Why are Asian Athletes Underrepresented in American Sports?

The Asian Articles
7 min readJun 11, 2021

written by Genevie Hong and edited by Humyra Karim and Alice Shu

When you think of Asian American athletes, who is the first person that comes to mind? Can you name more than five? Asian Americans are among the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the U.S. However, throughout U.S. sports history, there have been few Asian athletes playing in the major leagues. If you look at the NFL or the NBA, a majority of the athletes are either Caucasian or African-American, but rarely Asian. Now, why is that?

There is a common misconception that Asians are not physically able to compete at a professional level in sports. With drowning stereotypes that Asians are weaker and more docile, Asian Americans often grow up trapped in an institutional barrier. This impacts many AAPI youths because they may feel as if their future opportunities are limited. Stereotypes of Asians being nerdy musical geniuses are centered in supposed model minority ideas of academic success above all, which leaves little room for Asian Americans to pursue the sports in a way society would accept. Called the model minority myth, these are stereotypes created by the white man in order to Another notion is that Asian parents expect their children to pursue a career in the STEM field, specifically medicine or engineering, and because many Asian Americans come from immigrant families, they are taught to get a stable job that pays well whereas pursuing a career in sports may be unstable and risky. In combination, these stereotypes and beliefs discourage and shame young Asian-Americans from pursuing or even considering a career in sports.

Nevertheless, these are just stereotypes and it’s important that we break down these stereotypes by proving others wrong and speaking out when necessary. Anyone should be able to pursue the sports of their dreams. In spite of the racial stereotypes against them, there are some notable Asian-American athletes that have combatted these barriers and have succeeded outstandingly in their respective sports. They serve as an inspiration for many Asian-Americans, especially the youth, and continue to empower those who want to grow up and pursue their own dreams.

Notable Asian American Athletes:

Jeremy Lin:

Born on August 23, 1988, in Torrance, California, but raised in Palo Alto, California, Jeremy Lin is an American Professional Basketball player. He was the first Chinese-Tawainese American to play in the NBA and is currently playing for the Santa Cruz Warriors. Lin went to Harvard University, where he studied economics, but he also played basketball. In the history of the Ivy League, Lin was the first to achieve a record of at least 1,450 points, 450 rebounds, 400 assists, and 200 steals. After overcoming several challenges and struggles, the Golden State Warriors gave Lin his first opportunity to play professionally. However, he only played 29 games and spent most of his time in the D-league or the development league. Over time, Lin was released by Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets and officially joined the New York Knicks in 2011, with who he played for a year. During Jeremy’s season with the New York Knicks, he led them with a winning streak and has ever since created a cultural phenomenon known as “Linsanity”. Throughout his basketball career, Jeremy has played for many teams including the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Charlotte Hornets, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks, the Toronto Raptors, and the Beijing Ducks. In recent news, Jeremy Lin states that he’s faced racism “repetitively” during his nine years on the basketball court in which he was called racial slurs and most recently the “coronavirus”. Lin did not even realize that he faced racial trauma until he got a therapist because he grew up to think that “this is just the way the world is”. He is now using his platform to speak out on Anti-Asian hate and he sees changes in this new generation of Asian Americans who refuse to keep their heads low and are not afraid to speak out.

Chloe Kim:

Born and raised in Long Beach, California, Chloe Kim is the youngest woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal, which she accomplished during the 2018 Winter Olympics in the women’s snowboard halfpipe at only the age of seventeen. She is a first-generation Korean American. Kim began snowboarding at the age of four and spent her elementary years studying in Geneva, Switzerland. Throughout her career, Kim has also won numerous awards in X Games, where she became the only athlete in X Games history to win three gold medals before the age of 16. However, Kim has also faced many challenges. Recently, Kim has opened up about the hundreds of hateful social media attacks she’s received monthly ever since Covid began but also dating way back to when she won her first medal at X Games Aspen at the age of thirteen. She states that it has taken a toll on her mental health and says she is often afraid to leave her home by herself, fearing for her safety. Growing up, Kim was ashamed of speaking Korean and hated that she was Asian. However, she’s learned to get over that feeling and is proud, but with the recent Asian American attacks and hate she’s been receiving, Kim is using her platform to share her experiences and to stand up and speak out against Anti-Asian hate.

Jackson He:

Born in Shaoguan, China, Jackson He is the first Chinese college football player for the Arizona State Sundevils. He is the firstborn Chinese player to play for a Power Five Conference Team in which he first appeared in the game against the UCLA Bruins on December 5, 2020. In football sports history, Jackson He is the first Chinese-born player to ever score a touchdown. Jackson’s original name is He Peizhang, and in honor of his culture and heritage, he had ASU make a jersey written in his Chinese name.

Vicki Draves:

Vicki Draves made history by being the first Asian-American woman to win gold medals at the Olympics in Springboard and Platform diving at the 1948 Olympic Games in London. She was raised in San Francisco to a Filipino father and an English mother. She didn’t take her first swimming lesson until she was ten years old and she wasn’t encouraged to pursue a career in swimming because of the racial discrimination that many Asian-Americans faced. To cover up her Filipino heritage, she was asked to use her mother’s name, Taylor, instead of her father’s name, Manolo. Persuaded by her diving coach, at the age of sixteen that she decided to fully commit to pursuing a diving career. In 1946, she received her first national title and two years later she went on to win gold medals from the 3m springboard and 10m platform which was rarely achieved, but Vicki Draves was the first female and Asian-American diver to achieve it.

Sammy Lee:

Sammy Lee, originally Samuel Rhee, was the first Asian American man to win a gold medal and the first diver to win two consecutive gold medals in the platform event. Born and raised in Fresno, California in 1920 to Korean immigrants, Lee often faced racial prejudice. Growing up, he was only allowed to attend his community’s public pool one day a week because that was the only day they allowed all nonwhite children to swim before the pool was to be cleaned the next day. Despite the inescapable racism, he said that it “inspired [him] to perform”. Lee once said, “I was angered, but I was going to prove that in America, I could do anything,” and he did. He went to Occidental College where he earned a two-time title as a national champion in the platform and the 3-meter springboard in 1942 and 1946. In 1948, he made it to the London Olympics and received a gold medal for his 3 ½ somersault. He then planned on going to the Olympics a second time but was disrupted by the Korean War in which he served the Army Medical Corps as a doctor. However, with encouraging support from his military superiors, he went to the Helsinki Games in 1952. At the height of only 5 foot 1, he won his second gold medal and made history.


Cover Photo by Rosie yang on Unsplash

  1. Chung March 24, Gabrielle. “Jeremy Lin Recalls the ‘Worst Racism’ He’s Endured on the Basketball Court: ‘I Self-Combusted’.” PEOPLE.com, 24 Mar. 2021, people.com/sports/jeremy-lin-recalls-worst-racism-endured-on-basketball-court/.
  2. Editor, The Muse. “Everything You Need to Know About Jeremy Lin.” The Muse, The Muse, 19 June 2020, www.themuse.com/advice/everything-you-need-to-know-about-jeremy-lin.
  3. Ioc, Olympics. “Vicki Draves — Diving — Olympic News.” International Olympic Committee, IOC, 19 Nov. 2020, www.olympic.org/news/vicki-draves-diving.
  4. McNicol, Andrew. “‘Chinese Can Ball, Too’ — History-Making American Football Player He.” South China Morning Post, 19 Dec. 2020, www.scmp.com/sport/china/article/3114629/history-making-football-player-jackson-he-peizhang-takes-big-step.
  5. Nelson, Valerie J., and Nathan Fenno. “Sammy Lee, Diver Who Became First Asian American to Win Olympic Medal, Dies at 96.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 3 Dec. 2016, www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-sammy-lee-snap-20161203-story.html.
  6. Roenigk, Alyssa. “Olympic Gold Medalist Chloe Kim Shares Her Experiences with Anti-Asian Hate.” ESPN, ESPN Internet Ventures, 2 Apr. 2021, www.espn.com/olympics/story/_/id/31182888/olympic-gold-medalist-chloe-kim-shares-experience-anti-asian-hate.
  7. USA, TEAM. “Chloe Kim.” Team USA, 2021, www.teamusa.org/us-ski-and-snowboard/athletes/Chloe-Kim.
  8. Vovan, Ethan, et al. “Why Aren’t There Asian Athletes in American Sports?” ArcGIS StoryMaps, Esri, 18 Mar. 2020, storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/1ba962f3592a4736a0b53b54dddfd6b4.