Pro Basketball Player Jeremy Lin on Anti-Asian Racism

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Now, in the wake of the mass shootings in Atlanta that we were talking about in which eight people, including six Asian women were killed, our next guest, professional basketball player, Jeremy Lin, has reacted. He has Tweeted, this is so heartbreaking. Praying for our world. To my Asian American family, please take time to grieve, but know that you are loved, seen and important. Now, while the suspect’s motive, as we said, is still unclear. Lin is no stranger to the anti-Asian racism that’s been on the rise since the pandemic began. And the player is best known for generating the craze Linsanity after he unexpectedly led a winning turnaround with the New York Knicks back in 2012. Just before the deadly attack, he spoke with our Michel Martin about racism in sports.

MICHEL MARTIN, FOX CONTRIBUTOR: Jeremy Lin, thank you so much for joining us.

JEREMY LIN, NBA VETERAN: Thanks for having me. I’m excited.

MARTIN: You know, unfortunately, you and I are speaking now at a time when there has been a surge of hate crimes and abusive incident aimed at people of Asian descent. You have spoken out over the years, but this seems like this has kind of pushed you into the forefront, into a world that you previously had not — you hadn’t run away from it, but it seems like you’ve been really more outspoken of late and I wonder why that is. Is that something you’ve chosen or you think that’s just something that’s chosen you?

LIN: It’s just an illusion of who I am. And to be honest, I did run from it. When we last spoke, I just — I didn’t want to be known as the token Asian or the Asian on the basketball court, I wanted to be respected as a great basketball player, period, end of sentence. And so, after I went through Linsanity, there’s a lot of things that had happened, and I didn’t understand what was happening at the time. I couldn’t process everything with how fast it was coming. I didn’t — I couldn’t understand and articulate the underlying issues that we have seen, whether it’s the model minority or the bamboo ceiling or all these different things about how Asian Americans and Asians in general have kind of just become whatever the people in power have kind of wanted us to become and to stay silent over certain issues and so — and to be, you know, good immigrants and other situations. And so, what I’ve kind of seen is through the education process of my experiences and just life, that, man, there is a lot of things that I didn’t understand when I last spoke to you and I definitely didn’t understand during Linsanity, during that stretch of time. And so, I think it’s just my evolution to be able to say like, hey, me being 32 years old towards the tail end of my career, it’s not about me as a basketball player as much or anything, it’s — you know, you think about, OK, what do you want to do? Every person kind of gets to that point where, at some point, it becomes about the next generation, right, or it should become about the next generation, because we’ve had so many people come before us that allowed us to live the life that we’re living today. And so, for me it’s understanding, OK, my niece, my nephew, my future kids, what kind of environment, what kind of society will they be growing up in and how can I contribute to that? And that’s kind of the evolution of it.

MARTIN: Yes. You’ve been in the news recently because you shared that during a game, you’re currently playing with the (INAUDIBLE) and that somebody called you — what is clearly intended as a slur, somebody yelled, you know, coronavirus at you or maybe they said this under their breath in a way. Tell us how you chose to deal with this. First of all, you did disclose to the leak but you haven’t disclosed the name of the person who said this to you. Tell us a little bit more about how you chose to deal with this and why.

LIN: You know, at first, I wrestled about with whether to say anything about it or not and kind of sat on it for a week or so and kind of chatted with my family and my friends and we decided to talk about it in relation to everything else that has been going on. And, again, to me it’s not about what I experienced because that is, you know, nothing compared to what we’re seeing right now. We see people getting spit on, people getting robbed, people getting assaulted, we see people getting killed, burned, stabbed. I mean, we’re seeing all of that all the time. You know, we’re seeing other people who come to the defense of other Asian Americans or other Asians, and then they get assaulted or they get injured. And so, we’re seeing a lot of stuff right now, and that is the real issue that I wanted to bring awareness around and, you know, me, and discussing my own experience was not to compare what other are going through but you say that nobody is immune to this and that we’re all — as Asian Americans, we’re all hurting and we’re all being, you know, targeted. The reason why I didn’t want to talk about who it was or going to the specifics of that is because kind of the overarching principle or the bedrock, the foundation of what I’m trying to say is that we need to have love and empathy and compassion for each other. And if — you know, if I come out and try to take somebody down or burn somebody or get “justice” or what I feel like is right by hurting somebody else, I don’t think that that builds on what I’m trying to do. I think that’s a hypocritical message. And so, you know, for me it’s really about, hey, how can we educate more people about what’s going on and then how we can change to be better and how we can stop this violence, and that’s really the heart of what I’m trying to say.

MARTIN: I do have to say though that it’s my recollection that this is not the first time you’ve experienced this. I mean, unfortunately, has been part of your experience in basketball. The coronavirus thing is new but the experience of being targeted because of your ethnicity is not new. So, what I’m asking you is, as a kid, obviously, a lot of the steps is thrown at you, how did you understand it then and do you think something’s changed to where you think just people are just people in general and you, in particular aren’t just willing to tolerate it anymore?

LIN: I think so. Right. Like I think growing up — and that’s the thing. One of the things about the model minority, you know, they often say like, oh, OK, don’t be the tallest weed because the tallest weed is going to get cut. Like, what does that mean? It just means don’t stand out, right. And so, you know, when people say stuff to you, it’s like, all right. Well, put your head down, work harder, be better and hope that it produces some type of result. So, for me personally I — you know, to answer your question very specifically is when I was young, it was kind of like, you know what, I’m going to work harder and I’m going to let my games speak and I’m going to play better than you but I won’t talk back. And I’m going to win the game and I’m going to walk out the court and be very polite. Now, is more like, oh, you said something to me at school, like I’m still going to try to do the same thing. I’m going to try to turn it into something more, I’m more focus, I play better and all of that and I try to win the game. At the same time, like, I’m not as afraid to talk about it anymore. I’m not as afraid to speak out about it because that’s what we need. And I think what we’re seeing is people are getting fed up. I’m getting fed up, everyone’s getting fed up. And so, I agree in what you’re saying is, hey, the experience has changed, society has changed, the social climate has changed and we need to be more vocal, we need to stand up and we need to start listening more and learning more from each other.

MARTIN: But I think at one point you said you were playing and it got to be too much. I think you were in college at the time and I think one of your coaches who had played at Duke who’s African-American, that you were able to talk about this. Do you remember anything he told you?

LIN: Yes, I do. I remember him telling me, hey, look I was playing, I — you know, when I was playing, I was sitting on the sidewalk, eating my food in an away game and cars drove by and they’re throwing stuff at me. I remember being called that and N word and I remember, you know, seeing people look at me with like bloodshot eyes, like malicious like — because of my skin color. And that’s when I was just like, you know, Coach Blake (INAUDIBLE) it’s his name. He’s actually now the head coach at Howard, which is awesome, you know, doing historic things there. But, you know, and that’s when he taught me, you know, hey, never let somebody get you outside of yourself, because when I was called that game, I was called — repeatedly and the refs had heard it and didn’t do anything and the opposing players were saying that to me and I just ended up self-combusting and I played terrible and I was out of control and all that. And that’s when I had to learn like that, I can’t let what they meant to hurt me become even more of a crutch for myself by hurting myself. And so that’s what I — you know, that was one of the experiences that was really a turning point in my life.

MARTIN: Now, here’s what where I’m going to ask you to be straight with me. I mean, your sport is overwhelmingly African-American. So, would it be fair say that some other people or maybe most of the people throwing these slurs at you are also black, are also people of color and are African-American? Is that accurate?

LIN: I would say, you know, in college my primary experience was more with Caucasians. I would say in the NBA, it’s been pretty split. But I definitely will say like — look my path, especially as an Asian or Asian American, it doesn’t matter how you — you know, how you want to spice it up, is uphill, it is different, it is harder. I don’t look like the (INAUDIBLE). I don’t, you know — and that’s why I think, for me, I was, in many ways, the first to ever do certain things, right. Like you — typically, you’ve seen a lot of players, you’ve seen (INAUDIBLE) from China and they’re, you know, typically all 7 feet or above, they’re centers, you know, and they’re born overseas, they come over here, I don’t look like that. I’m 6 foot 3. I’m a point guard. Born in L.A., raised in California, speak English and is just different. And so, people haven’t known what to do with that. And I think for me, it’s been an uphill climb and it continues to be and the doors that I have opened. Do I think that I had to work harder to open those doors than somebody else? For sure, but that’s the life that we’re in and that’s part of it. And so, that’s what I think it’s — you know, it fuels me to, A, try to be great and be great at the highest level and be the best you can be because, like you said, it means more than just the points and the wins and stats and things like that, it goes beyond that.

MARTIN: One of the things I followed you over the years is that you have made a point of sharing, you know, sometimes on YouTube and sometimes kind of informally and different, you know, social media, you know, how you’ve gotten immersed in other people’s experience. It’s like the life experiences of a lot of your African-American teammates, for example. I mean, you’ve talked a lot about that over the years. But I’m wondering if you feel it’s now time for some of that to come back, for some of your teammates to understand a little bit about your experience has been.

LIN: Yes. And I think that’s what we’re trying to do, right. And I think that’s — what I’m trying to figure out is, how I’d be more vocal or tell the stories that need to be told, to show people my side of the story. And, you know, again, I don’t think — and that’s a thing is like, the one thing that like I have seen through this whole thing is just everyone so quick to compare, right. Like, your experience to person X, to person Y, to person Z or this minority group to that minority group to that minority group or — and it’s like, why are we comparing, right. Like —

MARTIN: Do you feel that that’s going on? Do you feel like there’s been like a competitive suffering contest going on? Do you feel like that some of that is happening?

LIN: Yes. I think there’s a lot of comparing. I think there’s a lot of gaslighting. I think there’s a lot of, oh, let me just discount that or I know some — and at the end of the day, like what we’re looking at is we’re hearing all different types of wrong stories of injustice and we should all be focused on the root of the injustices versus which injustice was worse versus — or the like those types of things. And even on social media, I see a lot of people arguing, well, you know, OK. The Asian community hasn’t supported the black community or a black person did this to somebody else of minority — you know, a different ethnicity or what. And at the end of day, I think like, hey, we’re kind of all missing the point if we’re trying to go down that route. Let’s — like, we need to band together, we need to figure it out, we need to listen to each other and hear each other’s stories, and that can cause real change. Like, actually get to know some of these people, have these tough conversations. Get to know people or read books or read authors or different things that are outside of your sphere or your comfort zone and I can promise you that, at the very least, your perspective will be widened even if you don’t agree with everything.

MARTIN: So, what was the reaction when you first started speaking out, particularly in response to this incident where somebody called you a slur on the court? Like what was the response? I understand that the League investigated it, but what else? What happened?

LIN: So, actually, within the G League Bubble, I was in a bubble, right. So, like, people coming in and out. But within that bubble, there was so much support, right. There is a lot of support. I’m talking about people I’ve never met opposing coaches, opposing staff, opposing players. There was a ton of support. On social media, I think there’s a whole bunch of, you know, back and forth and, you know, that’s — and that’s why, for me, social media can be really toxic at times. But within the G League Bubble, it was very, very supportive. And I even got text within other people in the NBA community that were really, really supportive. Like I said, I got to talk to G League, I got to talk with the player directly and we talked a lot about other things, and one of things that stuck out the most to me was the other player was like, hey, I didn’t — like I went online and I didn’t realize how much was happening to the Asian American community because I’ve been in this bubble and we’ve been playing basketball nonstop every day, like — and to me it was like, man, like, that’s what I’m talking about. Like we’re learning more about each other. We’re learning more about what’s going on and that to me is really, really productive.

MARTIN: Did you apologize?

LIN: Yes.

MARTIN: You did apologize?

LIN: Yes. I mean, we talked it out and I resolved it, you know, person to person. I won’t go into the details, you know —

MARTIN: No, I’m just asking. Do you —

LIN: Yes.

MARTIN: Did you accept his apology?

LIN: Yes, of course.

MARTIN: No, not of course. I mean, you know —

LIN: But for me —

MARTIN: — as you pointed out some people would like to see something else, and I was just am interested in how you decided to receive this.

LIN: I mean, for me, it’s — you know, it goes back to my faith, to be honest. And understanding that, you know, I’ve been forgiving, we’ve all been forgiving. And so, who am I to be about somebody else and not accept an apology or anything like that. I don’t think that — and that’s always been my intention with a lot of different things or, you know, who I try to be. I’m not perfect. I don’t do — always do it right, but I try to be that.

MARTIN: I just wanted to talk more about why you think forgiveness is important and what do you think and what would you hope people would learn from this whole episode?

LIN: You know, for me, forgiveness — you know, I’m a Christian. And so, I feel like Jesus dying across for my sins and forgiving me has given me a different level of — an appreciation for the grace and the love of something that I didn’t maybe desired. I definitely didn’t deserve it. And I feel like one of things that I read through the Bible is that, as Christians, we should be filled and appreciative of this love where we have so much of his love that we’re able to experience in other people. And I think that is the basis of everything that I try to do and how I view things. Now, does that mean that, you know, forgiveness and the justice system and what the, you know, judge is or police or whatever, you know, like to me like you can forgive and then, you know, the government or the justice system still has a job to do, right. And so, those things are like mutually exclusive. And so, but for me, from my standpoint of who I try to be as a human is, hey, I’m going to be wronged many times in my life but I’m also going to wrong a lot of people in my life as well and hope that when the dust settles on everything and when people talk things out, that we get to a place of forgiveness, because I think that is one of the most rewarding ways to live life. It is very purposeful when you can accept your imperfections and somebody else’s and continue to do life together.

MARTIN: When you posted about this on social media, the closing line was, are you listening? Do you feel that people are listening?

LIN: Yes. I feel like more people are listening. Is everybody listening? No. But that’s not the goal for me right now, right. The goal is that some people are listening, that more people are listening, that goes that more people are talking. And I think that’s being accomplished.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, what’s next for you? What do you see in your future?

LIN: I mean, I feel like, you know, I’ve played really well in the G League Bubble and I feel like I’m more than deserve a call up. And so, hopefully that comes and I’m able to kind of continue to be at the NBA platform and be at the NBA stage. And from there, I feel like I’ve done a lot of things within my body and within my game that has allowed me to, in my opinion, be where I feel like I’m at the best that I’ve ever been right now. And so, you know, I think the best is yet to come and I’m excited about it and time will tell.

MARTIN: Well, thank you again for talking with us. It’s been a delight to speak with you again.

LIN: Thank you very much.

About This Episode EXPAND

Former Homeland Security official Elizabeth Neumann discusses immigration reform. John Hume Jr. and Martin Luther King III reflect on the peace movement and their fathers’ legacies. In a conversation recorded before Tuesday’s events in Atlanta, pro basketball player Jeremy Lin Jeremy Lin explains why he chose to speak out after being called “coronavirus” by a fellow player on the court.