One of the pastimes of my childhood in the 1990s America was figuring out who in pop culture was related to, talked about, or was Filipino.
Being an early consumer of ESPN and Sportscenter, I would always be on the lookout for that Filipino and/or Asian athlete. Barely on the radar of movies or TV period, they were non-existent on the professional sports plain.
I once had a dream of playing for the Chicago Bulls. I told this to some classmates, and they repeated what I said, “you’re going to play for the Chicago Bulls? “ They kinda snickered at the idea that a short Asian kid could dream like that.
But I loved professional sports, following them, and playing them on my Sega Genesis. I was a fairly regular follower of Sportscenter, and the evolving ESPN Networks (ESPN2 and ESPNews) from the time I was 9 till around high school. For a quick minute, I even subscribed to ESPN the magazine.
Then one day on Sportscenter right before high school, I heard the sportscaster mention the name of a player on the baseball New York Mets, “Benny Agbayani.”
I tried to get a look at his face…brown and Asian…hm…
WHOA! I quickly asked my mom and dad if “Agbayani” was a Filipino name.
I took their “maybe” as a “He’s gotta be!”
Had no way of “confirming” any of this information till it was explicitly mentioned somewhere.
Nowadays, I could check Wikipedia, and sure enough, hell yeah he’s Filipino. Duh! Agbayani didn’t last in the league that long, but he did enough to once be a name that I hung on to for the rest of my childhood.
There’s a lot of Filipino and Filipino-American athletes from the past if you want to find it. Olympic Diver Vicky Draves in the 1948 Olympics. Roman Gabriel, a one-time NFL MVP and QB for the LA Rams, whom I’d occasionally see on NFL Films tapes. There’s the Super Bowl winning Linebacker Tedy Bruschi from the New England Patriots. Nate Robinson.
Maybe it’s the rise of Pacquiao, rise of sports-related media coverage in which I could actually follow the progress of the Philippine national soccer team, and/or just the plain, natural evolution and outcome of American society, but it seems like there’s a lot more Filipinos out there or at the very least the opportunity does exist.
However, I could still count the number of athletes doing well in American-dominated sports on one hand.
One of them is Australian-Filipino golfer Jason Day. Now in the past, I didn’t give any shit about golf— even during Tiger Woods’ glory days. But this year Jason Day, a guy who is all of 27, has managed top finishes on the PGA tour enough to earn him the #4 ranked golfer in the world. As of this writing, he is leading the PGA Tour Championships after 3 rounds with one round to go today.
Another up-and-coming star nowadays in Baseball is Addison Russell. I have not 100% confirmed his Filipino-ness, but looking at his mom’s name and the fact that he’s from Hawaii, there’s probably a chance that he is. Who is Addison Russell? Well he’s one of the new crop of players the Cubs have that has contributed to the Cubs’ current winning streak. He recently permanently replaced former All-Star Starlin Castro, who is now playing 2nd Base. He’s not a big hitter or slugger, but nonetheless, the Cubs expect him to be their future starting short stop.
In 2012 and hopefully 2016, there was the gymnast and balance beam specialist Kyla Ross of the Fierce 5. She was the youngest of the group, and I can imagine that if she makes the team again, her experience will help her out.
At the college level, I’d imagine there’s even more to watch and pay attention to. What I know I’ll actually look out for regularly: Jeremy Tabuyo, a Wide Receiver from Texas A&M and Kobe Paras who will play at UCLA.