By Palash R Ghosh for International Business Times
I am as excited and thrilled with the sudden meteoric climb of New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin as anyone else. I am completely immersed in ‘Linsanity’ and hope he becomes a dominant superstar in the NBA over a nice long career.
Jeremy Lin is the greatest sports story I’ve seen in years, perhaps decades. As an Asian-American, Lin’s brilliant play has special meaning and significance to me.
However, I must admit, since I am neither Chinese nor Taiwanese, my appreciation of Lin is somewhat as an “outsider.” That is, I can’t quite reach the same level of excitement about No. 17 as my Chinese and Taiwanese friends have.
I have waited many years for an Indian boy in the United States to become a professional sports superstar. Thus far, such a thing hasn’t happened, and, sadly, I doubt it will in my lifetime.
The term “Asian-American” is impossibly vague, broad and diverse, encompassing everyone who claims descent from the Philippines to Afghanistan. Indeed, it’s a rather meaningless phrase, but, for the sake of simplicity, it really means Americans whose parents or ancestors immigrated from a handful of major Asian nations.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there were 17.3-million Americans of “Asian” descent, representing about 5.6 percent of the total population.
I found a breakdown of that population for 2008, which indicated that the Chinese formed the largest group among Asian-Americans at 3.6 million, followed by Filipinos (3.1 million), East Indians (2.7 million), Vietnamese (1.7 million), Koreans (1.6 million) and Japanese (1.3 million).
In the popular vernacular, Indians are sometimes not even considered “Asian” since they are sometimes more associated with Middle Eastern peoples, especially since 9-11.
No matter, I consider the people of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Afghanistan as “Asians.”
So, with these large numbers, why are there no Indian star athletes in the United States?
To the best of my knowledge, no Indian lad has ever reached the NBA or Major League Baseball.
Sanjay Beach had a brief career as a wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers; Brandon Chillar (whose father is Indian) played linebacker for the Green Bay Packers; and Manny Malhotra (an Indo-Canadian), plays for the Vancouver Canucks in NHL.
And that’s it — and none of them are exactly ‘household names’ or superstars.
Part of the problem is that Indian parents pressure their children to succeed in academics and to shun ‘frivolous’ pursuits like sports, arts and music. Hence, the large number of Indian-American doctors, engineers, accountants, mathematicians, scientists, corporate executives, and, uh, underpaid journalists.
Indeed, Indians (like Chinese and Koreans) are among the highest-earning, best-educated people in the U.S. The residue of being a dreaded “model minority.”
This is all fine and dandy… but, frankly, I’m rather tired of Indians in America being pigeonholed into dull, safe careers. I would be much happier if an Indian boy could pitch a 95-mile-an-hour fast-ball, or slam dunk a basketball or throw a football with pinpoint accuracy for 60 yards.
Realistically, an Indian reaching the NBA and NFL is probably beyond the realm of reality. But what about America’s grand old pastime, baseball?
After all, Indians have excelled at cricket – a sport that requires skills similar to baseball.
If Sachin Tendulkar had grown up in California, perhaps he would now be the starting centerfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers. If Muttiah Muralitharan were raised in New Jersey, maybe he’d be a 20-game winning pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. They certainly have the ability to excel in baseball.
What about U.S. football? Indians are pretty good at soccer — surely some NFL club could find place for an Indian placekicker or punter, no? NFL teams have, over the years, employed a number of former European soccer players for such humble (non-violent) duties.
Will we see an Indian-American athletic superstar in my lifetime (I probably have about 30 years left on this earth)? My guess is no.
Most Indian parents compel their children to study subjects in school that will lead to good, solid, stable high-paying jobs. Sports are fine as long as they don’t become an obsession or, worse, a career goal.
Indian parents likely tell their children that becoming a professional athlete is the longest of long shots (even if one has great talent) — and indeed, they are right. Consider that in the NBA there are 30 teams with a roster of 12 players each.
That’s just 360 players.
Thus, for every NBA player, there are about 850,000 people in the United States.
It makes no logical sense to pursue a career in sports – unless your name is Jeremy Lin, of course.
And let me add that if a young Indian man rose to the top of any American sports leagues, he would likely become the number one celebrity on the planet, especially if he is telegenic.
He would not only enjoy the fame and wealth that is bestowed upon those lucky few that reach the zenith of pro sports in the western world, but he would also have about one-billion people on the Indian subcontinent as rabid, devoted followers. He would be like a combination of Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Joe DiMaggio, Elvis Presley, John Wayne and Salman Khan.
It would be utterly incredible… but highly unlikely.