Few Asian Americans in College Sports

December 16, 2008

A story in the San Francisco Chronicle points out the obvious but backs it up with numbers and anecdotes: There aren't many Asian Americans playing collegiate sports. Harvard basketball player Jeremy Lin says in the story, "It's a sport for white and black people. You don't get respect for being an Asian American basketball player in the US."

Lin, a 6-foot-3 point guard, took his Palo Alto, CA, high school team to a state championship, but didn't get any scholarship offers from big schools. He says in the story that his ethnicity "did affect the way coaches recruited me. I think if I were a different race, I would have been treated differently."

The story focuses on men's basketball and has several players and coaches citing stereotyping and race as factors in keeping the numbers down. Of the 4,814 players in men's Division I (the biggest schools) basketball during the 2006-07 season, 19 were Asian American (0.4 percent). Combine Division I, Division II and Division III, and the percentage rises to 0.7.

The statistics are from the NCAA Student-Athlete Race and Ethnicity Report and the numbers are pretty low for other sports -- men and women. The report writers seem to see the skewed numbers, too, and mostly wrote about black and white athletes, except for in charts breaking down the data.

If there's any bright side, the numbers are up. In 1999-00, 1.2 percent of NCAA athletes were Asian American males and 1.5 percent were Asian American females. In 2006-07, the numbers were 1.5 percent for men and 2.1 percent for women. The only group with lower numbers were American Indian/Alaskan Native, who were at 0.3 percent for males and 0.4 percent for females in 2006-07.

The highlights of the 2006-07 data in the report:

  • Women's basketball, the biggest female sport, had 1.1 percent Asian Americans.
  • Badminton had the highest percentage of Asian Americans, with 34 percent women. Men were listed at 0.0, and from what I could find, it seems badminton has few or no men's teams and just a handful of women's teams.
  • Fencing was the next highest percentage of Asian American participation, 14.1 percent female, 10.8 percent male.
  • Football, up there with men's basketball as a big-money sport, had 1 percent Asian American participation.

Too bad there's no ping pong! (Just kidding. Sorry, bad joke).

Seriously, the story quotes Asian American studies Professor Henry Yu saying family pressures are one factor keeping young Asian Americans from participating in sports. Parents want their kids to focus on school and work.

I just remember my parents never understanding why I wanted to play sports. The pressure from them led to me to quit football before the season started my freshman year of high school. Football would keep me from working, and I might get crushed (in hindsight, this is probably true). I did run track through high school, though my parents never seemed interested and never came to watch me run.

In any event, there are a lot of factors involved in this issue. Any budding athletes or former budding athletes out there share similar experiences as Lin or me?


Harry Mok

Editor in chief

Editor in Chief Harry Mok wrote about growing up on a Chinese vegetable farm for the second issue of Hyphen and has been a volunteer editor since 2004. As a board member of the San Francisco and New York chapters of the Asian American Journalists Association, Harry has recruited and organized events for student members. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was also a graduate student instructor in the Asian American Studies Department.



I'm black and most of the athletic scholarships are awarded to African American, but I would trade them in for more academic scholarships. Asians have a reputation for achieving academically, forget sports
In Australia's National Basketball League, there is an Australian-born Chinese point guard named Darren Ng, who while never becoming a star, has carved out a decent career over the past few years.But here's the kicker - Ng actually took a break from studying medicine to be a professional basketballer. Then this past year he resumed his studies. How Chinese is that?
interesting article. only after reading did i realize that a measly 3 of the 45+ girls on the uc davis rowing team are asian: one asian american from sf. one asian from the mainland. one asian from brazil.. and somehow, we are all chinese.collegiate sports consume a huge amount of your time--time that could otherwise be spent working or studying. i can't say the same for all sports teams, but women's crew has practice six times a week, in addition to two AM conditionings. an entire year's worth of training to compete for a little over two months. fun!by the way, thanks for the phone interview way back when, harry. it gave me the boost i needed for that research paper.
fencing?! i had no idea.
Although I am not currenlty active in sport. In college, I participated in weight training and some basketball.Now as a professional in various fields and business. I encourage other Asian Pacific Americans to participate in non-traditional careers or businesses such as basketball, football, soccer, track and field, music, motion pictures, media, print, art, etc.We need to slip a piece of market share of those areas untapped. We actually lose a lot of talents, lucrative incomes and privleage for not being part of this.
Good article - Of course, it comes off as complaining that we aren't represented properly. We do need to change the attitudes of parents to allow kids to pursue athletic careers (if that's where their talents lie). Really, we don't want things to be skewed where athletics rules. We should hope that Asian parents be open minded and CONSIDER that maybe athletics might be an appropriate venue than the board room or operating room.
my personal experience...my family is way into sports. dad was all-city BBall in SF, brother, cousins, sister, everyone played sports and many were very good. but the stereotypical asian value of education took precedence when it came time to go to college. none of us even considered playing at the college level although many of us could have especially if we had chosen smaller schools or Div-II schools.