The Intersection of the Asian American Model Minority Myth and Sports: The “Linsanity” Narrative

The Intersection of the Asian American Model Minority Myth and Sports: The “Linsanity” Narrative

Teresa A. Mok, David W. Chih
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 27
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7467-7.ch003
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While the model minority stereotype depicts Asian Americans as having somehow “made it” in American society, rarely does the discourse involve Asian American athletes. The purpose of this chapter is to delineate how race and the model minority myth were an integral part of the media coverage and affected perceptions of the phenomenon known colloquially as “Linsanity,” which charted the unprecedented rise of Jeremy Lin. In 2012, Jeremy Lin became one of the most famous players in the NBA. By exploring the popular press coverage of this event, fueled by the Internet and social media, the intersection of the model minority myth and athletics are investigated. Through a combination of media critique and analysis, narrative, psychological literature, and coverage of other Asian and Asian American athletes, the authors illustrate how racism was a prominent factor and a significant part of the everyday discourse that permeated the coverage of Jeremy Lin.
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The model minority stereotype of Asian Americans, which suggests that this heterogeneous group is successful academically, economically, and psychologically, has been challenged by a number of scholars from different fields (e.g., Kawai, 2005; Lee, Wong, & Alvarez, 2009; Suh & Green, 2012; Wong & Halgin, 2006). While such a stereotype is, on the surface, seemingly positive, it cloaks deeper, more pervasive views of Asians and Asian Americans as foreign, exotic, and unassimilable. It also serves to obfuscate real problems that this heterogeneous group faces, including racism and hostility. Further, it contributes to discord amongst people of color and serves to maintain the status quo, which allows White privilege to flourish. In addition, it often renders Asian Americans invisible, especially outside of the academic setting.

While the model minority myth has been detailed—and challenged—in numerous research and popular press articles across a wide variety of disciplines (e.g., Hartlep, 2013), the stereotype is particularly tenacious when it comes to how Asian Americans are viewed. The stereotype, which is firmly ensconced within the mainstream media, often posits success for Asian Americans, particularly within the domain of education. However, the stereotype does more than that: it arguably contributes to the inability to see Asian Americans as anything more than successful students. For instance, rarely are Asian Americans seen in other fields, like athletics.

Yet it is worth noting that the model minority myth, which insinuates that success is the natural result of individual effort, personal determination, and sacrifice, fits in neatly with the view of sports in the popular press (Mayeda, 1999). Suggesting that equal opportunity is afforded to all groups who simply put forth effort and conform to societal norms, the model minority myth feels remarkably similar to the belief of meritocracy in sports, in which it is believed that talent and ability result in success. The notion in the popular press is that characteristics like race do not matter on the playing field; only talent, practice, and perseverance signify. Even President Barack Obama discussed sports as being one of the few areas in life where there is “a true meritocracy,” echoing the belief of many, from casual sports fans to more dedicated enthusiasts (Jackson, 2012; Suh & Green, 2012). Thus, exploring the connections between the model minority myth and sports makes reasonable sense. While there are some Asian Americans who have gone on to achieve fame and recognition within their respective sports, none approached the furor and excitement that accompanied the meteoric rise of Jeremy Lin, current basketball player in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

The purpose of this chapter is to delineate the phenomenon of “Linsanity,” the term that served to encapsulate the phenomenon of his amazing rise within the NBA to become a household name seemingly over the course of a few short weeks. The chapter will focus on the expansive media coverage of Lin and how it depicted him as a model minority and made race a central part of how he was described. The chapter will begin with a discussion of other Asian American athletes and how they were portrayed in the media. Such a discussion will provide the backdrop and necessary context to understand how Linsanity developed and flourished.

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