5 Asian American & Pacific Islander Players Who Made NFL History
As we near the end of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we wanted to celebrate those who have broken barriers in the NFL. People of Asian descent have faced injustices throughout American history, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Japanese internment camps during World War II. Discrimination toward the Asian community continues as violence against Asian people has risen during the coronavirus pandemic.
Race relations in America are prevailingly Black and white as the Asian American community has become "the invisible minority" that still needs to have its voice heard and its people uplifted.
The stereotype that Asian Americans are too small to play football has created an uphill battle for these athletes. But that doesn't mean that there hasn't been several who have made an impact on the sport. Here are five Asian American and Pacific Islander players who made an impact on the NFL.
1. Eugene Chung
Eugene Chung was the first Asian American to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft in the modern era. The Virginia Tech offensive tackle, who is of Korean descent, was chosen as the 13th overall pick by the New England Patriots in 1992 and spent five seasons in the NFL before turning to coaching.
He's made headlines recently as he works toward his goal of becoming the first Asian American head coach in the NFL. During an interview, he was reminded of the reality of the continued uphill battle.
“It was said to me, ‘Well, you’re really not a minority,’ ” Chung told the Boston Globe.
Chung coached under Andy Reid for the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs until 2016 when he returned to the Eagles. He won Super Bowl LII with them in 2018.
2. Junior Seau
Junior Seau was the first Polynesian-American to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he was enshrined as a member of the Class of 2015. The linebacker made his mark on the game with his fierce persona and bold leadership. He was drafted No.5 overall by the San Diego Chargers in 1990 and helped them make their first-ever Super Bowl appearance in 1994. He also contributed to the defenses of the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots.
Seau tragically committed suicide in 2012. His family donated his brain to be studied for CTE, which causes abnormalities due to trauma. Research found that he did, in fact, have CTE and his case was studied the same time that more than 2,000 former NFL players sued the league over damages due to concussions.
3. Ed Wang
Ed Wang was the first Chinese-American player of direct descent to be drafted and play in the NFL. Both of his parents are from China and represented their country in the Olympics. His younger brother, David, followed in his footsteps and played on the offensive line at Virginia Tech. Wang, who played offensive tackle, was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He played six games off the bench for the Bills.
Wang bounced around to the Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles, but injury plagued his career from the start and his playing days ended after 2013. Nonetheless, he made history and brought new awareness to Chinese culture, especially as he worked with the NFL to bring the sport to China.
4. Roman Gabriel
Roman Gabriel was the first Asian American to play at quarterback in the NFL. He is of Filipino descent and was drafted as the No.2 overall pick by the Los Angeles Rams in 1962. He spent 11 years in the City of Angels and won the league MVP in 1969 when he threw 24 touchdown passes and more than 2,500 yards. He was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1973 and finished his career with four Pro Bowl appearances.
5. Troy Polamalu
Troy Polamalu was known not only for his intensity, but also for his luxurious locks that flowed effortlessly behind him as he lasered across fields shutting down the top wide receivers in the game. Polamalu was proud of his Samoan heritage and made his culture just as much a part of his legacy as his hard-hitting style of play.
The eight-time Pro Bowler led the Pittsburgh Steelers to the playoffs seven times in his 12 year career, including two Super Bowl victories. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020, which will be inducted this fall..