NFL Team Drafts First Chinese-American Player

The Buffalo Bills made history when they drafted Ed Wang in the fifth round. Wang is the first person of direct Chinese decent to be drafted into the NFL. Host Michel Martin speaks with Wang about football and his accomplishments.

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ALLISON KEYES, host:

I'm Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

May is the month when the nation recognizes the contributions of those of Asian and Pacific Island heritage. And so it's a good time to highlight people who are breaking barriers in a variety of fields. Last month, the Buffalo Bills made history when they drafted Ed Wang in the fifth round. He's the first player of Chinese heritage to make it into the NFL.

Wang was born in the States, but his parents were born and raised in China. Both were Olympic athletes. His mother, Nancy, ran the hurdles and his father, George, was a high-jumper. At six-foot-five and weighing over 300 pounds, the Virginia Tech grad led his offensive line to be one of the strongest in the nation.

Recently Wang joined Michel Martin, who began the interview by asking when he started playing football.

(Soundbite of clip)

Mr. ED WANG (Professional Football Player): Six years old.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Six?

Mr. WANG: Yeah.

MARTIN: What happened? Did you just see the game on TV and say, Mom and Dad, I'd like to try that or was there a league near your house or how did that all...

Mr. WANG: You know, actually, my parents pushed me into sports, you know, just because they were athletes, they wanted me to do sports. You know, they learned from when they were younger that, you know, sports keeps you out of trouble, gives you something to do and then gives you something to work for. So they put me into sports when I was younger. I didn't really like it when I was younger for the first couple of years just because I wasn't very good at it. And, you know, as I got better, you know, I started enjoying the sport a lot more. As I learned the sport more, I enjoyed it a lot more.

MARTIN: You play basketball too, do I have that right?

Mr. WANG: Yeah, I play basketball too. I started playing basketball when I was eight.

MARTIN: Well, you know, Lebron played football too, so, who knows, you know, maybe you two could have a faceoff at some point.

Mr. WANG: I think he got me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So, your parents have told us that they didn't really know a lot about football when they first came here. I just want to play a short clip from an interview with your dad.

Mr. GEORGE WANG (Olympian): We never thought Eric going to be playing football. But then we watched all the game and literally we talked, we talked to the coach, watched him practice and we first we had to understand the rule, that's how we started falling in love. Because football really is exciting. Lots of rules and contact sports I think it's better than any other sports.

MARTIN: Well, some of our basketball fans will fight you on that, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: ...be that as it may, why did you fall in love with football? What attracted you to the sport?

Mr. WANG: Well, you know, just the whole aspect of the sport, you know, being able to hit other people and, you know, just having a team around you, like, the bond with your teammates, make new friends. You know, we just really fell in love with the sport, like my dad said. We learned together, you know, from little league all the way to college. And so, you know, they've been with me every step of the way, so that's how we learned.

MARTIN: Did your parents ever help you train? Did they bring any of their track and field experience to your game?

Mr. WANG: Oh, definitely. My parents had been training me since I was child. We used to train about six days a week. I remember, you know, having to wake up Saturday morning at 7 o'clock in the morning and go running. You know, I am what I am because of them.

MARTIN: We had the opportunity earlier in the year to talk to Jeremy Lin who's a standout basketball player at Harvard and also has gotten a lot of attention both for his play and also for the fact that there aren't a lot of Asian-Americans in pro basketball either, or basketball in general in this country. And I just wondered, was the fact of your being a Chinese-American, did that ever cause any comment when you were playing?

Mr. WANG: It did when I was younger. You know, I got some racial jokes just because, you know, people just they weren't really used to seeing, you know, Chinese football players out there. But, you know, like I said, my mom warned me, she prepared me for it. She said, you're different. Kids are going to pick on you, you just got to deal with it. And so I wasn't really too bothered by it just because my parents already, you know, warned me about it.

When I got older, into high school and everything, it kind of stopped, you know, because kids got more mature. So after that, it didn't really happen that much.

MARTIN: Also, you kind of had something for them, right, by that point?

Mr. WANG: Yeah, definitely. Definitely. I was a lot bigger.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Do you happen to know whether your being drafted has gotten any attention in China? I mean, American football is still pretty new to China, too, and I just wonder whether your achievement has been noted there.

Mr. WANG: Yeah, it definitely has. I've been in, like, all the papers over there. My dad has a lot of friends from, you know, when he did sports and they said everybody's been talking about it. So, yeah, definitely have.

MARTIN: Do you feel I have no opinion about this, I'm just asking I just wonder, oftentimes when you're the first to do anything, there's a little bit of extra pressure that comes from feeling that you have to represent. Do you feel any of that?

Mr. WANG: You know, at first when people started talking about it a lot, it did. But then when it came down to it, you know, my parents, you know, theyve always remind me just, you know, do one step at a time. And so, you know, when it comes down to it I just got to play football. I'm just a football player so, you know, thats how I kind of just keep the pressure off.

MARTIN: Any plans for an Ed Wang shoe or any...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WANG: No. I still got to make the team.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. Well, last year the Bills ranked 16th in the league for rushing. And the season overall, six wins, 10 losses. What do you think for this year? Care to make a prediction?

Mr. WANG: I have no predictions. I just, you know, hopefully I can make the team and just, you know, make the team better and, you know, contribute my way.

MARTIN: All right. Well, good luck to you.

Mr. WANG: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: Edward Wang is a newly drafted offensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills. He joined us from Bill's training camp in Orchard Park, New York.

And we certainly wish you and your family all the best.

Mr. WANG: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.

(Soundbite of music)

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