It was the early 2000s when Korean-American sportswriter Joon Lee first saw Japanese outfielder Hideki Matsui on the cover of Sports Illustrated for Kids. To Lee, the representation of the Asian community on the cover helped fuel his passion to someday work in sports.
Lee’s aspiration was met by several stereotypical responses, such as, “You can be a doctor” or “You can be a lawyer.”
But that didn’t deter Lee from knowing what he wanted to do later in his life.
“I remember that being my gateway to diving into the sports industry and just following teams, and what it meant to be Asian and watch baseball or football or basketball,” Lee said.
Lee shared this story at the 2022 Asian American and Pacific Islander Sports and Culture Symposium, held in New York on May 19. It marked the fifth year of the symposium, a jointly run event by Asian employee resource groups at MLB, the NBA and the NFL.
The event celebrates AAPI Heritage Month with a mission to recognize the AAPI community within the sports world while exploring the importance of sports and media and how they create belonging in the AAPI community.
The roundtable began with an introduction from Billy Bean, MLB’s SVP of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as well as Special Assistant to the Commissioner.
“It’s just a real privilege,” Bean said. “The honor to represent the Employee Resource Group community and provide platforms for us to get to know each other, better understand the experience that this group and those on camera are going through that I can’t understand and what that feels like and make us feel a little bit closer together.”
That introduction sparked the conversation for the panel, which consisted of Lee, who covers baseball for ESPN.com; NJ/NY Gotham FC defender Caprice Dydasco; and AMAZN HQ founder Pranav Iyer.
Lee, who led the conversation, talked about his upbringing. He was raised in Massachusetts and grew up as a minority in a predominantly white neighborhood. As a South Korean-born immigrant, his upbringing exemplified 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 Asian people can kind of tell in a truly authentic way and understand the nuances and the cultural factors that kind of made his rise so important,” Lee said. “But also seeing people on television, people like Michael Kim, who was on SportsCenter for such a long time. Seeing people like [ESPN personality] Pablo Torre, for me, on Around The Horn was a really big deal, and just kind of pointing to him and being like, that’s a guy who looks vaguely like me doing something vaguely representative of what I want to do at some point.
“All of that was really important to look at my parents and be like, ‘Hey, this is something that we can do.’”
Dydasco, who is of Chinese, Guamanian, Japanese, Korean and Hawaiian descent, experienced a different lifestyle 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 soccer 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 soccer, I’m still the only Asian on my team.”
Iyer is the creator of AMAZN HQ, a sports media company that highlights Asian Americans within professional sports intending to provide a voice for the Asian community and break the stereotypes put on them.
His dream growing up was to be an NFL quarterback, and he chased that dream by playing college football at Chapman University. That’s when he went through a bit of a “culture shock.”
“Being Indian-American, being Asian-American, there’s not many of us out there,” Iyer said. “For a lot of my teammates, I was the first Indian-American they ever met.”
Each of the panelists has embraced their unique identity and how they each serve a purpose within their communities.
“With teammates in the locker room, people might see things about Asian people on social media,” Dydasco said. “A lot of my time is spent explaining that’s only one representation of the Asian community and trying to educate them.”
“A lot of people look to you for the answers,” Iyer added. “You are the one who represents the community in a lot of ways, so you have to portray the community in the right light, but the Asian American Pacific Islander community is very broad and diverse, so it’s hard to do that as a single person. You are forced to take on that role a lot of times.”
Lee added: “Just the way I treat people, whether it’s the ballpark, an NBA arena or conferences, especially in the sports world — it’s a thing that’s in the back of your head because I am the only Asian or one of the only Asian people here. Everything I could do could be representative to someone who doesn’t interact with an Asian person every single day.”