In the 2010 football season, when Ed Wang got drafted to play for the Buffalo Bills, he became the first fully Chinese football player to enter the league. When the 6’5 310lbs offensive tackle is not being referred to as “Godzilla” he is most usually called the “Yao Ming of the NFL”. Now traveling around China to promote the game during the off season, Shanghaiist met up with him at the Boxing Cat Brewery and talked about his Chinese heritage, how being the first Chinese player into the NFL was his dream from the get go, and his fear of scary movies.
It is pretty common knowledge that your parents are from Beijing and were themselves athletes who represented China in the 1984 Olympics, so I take it that you speak Mandarin? Is that your first language?
Yeah, I speak it. I think it was half and half. They mixed it a lot when I was a child, but yeah probably because I lived with my grandparents when I was younger.
Did you spend much time in China growing up?
I came back when I was five and we stayed for a little bit. We didn’t come back again until I was thirteen and I stayed for about two months, but it’s been ten years since that so it’s been a while.
How does it feel to be back?
It feels good. I’m so excited to be back because I used to play college ball so we didn’t have time in the summers to take off. Now finally I made it to the NFL so we get an off season and I can spend time here and do vacations.
How has your parent’s athleticism influenced you?
A lot because they started me in athletics when I was around 6. They really pushed me and that really helped me out because if it was me, I wouldn’t have started until later. So they trained me and they kept an eye on me.
Were they cracking the whip on both academics and sports?
Yeah, yeah, I had the worst of both worlds I guess. For example, you know in the first grade, you do spelling bees and tests. [My mom] she would make me take a regular piece of paper and make me write the word all the way down and if my handwriting was sloppy, she’d crumble it all up and make me write it all over. And in high school, I could only get As and Bs, stuff like that. Yeah, they were pretty strict on grades.
Being the first Chinese player to break into the NFL is a huge landmark step. What has been your experience breaking into a sport dominated by white and black athletes?
It’s had its ups and downs. Kids were kinda racist when I was younger but that’s kids being kids not knowing any better. There was some of that at the high school level and a little bit in college level, but not in the NFL because everybody’s more mature. But you know I think that as I got better, that kind of faded away.
Do you think that your Asian heritage is going to overshadow your playing?
No, I don’t think it will. At the end of the day, I won’t be able to do anything in China unless I can perform on the field. I really don’t think so but I could see why some people think that it would.
Did you ever contemplate not pursuing this career because of the barriers you faced?
No, definitely not. It might sound weird but when I was younger, me and my parents made it a goal to be the first Chinese player in the NFL. We set that goal for me and I’ve just been chasing it ever since. I’m just happy it came true.
Your brother plays right now for the Hokies so possibly there’s our second Chinese NFL player right there. What do you think will need to happen before we see more Chinese or Chinese-Americans take up the sport and at the level you’re playing at?
I think it’s just getting the word out. People in China they have the talent to do it, they just don’t know the sport. They’re probably not very interested right now because they don’t really know about it. The way I look at it, most people don’t really like stuff they don’t know about. I feel like when they get more knowledge of the game, they’re just gonna fall in love with it and it’s gonna take off from there.
Tell us something totally weird about yourself. We know you’re great at football, do you have any other hidden talents we don’t know about?
I’m really good at video games.
What’s your favorite game?
Call of Duty…and I’m scared of scary movies. I can’t watch ’em. I haven’t watched one in like ten years. I get terrified of it for two weeks.
How about your pre/post game rituals?
For pre-game, I always listen to music. I like to listen to slow music, R&B – it calms me down and that really helps me settle my nerves. And post game, usually my family comes to watch the game so we all go out to eat dinner.
What are your goals for yourself in 2011?
My goal is to be a starter and play as well as I can.
Let’s play a quick word association game. I have 5 words here and I want you to say the first thing that comes to your mind. No filtering, no holding back, and fast, alright?
[Laughs nervously] Nah, I couldn’t say that one.
UPDATE: See Ed Wang’s interview with CNN here.