NFL’s new Korean kicker inspires student athlete

October 11, 2017 — by Rahul Vadlakonda and Katherine Zhou

While playing for the Georgia Southern Eagles, then collegiate placekicker Younghoe (pronounced Young-way) Koo was the subject of a popular Twitter video (now with 11,000 retweets and counting).

The video shows him running up to a ball, kicking it slightly ahead of him until it is vertical to the ground and then punching in about a 20-year field goal while doing a backflip.

Besides this eye-popping trick kick, Koo made headlines this past summer by signing with the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers, becoming one of only a few players of Asian heritage in the NFL. In the league’s history, there have been only about 20.

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Koo moved to Ridgewood, N.J., right before the sixth grade and played for Ridgewood High School a couple years later. He went on to be kicker for Georgia Southern.

Though the 23-year-old was a star during his college football career, Koo was an undrafted free agent when he signed a contract with the Chargers, but he won the starting job during training camp.

His NFL career has had a rocky start — he missed a potential game-winning 44-yard field goal against the Miami Dolphins and had a last-second game-tying field goal blocked in the first game of the year against the Broncos. Nonetheless, the Chargers plan on keeping him on their roster, according to ESPN.

Though Koo is no NFL superstar yet, the mere presence of an Asian player on an NFL team is historic and has served as a reassuring precedent for aspiring Asian-Americans athletes.

Sophomore George Bian, who is a wide receiver, defensive tackle and team co-captain for the JV football team, was encouraged by seeing an Asian athlete playing in the NFL.

“I think that it is really inspiring that an Asian can make it to the highest level of football [because] normally when you look at it, the NFL is just Caucasians and African-Americans,” Bian said.

Though Bian is one of just 12 Asian-American players on the JV and varsity teams, he believes that his team has moved past any racial barriers and he and his other Asian teammates are just viewed as just players and nothing more.

Despite the recent progress, though, the number of Asians playing professional sports in America is still relatively scarce.

Some believe that this is because of usually seen through immigrant cultural thought processes and values — since most immigrant parents needed to find stable, secure work when they, jobs in sports leagues tends to not be so.

As players across leagues such as the NBA, NFL and many more are expected to reach a certain level of proficiency in the respective sports, the simple risk one might take in order to do so, sees not to be something confidently taken.

“In Asian culture it is not a safe career to be in sports, compared to other races,” Bian said. “Football is not talked about in China.”

However, the actions of Koo and those before are inspiring to Asian football players.

“It’s pretty cool to see more diverse people playing football. Normally [the stereotype is] that all Asians do is study. [Koo playing is] pretty motivating for new students to try football,” Bian said.

 

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