It was in the early 2000s when Korean-American sportswriter Joon Lee first saw Japanese outfielder Hideki Matsui on the cover of Sports Illustrated for Kids. For Lee, the cover’s depiction of the Asian community helped fuel his passion to one day work in the sport.
Lee’s aspiration was fulfilled by several stereotypical responses, such as “You can be a doctor” or “You can be a lawyer”.
But that didn’t stop Lee from knowing what he wanted to do later in life.
“I remember it was my gateway to diving into the sports industry and just following teams, and what it meant to be Asian and watch baseball, football or basketball” , said Lee.
Lee shared this story at the 2022 Symposium on Asian American and Pacific Islander Sports and Culture, held in New York City on May 19. It marked the fifth year of the symposium, an event jointly organized by Asian employee resource groups from the MLB, NBA and NFL.
The event celebrates AAPI Heritage Month with a mission to recognize the AAPI community in the sports world while exploring the importance of sport and media and how they create belonging in the AAPI community.
The roundtable began with an introduction by Billy Bean, MLB Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Special Assistant to the Commissioner.
“It’s just a real privilege,” Bean said. “The honor of representing the employee resource group community and providing platforms for us to get to know each other better understand the experience that this group and those being filmed are going through that I can’t relate to and what it’s like and makes us feel a little closer.
This introduction sparked conversation for the panel, consisting of Lee, who covers baseball for ESPN.com; NJ/NY Gotham FC defender Caprice Dydasco; and Pranav Iyer, founder of the AMAZN headquarters.
Lee, who led the conversation, spoke about his upbringing. He grew up in Massachusetts and grew up as a minority in a predominantly white neighborhood. As an immigrant born in South Korea, his upbringing illustrated the importance of representation.
“I think for me a big turning point was [former NBA star] Jeremy Lin, and seeing that there was a story that only Asians can tell in a truly authentic way and understand the nuances and cultural factors that made his rise so important,” Lee said. “But also seeing people on TV, people like Michael Kim, who was on SportsCenter for so long. see people like [ESPN personality] Pablo Torre, for me, on Around The Horn was a really big deal, and just pointing at him and saying, he’s a guy who looks vaguely like me doing something vaguely representative of what I want to do at a given time.
“It was all really important to look at my parents and be like, ‘Hey, this is something we can do. “”
Dydasco, who is of Chinese, Guamanian, Japanese, Korean and Hawaiian descent, experienced a different way of life away from her home in Hawaii, where the Asian community was dominant. It was nothing like that when she came to the United States to play football for UCLA.
“I never saw myself as a minority in Hawaii until I went to college, [when] I realized I was the only Asian on my team,” Dydasco said. “And when I went to professional football, I’m still the only Asian in my team.”
Iyer is the creator of AMAZN HQ, a sports media company that showcases Asian Americans in professional sports with the goal of giving a voice to the Asian community and breaking down the stereotypes imposed on them.
His dream growing up was to be an NFL quarterback, and he pursued that dream by playing college football at Chapman University. That’s when he experienced a bit of “culture shock”.
“Being Indian-American, Asian-American, there aren’t many of us there,” Iyer said. “For many of my teammates, I was the first American Indian they met.”
Each of the panelists embraced their unique identity and how each serves a purpose within their community.
“With teammates in the locker room, people might see things about Asians on social media,” Dydasco said. “I spend a lot of my time explaining that this is just a representation of the Asian community and trying to educate them.”
“A lot of people are looking to you for answers,” Iyer added. “You are the one who represents the community in many ways, so you have to present the community in the right light, but the Asian American Pacific Islander community is very large and diverse, so it is difficult to do it as a single person. … You are forced to take on this role many times.
Lee added, “Just the way I treat people, whether it’s the ballpark, an NBA arena or conferences, especially in the world of sports – it’s something that sticks in your head because I’m the only Asian or one of the only Asians here Anything I could do might be representative for someone who doesn’t interact with an Asian person every day.