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Consequently, the desire to play sports to enter mainstream American life is not part of the fabric of most Asian communities. The desire to play and enjoy sports is there. Still, Asian Americans face as many stereotypes on the field of play as they do off it. Whether coaches, players or fans, the common misconception is that Asian Americans are physically inferior to whites, African-Americans and Latinos.

Smart, yes. Athletic, no. Sammy Lee was among the first to embrace and excel in both academics and athletics. Though today he lacks the name recognition of Jackie Robinson or Roberto Clemente, pioneers for African American and Latino athletes, respectively, Lee is their Asian equivalent -- and then some. A year after earning his medical degree, he became the first Asian American to win an Olympic gold medal, finishing first on the meter diving platform at the London Games and again at the Helsinki Games.

Sullivan Award as America's top amateur athlete.

Smashing Barriers: Race and Sport in the New Millennium

Only 5-feet, 2-inches tall, Lee overcame discrimination to attain his goals. A Korean American whose appetite for Olympic competition was first whet when he attended the Los Angeles Games, he practiced diving at the Los Angeles Swim Stadium and the Brookside pool, where only whites could use the pool every day but Wednesday.

The Race of the Century: The '58 Mile

After Lee and other people of color used it, the pool was drained and there was fresh water for whites by Thursday morning. I used it as motivation. I wanted to show them that I could be better than them, that I could be the best. So I became the one who tried the most difficult dives. Fledgling Asian American athletes now have a growing host of professional athletes, whether Asian American or simply Asians playing in America, with whom they can more closely identify.

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Those who followed Lee to open doors in other sports -- like Michael Chang in tennis, Amy Chow in gymnastics, Kristy Yamaguchi in skating, Jim Paek in hockey, Ichiro Suzuki in baseball, Dat Nguyen in football, and Tiger Woods in golf -- make it easier for future generations to step into the athletic arena.

Now not everyone has to become a doctor or lawyer.

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In dramatic contrast, nearly 6 percent of all African American students were also athletes in college. Among white students, 2. There is no hard data for youth sports participation, but in cities where there are larger Asian American populations, such as Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Chicago, anecdotal evidence suggests that Asian American children are now much more interested in sports since they see adults who look like them on SportsCenter. Among them was Greg Louganis, whose legacy as an Olympic diver earned him a place alongside the most recognizable Asian American athletes even today.

And I made only 70 cents an hour. There is so much money out there now, you'll see more" Asian Americans playing sports in the years to come. But the implications can be more far reaching than seemingly insignificant results on the athletic field. That Asian Americans are picking up golf clubs after watching Tiger Woods and Se Ri Pak dominate as professionals, or are putting on skates after watching Apolo Anton Ohno and Kwan compete as Olympians, eventually their participation will lead to more integration of Asian Americans in other aspects of American society. It is there where the lessons learned on the field of play can have their greatest benefit.

As we all begin to cheer for the team, there will be the realization that it is just that -- a team made up of people from America's diverse society. Now Asian Americans are part of that team. Richard lapchick is a human rights activist; pioneering for racial equality and is internationally recognized as an expert on sports issues.

He believes that sports can be vessel for positive social change and Nike is proving just that with their new Nike campaign. Sports can and should be used as a vessel for growth individually and culturally. I am honored and feel extremely blessed that my path crossed with Dr.

Read more about Dr. Richard E. Lapchick is a human rights activist and writer. Coincidentally, he was in Europe during the Summer Olympic Games and discovered the tremendous impact sport has to cross all lines, color, creed and religion. Thus, his dream to use sport as a vehicle for social change was born.

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