Ed Wang hopes to grow game in China

Updated: February 22, 2011, 10:44 AM ET
Associated Press

BEIJING -- Bills offensive lineman Ed Wang became the first player with full Chinese ancestry to be drafted into the NFL when he was selected by Buffalo last year.

Now he's working to ensure there eventually will be more football players from his parents' homeland.

"I see so much potential," Wang said during a clinic Tuesday for university students playing in a 32-school flag football league.

Wang
Wang

"Just these kids ... they were just picking it up so fast. Just how smart they were and how they just soaked everything up. It was just so incredible," Wang said.

Both of his parents were born in China and represented the country in the 1984 Olympics before moving to the U.S. later in the decade.

His visit was part of the NFL's efforts to build a fan base in China, where football remains largely unknown. The league is hoping visits by players such as their new Chinese-American star will help change that.

During the clinic, about 70 student players practiced physical conditioning and ran passing drills before playing a high-spirited scrimmage. Joining Wang in instructing were Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice, along with former players Jack Brewer and Barrett Green.

Among those taking part, Beijing university student He Xin said he started playing flag football after it was introduced in physical education class. It's now become a hobby and the exposure to professional players such as Wang was a great opportunity to learn more, He said.

"More and more players are taking it up and I think there's a bright future ahead for football in China, even though there's still a big gap in understanding among Chinese," said He, a third-year student at Beijing's No. 2 Foreign Languages Institute.

Wang is in China for the first time in a decade and will travel to Shanghai later in the week for more events.

The Virginia native was selected out of Virginia Tech in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. After being hampered by a thumb injury to start the season, Wang appeared in six of Buffalo's games at left tackle.

"I learned the system, understood the game," Wang said.

His trip to China has rekindled some old memories. On Monday, he visited the Beijing sports academy where his parents trained -- his father, Robert, was a high jumper, and his mother, Nancy, ran the 100-meter hurdles -- and where he himself worked out during a two-month family visit 10 years ago, a time when he said he first realized his athletic potential.

"That's really where I started to pick up being good at sports, so it all really started there. So a lot of me thanks them for that," Wang said.

Wang's rise to professional success has drawn frequent comparisons to Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, although Yao was born and raised in China.

The 6-foot-5, 314-pound Wang said he was flattered by the comparison.

"Hopefully I can live up to that and help expand football to China. That's what I'm aiming for," he said. Chinese-American athletes would continue to push into new areas, Wang said, citing the growing number of Asian players in high school football programs.

Building a market for football in China, however, still may take years.

The NFL opened an office in Beijing in 2007 and has been recruiting media partners to broadcast games both on television and live streaming on websites, including QQ and Sina.com.

"There is no real basis or history of football in China so we rely a lot on the media to educate people about the game," said Stephanie Hsiao, the NFL's China marketing manager.

As for staging an NFL exhibition game in China, Hsiao said that was a goal, but no date had been set.

At least four current or former NFL players boast partial Chinese ancestry, including New England Patriots second-year safety Patrick Chung.


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press