Padecky: Sports not immune from racism

From football to basketball, racism lives in sports.|

Keven had an 3.8 GPA when he graduated from Rancho Cotate. In soccer, he was team captain his junior year. In football, he was the school’s kicker and punter his senior year. When he graduated, he played professional soccer overseas for two years.

Keven came back to America, and, because he was a professional only in soccer, became SRJC’s placekicker for two years. Did pretty good. He holds the school record for the Bear Cubs’ longest field goal, 51 yards. He also carried a 3.6 GPA. Keven was such a skilled tattoo artist he made a small fortune painting his SRJC teammates. He estimates he’s done 600 tattoos on arms, legs and other less visible locations.

Now 24, Keven is on scholarship, placekicking for Incarnate Word, a small D1 college in Texas. He’s majoring in sociology with a minor in art. He’s planning for a career in law enforcement with tattooing his trusty sidekick.

Stand-up guy. Good citizen. He once may have talked with his mouth full. Yeah, he could be your son. So how would you handle it if someone talked to your son like this?

“Are you either Chinese or Asian?”

Would you blow your top? Would you start laughing? Here’s what Keven Nguyen does when he hears that question.

Ignorant is easy to fix. There are 48 countries in Asia, say the United Nations. China is one of them. So are Israel and Jordan and Palestine. And Russia, yes Mother Russia. So is Vietnam, where Nguyen’s mother left to come to America. A nice piece of education for those who don’t know.

But for those who don’t care?

“I strongly believe confronting ignorant people with anger will only make the matter worse,” said Nguyen, who has learned well how to keep a cool head.

To succeed in sports, an athlete needs self-control in the face of chaos. Game’s on the line. Time’s running out. Emotions are flying around like so many murder hornets. Sports provide the stage for fans to scream their fool heads off, to release the real world so we can escape to the really important things in life, like: Should Jimmy Garoppolo still be the 49ers quarterback?

Phil Ching Sr. knows too well the importance of self-control. Ching, 67, has the long view on this. Cardinal Newman’s freshman basketball coach for the past 12 years, the Rohnert Park resident has been coaching for 46 years. Ching’s awareness of anti-Asian bigotry began long before he even coached.

Born and raised in San Francisco, Ching played basketball in high school, then played at Menlo College before transferring to Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.

“I was told by my teammates in Menlo that I had better watch out up there,” Ching said. “I was going to hear it. All the ugly words. I’d better be prepared. They were right.”

Thus began Ching’s education into racial bigotry. Sports provided no insulation against the dagger words. At the very least, they were meant to distract him as a point guard; at the worst, make him feel small and insignificant. Fans have long had license to badger and belittle. Lines would be crossed but, gosh, Ching was told, it was all just fun.

Ah, but after hearing it and hearing it, Ching found it didn’t sound like fun, didn’t feel like fun. When stacking the “fun” language on top of each other, the message was more than clear to him. He took it personally, deeply personal.

When he married a Caucasian woman and had a son, Phil Junior, Ching noticed an interesting dichotomy.

“When I was alone with my son and we went somewhere,” Ching said, “Phil was Chinese. But if Phil was somewhere, alone with his mother, he was white.”

Just as Nguyen experienced, Ching was told he was different. Didn’t matter if he was seen playing basketball. Didn’t matter how well he played. He looked different, so he was different. Such thinking doesn’t reveal a deep thought by the one who made the remark, but it does go deep to the one who absorbs it.

“They’d yell at me to go back where I came from,” said Ching, and it didn’t matter if he said, OK, I’ll go back to San Francisco. Didn’t matter if he said all Americans are immigrants.

“I’d tell them, if this (America) is going so badly (with too many Asians) for you, then they should go back where they came from and see how they’d like it.”

As so many have noticed, Ching sees a bizarre and ridiculous linkage between Blacks and Asians. To the white supremacists, Blacks are lazy, dumb, live off welfare and contribute nothing to society. Asians are nerds, live in the library, obsessed with education and success, take away jobs. Hate needs a simple-to-understand stereotype, no matter how absurd, so it can be absorbed without being challenged. A convenient barrier to thinking.

“I don’t think we’ve (Asians) ever been accepted,” said Ching, who owns a financial services company in Rohnert Park. “We’ve had to fight for everything. We’ve had to prove we belong. People resented us for that. Consequentially, we’re not important.”

Ironically, simplicity causes complications. Keven Nguyen, an American of Vietnamese descent, is smart, may even get his master’s. Yep, he’s a jock all right, who paints skin, who wants to work in law enforcement. He is not a stereotype. He is Keven.

“I don’t like even being called Asian American,” Ching said. “I’m an American.”

Keven Nguyen, a former kicker at Santa Rosa Junior College, is now playing at Incarnate World.

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