I am Chinese American, immigrated at 4 years old. I identify very much as an American and while I want China to do well in competition, I will generally root for the USA over China head to head. A Korean American friend of mine shared this article, which I thought was very interesting. It advocates that Korean immigrants, as immigrants and people assimilating into American culture, have an obligation to not root against their new home country. What do you think?
Given the recent duel between Team Seoul and Team Chicago in the Little League Word Series, TK figured this would be a good topic to address. As immigrants, where should our sports loyalty lie?
The article that John L. shared outlines a common perspective. An excerpt:
|Give it up for the good-lookin' World Champions.|
Undoubtedly, many people take this view, as many people take sports quite seriously--as does TK. So what does he think about this case of "divided loyalty"?When we as Korean Americans don Korea shirts and wave Korean flags during Korea-USA games, we are not choosing a team, we are choosing a nation. We are very deliberately and purposely choosing to support a foreign nation against the one we call our home and protector. It’s true that issues of identity are more complex – many of us feel just as much at home in Seoul as we do in San Diego or Daegu as in Dallas, but there are times when we cannot conveniently declare that we are “citizens of the world”, or “both Korean and American.” There are hard choices to be made.
It is ironic and inconsistent for us to complain of being seen as “perpetual foreigners” and having to struggle to be accepted as Americans, and then turn and root against America when the choice comes. And we cannot be truthful to ourselves and say that Korea’s games against the US are only sport when we consider Korea’s games against Japan as so much more. Culture plays an enormous role in setting the framework for people’s understanding of the world around them.
During World War II Asian Americans proudly and publicly made efforts to support America, despite the outrageous Executive Order 9066. Many, facing discrimination, wore buttons that read: “I am an American.” Still others, like Colonel Young Oak Kim, wore America’s uniform and served abroad. The Asian American 442nd Infantry continues to be the most highly-decorated military unit in the history of the American armed forces.
(More after the jump)
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First off, let me tell you just how big of a sports fan I am. Here are just some of the stupid things that I have done for the sake of sports.
- In my high school years, I was in a massive car accident that completely destroyed my car. The car was literally towed straight from the site of the accident to the junkyard. I did not have any externally visible injury, but I very well might have had severe internal injury and/or spinal cord damage. But I adamantly insisted that I was not injured at all, and nothing hurt, although I was in a great deal of pain. Why did I lie? Because that was the day when the Los Angeles Lakers played Game 7 of the Western Conference Final against the Portland Trail Blazers, and going to the hospital would have kept me away from the television.
Lakers came back from 13 points down at the start of the fourth quarter to win the game. An alley-oop from Kobe to Shaq, shown below, punctuated the comeback. Watching this lying down on the couch--I was in so much pain I could not sit up--I did a hard fist pump, which sent a searing sensation through my shoulder and arm. But I got to watch one of the greatest moments of Lakers history. I did not regret my decision at the time, and I still do not. (By the way, just in case you are worried: in the end, it turned out that I only had some whiplash and muscle shock.)
- My family and I were traveling in Alaska during a Labor Day weekend, when my dear California Golden Bears would open its football season against the University of Tennessee. We were on a guided tour, and we were scheduled to be in a long bus ride from Anchorage to Fairbanks when the game was on. (This was long before 4G coverage and mobile video, although even today they would not be available in the wilderness between Anchorage and Fairbanks.)
I was desperate to watch the game. TKFather suggested that I listen the game over the radio. I did not have a radio with me on the trip, and we were staying at a hotel in the outskirts of Anchorage. According to the hotel staff, the nearest place that might sell a radio at 9 p.m. at night is Wal-Mart, which was 20 miles away. Apparently, Anchorage closes early and only Wal-Mart stays open past 9 p.m.
Did I pay a $70 round trip cab fare to get to that damned Wal-Mart, just to buy a $15 radio that I will never use again for the rest of my life? Of course I did. Listening to the game (which Cal, led by DeSean Jackson, defeated Arian Foster and Tennessee in a 45-31 shootout,) I was alternately giving the play-by-play, singing the Cal fight song, and chanting and screaming incomprehensibly. In a bus full of tourists who couldn't care less.
- I spend so much money on sports that I probably need professional help. I own a jersey and/or a cap of every significant pro sports team from Los Angeles, including David Beckham's LA Galaxy jersey. (Who the hell buys an MLS jersey?) I own two Jeremy Lin jerseys. (It took all my willpower not to buy Lin's Houston one, but how could I not buy Lin's Lakers jersey?) I have so much Cal gear that my friends genuinely wondered whether I owned any piece of clothing that did not have the blue-and-gold logo. I have bought the annual Game Day Shirt for my college every year since I graduated (over ten years ago at this point,) and I plan to buy one again this year. I plan to buy them every year until I die. I don't care if that means I will end up with 50 t-shirts I will wear, at most, once in five years.
When the Lakers make their once-a-year trip to Washington D.C., I always go--although the Wizards bilk fans like me by charging $200 for a crappy seat. (The same seat for, say, a Warriors-Wizards game costs $35.) In fact, I also pay for my friend's ticket because no one else I know is willing to pay that much to watch a basketball game. Same is true when the Dodgers visit the Nationals. Right now, as of this moment TK is writing this post, he is in Chicago to watch the season opener for Cal football against Northwestern University. I did not just use a vacation day at work, pay for the plane ticket and get a rental car (which had to be an SUV, because it is pathetic to have a tailgate on the backside of a Ford Focus--who cares if it costs double?); I paid to overnight sausages from Top Dog, Berkeley's finest hot dog joint, just so I can have the complete Golden Bears tailgate experience. Will I lose my voice around third quarter of the game tomorrow? Absolutely.
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All of the foregoing is to make a simple point: what TK is about to say is not because he believes sports is trivial. This is not going to be a flip dismissal about the importance of sports loyalty, of the kind often given by people who do not understand the value of sports and dismiss it as grown-ups playing with a ball.
For TK understands why sports matter. We sports fans care so much because sports is the most perfect metaphor for life. No novelist, no poet in the history of humankind has created a body of work that even remotely approaches the emotional resonance of a single FIFA World Cup, much less sports in general. Each match is a work of art, reflective of the nuanced highs and lows of the life itself. By watching a game, we experience a birth and a death. We enter the world--the match--with hopes riding high, or perhaps with cynicism and dread. (The latter is a more typical for a Cal Bears fan.) We either achieve glorious immortality by defeating our foe, or experience hell--writ small--by losing in agony. By watching a hundred games, we live a hundred times.
But it is important to realize that, while sports may be the most perfect metaphor of life, it is not life itself. The endlessly recurring metaphor is possible only because, in sports, we do not actually die in defeat, and we do not actually kill in victory. Sports is so life-like that a significant portion of sports fans substitute their own lives with the sports' representation of life, because often, the latter is much more attractive than the former. This is a mistake. It is one thing to deeply engage in a metaphor, quite another to let it consume reality. When certain lines are crossed, even the most rabid sports fan must be ready to snap out of it. As a Dodgers fan, I am ashamed to see that two Dodgers fans beat a Giants fan after a baseball game in 2011 such that he was brain damaged and permanently disabled. This is what happens when people substitute their lives with a mock-up of a life.
The article that John L. introduced hints that such substitution is starting to happen in the mind of the author of the piece. There is a gaping chasm between an allegiance to the team's name embroidered on the chest of an athlete, and an allegiance to the nation's name embroidered on the chest of your military uniform. Yet the author blithely jumps across that gap by comparing sports loyalty with the Asian American experience during World War II. Even for the most ardent sports fan, such equivocation cannot stand. It does not simply trivialize life by equating a ballgame with a situation in which countless human lives senselessly perish every day for no reason other than their nationality. It also destroys the beauty of sports as a metaphor for life, because sports does not simply represent the current reality, but the reality to which aspire--a world with sportsmanship and fair play. Recall that one of the worst violations of sports fan etiquette is to celebrate the opposing player's injury. But if we should treat our sports opponents as enemies on the battlefield, there is no reason why we should not call for more bean balls to the head, more chop blocks designed to break the knee.
It is perfectly fine to enjoy sports nationalism, which is a far sight better than an actual war fueled by nationalism. It is also fine to come up with elaborate rules to determine your team, in case there is a possible conflict (as immigrants often do.) TK's personal rules are all over the place: in basketball, he will root for Team USA because basketball matters more in America, but in baseball he will root for Team Korea because he is annoyed that Team USA baseball never fields its best players. The game is not limited to the one unfolding on the pitch; at the end of the day, everyone who is watching sports is participating in a game of a highly elaborate metaphor. Enjoy the game, and don't let it get to your head.
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