 6-foot-3 point guard, has done something Stephon Marbury, Isiah Thomas and all the other would-be Knicks saviors for the past decade have tried and failed to do. He made the New York Knicks relevant, and on a global scale.
No matter how this Hollywood story ends and whether or not Lin is able to get the Knicks to the playoffs, the Taiwanese-American player out of Harvard has already provided winning results for Asian-Americans.
I'm thankful for "Linsanity" because it is creating an awareness of Asian stereotypes and is educating people about slurs they may not have known -- or cared -- about. Without it, some people might not know that the cliché "chink in the armor" is not appropriate to use in the context of an Asian athlete -- which is what an ESPN Mobile editor did after Lin's first loss as a starter.
Before this gaffe, perhaps there were some who were unaware that the "C" word is just as offensive to the majority of Asians as the "N" word is to African-Americans.
I'm Thai-American and I've been called the "C" word -- along with countless other ignorant terms -- as so many other Asians have, regardless of whether they are actually of Chinese descent. The word, when used to describe somebody, is derogatory -- whether the person is Filipino, Japanese, Korean or any other Asian ethnicity.
After Lin's 38-point explosion against the Lakers, a Fox Sports columnist tweeted a joke involving a physical stereotype that I am certain just about every Asian-American male has heard at some point in his lifetime. The columnist apologized for the tweet, which perhaps some non-Asians may have considered an innocent attempt at humor. Thanks to Linsanity, everybody now knows it's not amusing.
And thank you, "Saturday Night Live," for pointing out many more offensive Asian stereotypes in a spoof the comedy show did last weekend. And thanks to Spike Lee for dispelling misconceptions about Lin and Asians on Twitter, and telling Floyd Mayweather to "recognize" Lin's skills.
Even before the ESPN headline, I encountered some people who were actually oversensitive to all things involving Lin's ethnicity, and I want to thank them for their sensitivity and curiosity. Since Lin's emergence, one follower on Twitter politely asked me if wearing a ninja costume to the Garden with the name "Linja" on it would be inappropriate.
THE JEREMY LIN ISSUES
ESPN has examined, and struggled with, the issues of race and fairness that have arisen with Jeremy Lin's sudden stardom with the Knicks.• Bryant: Our Jeremy Lin opportunity
• Adande: Race and lessons learned
• Youngmisuk: Understanding and Linsanity
• Grantland: A question of identity
• First Take: Ethnic sensitivity
• Pandya: The racial complexion
• Poynter Review: On ESPN's coverage
Another Twitter follower debated with me over the New York Post's back-page headline -- "AMASIAN!" -- after Lin hit the game-winning 3-pointer on Asian Heritage Night in Toronto. Was it over the top because it singled out Lin's ethnicity? It offended some, and this particular non-Asian follower argued Lin should be recognized for his skills alone, reminding me that caution should always be exercised when race is involved.
The fact that we were having a discussion and people took time to ask me on Twitter thrills me. This is what diversity is about.
But in fact, many Asian-Americans take pride that Lin is recognized for his background. I can't tell you how cool it is to see so many Asian faces in the crowd at Knicks games. The Knicks have always had diverse crowds, but I covered the NBA for more than a decade and I remember being able to count the number of Asian faces I saw in the crowd in various NBA arenas.
Lin's impact on Asian-Americans has been likened to what Tiger Woods meant to African-Americans in golf. Many Asian-Americans, like myself, also took great pride in Tiger's accomplishments, since his mother is Thai. Earl Woods once told me that Kultida, Tiger's mother, used to take their son to the Wat Thai (Thai temple) as a youngster all the time, and that he was raised early on like many other Thai-Americans.
Lin hasn't won like Tiger yet, but his impact is still immense. Yao Ming was great for Asians, too, but I couldn't really relate to Yao since he was from China and is 7-foot-6. With Lin, Asian-Americans can see a role model who pleases both Asian parents and kids. He went to Harvard and got an Ivy League education, but still can cross-over John Wall and throw down a dunk or hit a 3-pointer in Dirk Nowitzki's face.
Lin has done things that so many Asian kids have dreamed of doing. It takes athleticism, skill, heart, desire and character, among so many other things, to survive not being drafted, being cut by multiple teams, going through the D-League and still seizing an opportunity and play at the level he is playing. And then on top of all that, Lin tells us the added difficulties of doing this as an Asian-American.
In a sit-down interview with ESPN's Rachel Nichols, Lin was asked what kind of stereotypes Asian-American athletes face.
"A lot," Lin said. "You can't prove yourself one time, you can't have one good game and everyone one be like, 'He's the real deal.' It has to be over and over and over again."
"It's funny," he continued. "People are still saying, 'Oh, he's quicker than he looks.' And I'm like, what does that mean? Do I look slow? People are always saying, 'He is deceptively quick, deceptively athletic.' I don't know if that is because I am Asian or what."
This may be what I appreciate the most about Lin -- his willingness to embrace who he is and his understanding of what he means to so many.
Mike Wise of The Washington Post recently wrote that "Lin has more in common with Jackie Robinson than Tim Tebow."
Thanks to pioneers like Robinson, Lin doesn't have to endure the same kind of discrimination Robinson faced. But with each 3-pointer, dunk and bounce pass, Lin still blazes a trail for Asian-Americans by creating an awareness that didn't exist just a month ago.
Ohm Youngmisuk covers the New York Giants for ESPNNewYork.com.
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