Re-Updated January 8, 2009
If I were to walk up and ask random people on the street to name an Asian football player? How many would be able to come up with even one? Would they believe me if I told them there have been a few Asian football players in the NFL? Would I have better luck asking the same question in Chinatown? Probably not. Simply because there has only been a hand full of Asians that has made it as far as the NFL anyway. Whoever created this world probably didn’t design the our Asian bodies for football and if I were to question why there aren’t many Asians in the NFL, I’d get such a response. But I personally don’t believe any of that mess. The NFL, unlike the NBA, doesn’t favor 7 feet tall athletes in such a way that the NBA does. In fact, most corner backs and running backs are between 5’11” and 6’3″ and race or ethnicity has nothing to do with why Asians are physically limited in getting into football.
If anything, Asians are just less inclined to try football and lean more towards tennis, baseball, golf, and sadly at times badminton. Either for family reasons or varying degrees in cultural values, sports just aren’t allotted very much points for most Asian parents. But the 21st century is here and as Asian Americans continue to assimilate into standard American culture, I somehow see in the upcoming generations, increasing numbers of Asians in football. Unlike baseball, there isn’t a farm system in Asia to feed any football players into America, so any Asian football player almost has to be home grown here in the U.S.
But think about it, where are most Asians in the US? California, Texas, Florida, and New York. Where do most of the best NFL players come from? Florida, California and Texas. Asian Americans are in the areas where the best football programs are and personally, I just believe it takes a few more Asian Americans in the NCAAF and NFL to encourage a whole generation to hit their high school football tryouts.
But for now, I’ve gathered a list of NFL players with any Asian ancestry that have been in or are playing in the NFL to encourage you all for now.
Asian Players In The NFL – Past & Present
Dat Tan Nguyen
NFL Career: The Dallas Cowboys drafted Dat Nguyen out of Texas A&M in the 1999 NFL draft with their 85th overall pick in the 3rd round. Nguyen won the starting job at middle linebacker in 2001 and silenced critics by leading the team in tackles. Nguyen played until 2005 when injuries forced him to retire. Current Cowboys coach Wade Phillips has since hired Nguyen as an assistant linebacker coach for the team. Nguyen is the first Vietnamese American to ever play in the NFL.
Physical Build: Nguyen is listed at 5’11” and 238 lbs.
Forced Fumbles: 4
Football Accolades: At Texas A&M, Nguyen won the Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year award in 1998. In the same year, Nguyen also became the Defensive Player of the Game for the 1998 Cotton Bowl. In the NFL, Nguyen led the Cowboys team in tackles for the years 2001, 2003, and 2004.
Family Background: Nguyen was born in a refugee camp shortly after South Vietnam fell. Both Nguyen’s parents are Vietnamese and Nguyen spent most of his childhood in Texas.
Other Interesting Things: Nguyen was awarded a Golden Torch Award at the Vietnamese American National Gala in 2004.
NFL Career: The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Hines Ward out of Georgia in the 1998 NFL Draft with the 92nd overall pick in the 3rd round. Hines Ward is currently starting for the Steelers as a wide receiver and holds the Steelers franchise records in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.
Weight: 205 lbs
Receiving Yards: 9455
Receiving Touchdowns: 70 (as of today)
Football Accolades: Selected to the Pro-bowl in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004. Won the Superbowl MVP for Superbowl XL.
Family Background: Ward’s father is African-American and mother is Korean. Ward was born in Seoul, South Korea.
Other Interesting Things: In South Korea, interracial couples and children of interracial couples are looked down upon. 15 percent of South Koreans are biracial and biracial Koreans face strong discrimination in South Korea. Hines Ward being born of an interracial couple himself has become an outspoken advocate for ethnic minorities in South Korea. Ward frequently travels to South Korea to speak for social justice and has created the Helping Hands Foundation help biracial Korean children.
Will Demps, Jr.
NFL Career: After going undrafted in the 2002 NFL draft, the Baltimore Ravens signed Demps as free agent to play Safety. Demps played for one of the best defensive teams of the NFL in Baltimore until 2006 when he went to the New York Giants for a one-year stint. In 2007, Demps went to play for the Houston Texans and is currently on their team roster. Midway into the 2008 season, Demps lost his starting job to Nick Ferguson but currently remains on the team.
Physical Build: Demps is listed at 6’0″ and weighs at 208 lbs.
Forced Fumbles: 7
Football Accolades: Demps was named an AFC Pro Bowl alternate in 2007.
Family Background: Demps was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Demps’ father is African-American and mother is Korean.
Other Interesting Things: According to Demps, he can speak Korean at a conversational level. Also, before joining the NFL, Demps spent his spare time modeling.
NFL Career: In the 1998 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings drafted Wong out of Stanford University with the 51st overall pick in the 2nd round. Demps played Linebacker with Minnesota until 2001 where he then went to the new expansion team, the Houston Texans in 2002. Wong finished his career with the Texans before retiring in 2006.
Physical Build: Kailee Wong is listed at 6’2″ and 246 lbs.
Forced Fumbles: 3
Defensive Touchdowns: 1
Football Accolades: Bill Walsh recruited Wong as an All-American with Stanford.
Family Background: Wong was born in Eugene, Oregon. Wong’s father is native-Hawaiian and Chinese and his mother is European.
Other Interesting Things: Kailee Wong’s wife is Mario Lopez’s (A.C. Slater from Saved by the Bell) sister, Marissa Lopez.
Walter Tin Kit “Sneeze” Achiu
NFL Career: Achiu played in the earlier years of the NFL for the Dayton Triangles in 1927 and 1928 where he played running back and defensive back. Like most players of the early NFL era, Achiu played both Offense and Defense. Achiu was the first Asian-American to ever play in the NFL.
Physical Build: Very little biographical information can be found on Walter Achiu.
Career Stats: There is almost little to no information dating back to the early days of the Dayton Triangle. What information was available was that Achiu ran the ball 27 times for 27 yards, made 2 catches for 17 yards, missed a field goal kick, and had one incomplete pass.
Football Accolades: Achiu had little success in the NFL, but was a standout three sport athlete at the University of Dayton in football, baseball, and track.
Family Background: Achiu was born in Hawaii on the island of Oahu. Achiu’s father is Chinese and mother is Hawaiian.
Other Interesting Things: Walter the “Sneeze” Achiu was the first Asian to ever play in the NFL. Although Achiu had very little success in the leather head days, there is almost no biographical information on Achiu. When I researched for this article, it was surprising to see that the first Asian athlete predating Jackie Robinson and playing 7 years after the first African-Americans stepped on the gridiron, that literature on Achiu is almost non-existent.
Without even knowing the facts, one must positively accept that Achiu faced substantial discrimination from within the NFL and outside. Maybe because he wasn’t an all-star athlete we don’t hear about Achiu. I’m puzzled and I discover any more information on Achiu, you’ll know to find it here.
Johnnie James Morton
NFL Career: The Detroit Lions drafted Morton with the 21st overall pick of the 1994 NFL Draft out of USC to play Wide Receiver. Morton played for 11 seasons in the NFL. Morton played for the Detroit Lions from 1994 to 2001, the Kansas City Chiefs from 2002-2004, and finished his final year with the San Francisco 49ers.
Physical Build: Johnnie Morton is listed at 6’0″ and weighed 193 lbs. in his final year with the 49ers.
Touchdown Receptions: 43
Special Teams Touchdowns: 1
Forced Fumbles: 3
Defensive Touchdowns: 1
Football Accolades: During his time at USC, Morton broke reception and receiving yard records for USC and the PAC-10 Conference.
Family Background: Morton’s father is African American and mother is Japanese. Morton’s parents raised Johnnie in Torrance, California.
Other Interesting Things: Since retiring from the NFL, Morton has now shifted to mixed martial arts and fights in K-1 Dynamite. In his debut fight against Bernard Ackah, Ackah knocked Morton out 37-seconds into the first round.
NFL Career: The Baltimore Ravens drafted Safety Haruki Nakamura out of Cincinnati in the 2008 NFL Draft. The Ravens took Nakamura in Round 6 with the 206th overall pick. Playing behind All-Pro Superstar safety Ed Reed, Nakamura was involved on a minimal amount of plays for his rookie 2008 season.
Although, Ravens defensive back coach Mark Carrier had this to say of Nakamura: “Looking at him on film, I thought he was the best all-around safety in college football last year.”
Physical Build: Haruki Nakamura is 5’10” and is listed at 205 lbs.
Forced Fumbles: 0
Family Background: Haruki is the son of Karen and Ryozo Nakamura. I found little information about this family, but I assume they’re both Japanese.
Other Interesting Things: Nakamura comes from a family of talented athletes. Haruki’s brother, Yoshi, wrestled for the US during the Olympic Trials while his sister, Kimi, is a national champion in judo.
NFL Career: The New England Patriots drafted Yon Eugene Chung with the 13th overall pick in the first round of the 1992 NFL Draft. Out of Virginia Tech, the Patriots drafted Chung to play offensive tackle. The first player of Korean decent to enter the NFL, Chung played three seasons with the New England Patriots (1992-1994), one season with the Jacksonville Jaguars (1995), and finished his career in 1997 with the Indianapolis Colts.
Physical Build: Chung’s listed at 6’4″ and 295 lbs (to which he’d be fined for being an underweight tackle in the NFL today)
Football Accolades: Chung is the highest ever drafted player of Asian descent in the NFL draft.
Family Background: Chung’s born in the Prince George’s County, Maryland. Both his mother and father are Korean.
NFL Career: After going undrafted in the 1998 NFL Draft, Kevin played for the Iowa Barstormers in the Arena Football League from 1999-2000. When the WWF ventured into football with the XFL, Kevin played for the now defunct San Francisco Demons in 2001. As the short-lived XFL went into obscurity, Kevin signed on with the Cincinnati Bengals as a free agent to play safety in 2002. Kevin played with the Bengals until 2006 and then joined the New Orleans Saints in 2007 where he currently remains on the roster.
Physical Build: Kevin’s listed at 6’1″ and 200 lbs.
Forced Fumbles: 2
Defensive TDs: 1
Football Accolades: In 2002, Kevin led the Bengals in pass deflections and in 2006, led the Bengals in interceptions.
Family Background: Kevin is half-Thai. His father, Khun Mongkol immigrated to America from Thailand. I found little information about Kevin’s mother, but Kevin is Thai-American.
Other Interesting Things: At games, fans cheer on Kevin by calling him “The One” or “Neo” because of his resemblance to movie actor Keanu Reeves. Also, had the XFL never came around, Kevin would have likely become a math teacher in his hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
NFL Career: The New England Patriots drafted Tedy Bruschi out of Arizona in the 1996 NFL Draft with the 86th overall pick in the 3rd round. Bruschi has spent his entire 13-year career with the Patriots where he currently still plays as a linebacker.
Physical Build: The Patriots list Bruschi at 6’1″ and weighing 247 lbs.
Defensive TDs: 4
Forced Fumbles: 18
Football Accolades: Bruschi is a two-time Pro Bowler (2004, 2005). In 2005, Bruschi shared the Comeback Player of the Year award with Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith. Amidst the Patriots Tom Brady era, Bruschi has been an integral part of all three Patriots Super Bowl winning teams (XXXVI 2001, XXXVIII 2003, and XXXIX 2004).
Family Background: Bruschi is half-Italian-American and Filipino. Bruschi’s father, Anthony Bruschi Sr., is of Italian-American descent. While Bruschi’s mother, Juanita Lacap, whom Bruschi has taken her name as his own middle name is Filipina.
Other Interesting Things: After suffering a sudden stroke in 2005, Bruschi planned to take a year off to recover. But only after a few months of rehabilitation, Bruschi regained his health and returned to play for the Patriots in the same year in which he followed to win the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award. Outside of football, Bruschi is an accomplished saxophonist and frequently plays in local venues in the Boston area.
NFL Career: The San Diego Chargers drafted Leber out of Kansas State in the 2002 NFL draft with the 71st overall pick in Round 3. Leber played outside linebacker with the Chargers for four seasons from 2002-2005 before getting hurt in training camp. Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman replaced Leber after his injury. In 2006, the Minnesota Vikings signed Leber as a free agent where he currently finished his 7th NFL season.
Physical Build: Leber’s listed at 6’3″ and 244 lbs.
Defensive TDs: 1
Forced Fumbles: 9
Football Accolades: Leber tied the Vikings team lead for sacks in 2007. In the same season, Leber also set a Vikings record with the longest sack in team history with a 26-yard loss sack against Eli Manning of the New York Giants.
Family Background: Leber’s father, Al Leber, is American (I’m not quite sure of his ethnic background) and mother, Han, is Korean. Al met Han in Korea while Al was stationed in South Korea for the Army.
Other Interesting Things: Leber is an active member in each community he moves into. While living in San Diego, Leber spent a large part of his free time doing fundraisers for the San Diego Fire Department.
Asian Football Players That Aren’t Quite There
So you’ve just looked through successful NFL athletes and those that managed to stick around for a few years. But there are more, the following are a few that have tried to get to the professional level and just haven’t quite made it.
Ahh Timmy Chang, the latest hope for a almost full-fledged Asian American to make the NFL. Chang is mixed Chinese, Hawaiian, Filipino, and partially Spanish. Timmy Chang demolished his college competition playing quarterback for the University of Hawaii. With the Warriors, Chang broke NCAA Division 1-A records for most pass completions as well as pass yards. Though the University of Hawaii pass-happy system allows for gaudy monstrous numbers, Chang nonetheless had a shot at the NFL.
In 2005, Chang tried out and played pre-season with the Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, and Philadelphia Eagles before moving to play in Europe for the Rhein Fire. Since then, Chang has moved to Canada and plays in the CFL. He is currently playing with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The first time I saw his name, I thought…Hey! A Japanese dude made it into the NFL, good for him. After 30 seconds of research, Scott Fujita is not the slightest part Asian. Rodney Fujita, a Japanese American, adopted and raised Scott in a traditionally cultural Japanese upbringing. Fujita grew up celebrating Japanese holidays, festivals, and traditions. Though he’s ethnically Caucasian (do we even call Caucasian an ethnicity), Fujita has took on his father’s name and Fujita himself considers himself as half Asian from his upbringing.
Bryan Chiu is an All-Star center for the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League. Born from Chinese parents, Chiu is 6’2″ and weighs in at 300 lbs. In the CFL, Chiu has been an East-Division All-Star every year from 2000 to 2006. The only reason I found this guy was I had to look twice on ESPN as I thought I saw an Asian guy during one of the few CFL highlights we get. Lo and behold, Bryan Chiu.
Norm Chow never had much of a chance at playing in the NFL, but the man is a brilliant offensive coordinator. Chow played a few years with the Saskatchewan Roughriders before injury ended his playing-career. Since the CFL, Chow has been the offensive coordinator for USC, BYU, North Carolina State, and is currently the present offensive coordinator with UCLA. Chow also had a brief stint in the NFL as their offensive coordinator in 2007 but was fired by the team in 2008.
The Ting Brothers (Brandon and Ryan Ting)
Ahh yes, the twin Ting brothers from the Bay Area. I actually have very few fond memories of these guys. I’m not sure which one, Brandon or Ryan, but one of them missed an open interception in the 2006 Rose Bowl against the Texas Longhorns. The would-be interception probably would have led USC to win and more importantly for my financially vested reasons, USC would have covered the spread.
The Twins played special teams on USC for 3 years before quitting after their junior years. The twins, Brandon and Ryan, explain their reasoning on quitting as to prep their med school applications in hopes of following in their father’s footsteps, Arthur Ting, a well known sports physician in the Bay Area. Though the word on the street is Brandon tested positive for steroids during is senior year and likely would have been forced to miss his senior year anyhow.
The first Chinese-Canadian to break into the Canadian Football League, Norm Kwong, was nick named the “China Clipper” throughout his CFL tenure from 1948 to 1961. Kwong won 4 Grey Cups (the Canadian Super Bowl) throughout his career while playing running back for the Calgary Stampeders and Edminton Eskimos. In 1969, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame inducted Kwong. Since Kwongs football career, Norm entered public live and is currently serving as Alberta’s Liutenant-Governor.
Well anyhow, that rounds out my coverage of Asian NFL football players and a few that didn’t quite make their way to the Sunday gridiron. So if any of you are like me, feed your children lots of protein, train them early, and although I’ll push education more than anything – let’s get some Asian athletes out there. And let’s say no to any physical rejections anyone may throw at us.