Don't let skin color blind you from recognizing true talent

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By ALYSHA TSUJI
College Contributor Network

Sports are a sacred entity. They provide an escape from reality, bring cultures together and teach important lessons that translate directly into real life. When racial stereotypes penetrate sports, people get hurt.

Potential is buried and opportunity is lost. The most recent applicable story that dominated the headlines is that of Jeremy Lin.

A basketball standout at Palo Alto High School -- he led the team to a 2006 CIF Division II California State Finals upset of the almighty Mater Dei and was named as one of seven finalists for Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year -- Lin received zero Division I college scholarship offers.

"60 Minutes" dedicated a segment to "Linsanity" in April 2013 and when Charlie Rose asked Lin about why he felt he was overlooked as a high-schooler, Lin said, "Well, I think the obvious thing is -- in my mind is that I was Asian American which, you know, is a whole different issue but that's -- I think that was a barrier."

Lin ended up playing at Harvard. His senior year he averaged 16.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.4 steals per game, only to then go undrafted. Yet, he continued to grind and eventually landed on the Knicks in December 2012.

On Feb. 4, 2012, a desperate Mike D'Antoni, whose Knicks were on a 2-11 losing streak, subbed in Lin. The guard peeled himself off the bench and dropped 23 points, seven assists and five rebounds to carry New York to a win. Through February, Lin went on his well-known "Linsanity" run and became a household name.

Talking to "60 Minutes," Lin absolutely told the truth. As an Asian American, it's tougher to seriously break into the upper echelon of basketball and he is the prime example of that. It's why people were so shocked and enthralled when he pushed the Knicks to a mid-season run.

Two years later, he's on the Lakers, being mentored by Kobe.

In the midst of his success, I'm happy but not surprised. Growing up, I played in Asian basketball leagues in Southern California and saw extraordinary talent that I believe could have schooled Division I college players.

Furthermore, I saw that talent not only on the court but also on the sidelines. I played for and against coaches who drew up insane plays that worked flawlessly. However, the players and coaches tend to reach a certain point where they just let it go.

Mainly, the mindset that hope lies in pursuing a career involving something more academically intensive causes Asian Americans to shy away from setting their sights on playing professional sports. Even if they do choose to go after a career in pro sports, it takes an outstanding amount of perseverance. As demonstrated by Lin, Asian Americans are easily overlooked -- there are layers of societal ceilings to break through.

Although, now that is changing. Lin has provided a platform for future athletes to climb on. And in other sports, such as baseball, Asian Americans are finding success. For instance, Kolten Wong starred on the Cardinals who were just knocked out of postseason by the Giants. Though even in that knockout game, the Giants' Travis Ishikawa hit a walk-off homerun to help send his team to the World Series.

With Wong and Ishikawa, race hasn't been over-hyped in the media as it was with Lin, which may be a sign of progress. But then Sacramento Kings rookie Nik Stauskas frankly tells the media, "I understand that I'm a rookie and I'm white, so people are going to attack me all the time. Just coming out there in the game, I felt it right away."

Two steps forward, three steps back.

To prevent the backpedaling, the concentration needs to shift from height, weight and family background to skill set, athletic experience and potential for growth. It'll be a tough shift to push for, however when it does successfully happen, it'll be a societal transformation you won't want to miss.

When you see a little kid shooting hoops or tossing around a football, no matter the color of their skin, encourage them -- you never know who will be the next barrier breaker.


Alysha Tsuji is a senior Journalism major at Pepperdine University. Her passion lies in sports media, namely when it comes to covering the NBA. Follow her on Twitter: @AlyshaTsuji
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