Hines Ward's crusade proof of global reach
The Super Bowl MVP is learning more about his South Korean heritage.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Hines Ward is proof an American sports star can make a difference, even if the change he is helping cause is occurring half a world away.
Ward, the four-time Pro Bowl receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was planning a quiet trip to South Korea last spring with his mother, Kim Young-hee, to visit the homeland he left as an infant.
Ward, the son of a black American solider and a Korean mother, moved to the United States at age 1 and had never returned to Korea. Last fall, he and his mother began planning a trip so Ward could learn more about his heritage and homeland and see where he was born.
"It was something that was needed throughout my life," said Ward. "I've accomplished everything I've wanted in my life and that was one of my last goals, to learn more about my heritage and what my mom is about. I didn't know much about the Korean side of her and that's a part of what I am today."
When Ward won the Super Bowl MVP, his trip suddenly became a major news story in South Korea. NFL football is not a big draw there, but Ward learned he had quickly become a celebrity in his mother's nation.
While researching the trip, Ward was surprised and saddened to learn that those of biracial descent such as himself are stigmatized in South Korea -- they are known as "twigi" -- because they are not of pure Korean blood. If Ward had stayed in South Korea, for example, he couldn't have joined the military because it accepts only Koreans of pure blood.
Ward then decided to use his celebrity status to appeal to South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and other government officials to enact laws and change the public mindset so the estimated 35,000 biracial children there would be more accepted.
While in South Korea, Ward was introduced to a biracial soccer player who, despite his skill, was repeatedly shunned by his teammates and didn't get the proper playing time from his coaches.
"I did experience the dark side of my culture, being that I lived the life those kids are going through," he said. "So if you can accept me, you can surely accept those kids who live in Korea."
Even Ward had no idea his words could have such impact.
His message was so widely publicized and attracted so much media attention he returned about a month later to establish the Hines Ward Helping Hand Foundation to aid biracial children not only in South Korea, but in the United States. The foundation will work with the long-established Pearl S. Buck International organization, which helps promote opportunities for youngsters worldwide.
In honor of his mother, who still works in a school cafeteria in Forest Park, Ga., Ward pledged $1 million to the cause -- a large sum even by pro athlete standards.
"I didn't go over there to be the next Martin Luther King," he said. "I went over there to learn more about my heritage. As far as laws changing, they're working on it. It doesn't happen overnight, of course, but they're trying to help against the injustice against biracial kids."
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