Hines Ward Loves His Korean Birthplace, In All Its Colors

Pittsburgh's star receiver pushes discussions of race across borders.

By Jamilah King Feb 04, 2011

So it’s not like we’re picking sides or anything in this year’s Super Bowl (seriously, Green Bay’s got the league’s only publicly owned franchise!), but we do want to take a moment to recognize one of the league’s only self-identified Asian American players: Hines Ward. The veteran wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers will take the field on Sunday and run one step closer to the Hall of Fame — and the record books. Born in Seoul, South Korea, Ward’s mother is Korean and his father is black, and he’s currently the longest tenured player on the Steelers’ roster. In addition to having a stellar career for one of the league’s most storied franchises, Ward is on pace to become one of the only Asian American-identified players to win multiple championships in professional team sports history. But the former Super Bowl MVP’s most enduring legacy may be in his advocacy for biracial children in his birthplace.

Jon Branch of the New York Times profiled Ward and his efforts two years ago, after the footballer flew a group of biracial kids from South Korea to the United States in an annual trip that works as therapy of sorts for kids who often feel isolated by the country’s mostly homogenous racial make up.

"I love everything about [Korea]," Ward told the New York Times. "But there’s a dark side to that culture. And me, I’m just trying to shed a light on that dark side and make Korea a better place than it already is."

There are an estimated 19,000 biracial children in South Korea. While most of those children are "Kosians", with a parent from a different Asian country, decades of U.S. military presence in the region have undoubtedly left a demographic footprint. Shortly after Ward was born in 1976, his military father moved the family to the United States. His parents split up soon after, and Ward eventually went to live with his immigrant Korean mother who the Times reports as having spoken little English and working low wage jobs.

"It was hard for me to find my identity," Ward told the Times. "The black kids didn’t want to hang out with me because I had a Korean mom. The white kids didn’t want to hang out with me because I was black. The Korean kids didn’t want to hang out with me because I was black. It was hard to find friends growing up. And then once I got involved in sports, color didn’t matter."

But the future Hall of Famer knows that most biracial kids who are born in the country aren’t so lucky. So each year he flies a group of them to Pittsburgh, where they can talk, find support, and get star treatment among the throngs of die-hard Steeler fans at Heinz Field. And as they become more confident, the younger folks become part of the slow but steady campaign to transform their country’s racial climate.

"I can see Korea changing every year," said Han, one biracial Korean who was teased regularly by classmates. "It’s slowly changing."

So win or lose on Sunday, today’s love goes to Hines Ward. We’re ending the day as often as possible by celebrating love. We welcome your ideas for posts. Send suggestions to submissions@colorlines.com, and be sure to put Celebrate Love in the subject line. You can send links to videos, graphics, photos, quotes, whatever. Or just chime in to the comments below and we’ll find you. Be sure to let us know you’ve got the rights to share any media you send.

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