For Jeremy Lin, the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic began to hit him after he was forced to quarantine at his home in California for nearly 21 days. He started noticing how he would get dirty looks while in the grocery store, and heard stories from other Asian American friends about the discrimination they were also dealing with since the pandemic began. Many refused to go to the store, or to even wear face masks, out of fear of getting assaulted or attacked for their race.
The former NBA guard shared these stories while appearing in a virtual roundtable with Caron Butler, Vanita Gupta and Andrew Yang that aired on Tuesday night. Lin discussed how Asian Americans have been subjected to violent attacks and hate-speech online during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how important it is to step up and speak out against racism and violence.
“It hits home seeing just how many Asian Americans are affected by it,” Lin said in the roundtable. “For me, I felt like I had to come out and say something. To not feel welcome, or feel safe physically, is just a different level. That’s something that I really want to make sure I took a stance on.”
Lin was been vocal in the past about his experience as an Asian American, and how he had to persevere to get to the NBA. After attending Harvard University, he went undrafted in 2010 and worked his way through the NBA’s G-league, bouncing around to different NBA rosters. Last season he became the first Asian American to win an NBA-title with the Toronto Raptors.
However, Lin — who has since then signed with the Beijing Ducks — feels like a narrative has been “built up” about him and his story. He even second-guessed himself while writing a piece for the Players Tribune on widespread anti-Asian racism and the importance of uniting together during the pandemic.
“For me, one of the things I struggle with is people sometimes build me up based on my story to be a little bit more, clean-cut or perfect and I’m not that,” Lin admitted during the roundtable. “I went to Harvard. I’m a student athlete, whatever, but sometimes people draw extra comparisons, or they may add onto the aura of the story. So, in that situation, I was like the best thing I could do is be real and to admit my own shortcomings and hopefully if I could at least encourage other people to not make the same mistake, then I think that would be a successful use of my platform.
“So, I guess sometimes it’s not always about the pretty side of things, and I think that’s something I’ve come to understand more through failing as a basketball player, failing at a global level on a global stage where you could be a highlight that is tossed around on Instagram or social media, going through that has allowed me to be more comfortable with it.”
He feels like now more than ever, it’s important for people to look beyond their own daily lives and to educate themselves on what hospital workers and minorities are experiencing during the pandemic.
“For me, that would be my warning to everybody else is, don’t wait until it’s too late or it’s too real to actually get educated about it. I think, again, everything kind of comes down to taking a little bit of time to put yourself in someone else’ shoes…That’s why I think something that is really important is reading firsthand accounts of front line workers and things like that because it’s easy to disassociate yourself when you’re reading it through your screen…To actually spend, all it would take is 10 seconds, to at least try to put yourself in the position of somebody who is dealing with racism or legitimately contemplating whether to go to the grocery store to get food for themselves, or to not, because they’re afraid of getting attacked…
“These are all things that don’t really become real until you either put yourself in that person’s shoes or you experience it. One thing that I would really encourage people to do, too, is to find one small way to promote unity.”
He also encouraged younger people to refrain from hate speech online. After President Donald Trump referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus”, Lin called him out on Twitter for “encouraging racism.”
“I say this to young people and recently, don’t post a hateful comment or don’t be a troll,” he said. “Take a second to really think about what you’re saying or doing, or even if you know somebody who is acting ignorant, it’s okay for you to call them out. All these things are small steps in the right direction and we’re not asking someone to do something amazing or to start a campaign or donate a million dollars, you can just start with something small, reading an article or something and getting a little more educated.”
Lin has also been trying to help those in need, and his #BeTheLight campaign has raised almost $1 million to support Feeding America and Direct Relief, two organizations dedicated to feeding the hungry during the pandemic. While he understands not everyone is financially able to donate money to COVID-19 relief efforts, or start campaigns to help minority groups, Lin stressed the importance of voting and electing political leaders.
“For me, a lot of it is number one: it’s the right thing to do. You can’t guarantee you’re going to get any type of result or you’re going to see exactly what you want to see, when you want to see it. But it’s the right thing to do, that’s what you [and] everyone should be doing.
“When I think about how I want to make change as an athlete, I could sit here and try to coach everybody one by one, try to make somebody better, but if I could actually do something that would impact a generation of players, why would I not want to do that? So, policy and being able to vote, these are things that are effecting tens, hundreds of millions of people. These are ways that, if you’re upset about what you see in the micro and certain situations where you live in your specific neighborhood, you can try to battle it one case at a time, one person [or] situation at a time, or you could be a part of something that gets everybody to have their voices be heard.”
He also thinks it’s important that everyone take care of their mental health, and to find ways to support both themselves and others during this stressful time. For Lin, his relies on his faith to help him emotionally:
“I couldn’t give any professional advice on it, but it’s something that for me, my faith has always been really helpful to me and that’s something that I always go to every single day in terms of reading my Bible and praying. It helps to shape the way that I think about things, and other small things I think are applicable are finding ways to think about other people, to love other people, too. I tend to be really self-centered about my career, my goals, what I want to see happen.
“Sometimes spending time with other people or sending a quick message or calling someone else; it’s crazy because you’re calling someone to take care of them, when actually you end up feeling refreshed and feel included.”