Asian American NFL prospect Taylor Rapp received a message from two-time Super Bowl champion Hines Ward, who’s also of Asian descent.
Ward, who dealt with his share of racism during his time in the NFL, had some uplifting words for Rapp, who’s awaiting Thursday’s draft, captured in a promo video.
“I know you’ve heard it before: ’Asians can’t play football,’” Ward says in the video. “I still remember the first time I heard it. But I learned something too. those words can be a gift. You can feed off that energy. Turn that hate into wins.”
He concludes: “So Asians can’t play football, huh? I’d say we’re pretty darn good.”
Asians make up less than 2 percent of the players in the NFL. While Ward was an extremely successful player in the league, becoming Super Bowl MVP back in 2003, he found himself the target of bigotry throughout his career. Following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Ward spoke out against the deluge of racist remarks and jokes made toward Japan and reflected on his own experiences as an Asian.
“I’ve been dealing with this my whole life. I still remember being called the Jackie Chan of football,” he told ESPN.
Regardless, Ward has emerged a champion for Asian Americans. In 2010, the former NFL player was sworn into the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, a group appointed by the president to help improve and increase access to opportunities for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
Rapp himself has been transparent about the struggles he’s faced as an Asian American football player with NFL ambitions. He revealed to NFL.com that growing up as one of the rare Asian faces on the field, he was often taunted. He subsequently wrestled with his own identity.
“They make fun of how you look ― your eyes, the widened, slanted eyes. There were a few instances where I was called the Ch-word. It was offensive to me. It made me embarrassed of who I was,” he said. “That’s why I never embraced it growing up. I was different than everyone else, and I didn’t want to be.”
Since then, Rapp has grown to be proud of his heritage, displaying several conspicuous Chinese tattoos. And with guidance from fellow players who could relate to Rapp’s struggle, as well as the encouragement of Asians on social media who look up to the player, Rapp is now looking to be a role model for others.
“To me, it’s about gaining a platform that will help inspire a generation of Chinese and Asian American kids,” he told NFL.com. “I don’t want to be just an answer to a trivia question; I want to inspire and have a real impact.”