May 9, 2010 in Sports

Wang sets out to break barriers

NFL’s China market hinges on Bills OT
John Wawrow Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Buffalo’s Ed Wang, center, listens to assistant offensive line coach Bobby Johnson during minicamp Friday.
(Full-size photo)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Ed Wang wants to make it big in China. To do so, the Buffalo Bills rookie offensive tackle knows he first has to make his mark in the NFL.

At 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, Wang is already turning heads and upending stereotypes by becoming the first player with direct Chinese ancestry to be selected in the NFL draft last month.

The son of former athletes in the Chinese Olympic program was selected in the fifth round out of Virginia Tech, realizing a childhood dream instilled by his disciplinarian parents growing up in Virginia. They prepared him well for challenges that lie ahead.

Aside from making the Bills’ roster, he’s more than ready to become the flag-bearer for the NFL in its bid to bring American football to the lucrative market beyond.

“There’s no reason to beat around the bush and sidestep it,” Wang said, referring to the buzz he’s already generated in China, where he’s been told his Bills jerseys are already on back order. “People are talking about it. So you might as well answer the questions.”

The NFL certainly isn’t ignoring the topic, believing Wang has the potential to do for the league what Yao Ming did for the NBA last decade.

“Absolutely,” Michael Stokes, NFL China’s managing director, said in an e-mail. “Ed is a gifted athlete with tremendous potential and we look forward to seeing him play for the Buffalo Bills.”

Stokes said there have been 300 articles on Wang in the Chinese media since he was drafted.

Wang’s arrival comes at a timely juncture for the NFL’s Chinese outpost, which was established in 2007. Stokes said 28.3 million viewers watched the Super Bowl in February, while Sunday and Monday night games are also being broadcast regularly.

“We, along with our partners in China, are excited at the news,” Stokes said. “For many people here in China, there is the belief that Chinese people are not well-suited to play football because they lack the physical size and strength. Ed certainly disproves that theory.”

Wang gets his size from his parents. His father, Robert, a former high jumper, stands 6-foot-2. His mother, Nancy, a former Chinese national champion hurdler, is 5-11.

That’s not all he got from his parents, who emigrated from China in the 1980s. Wang is the product of a strict upbringing, during which he abided by numerous rules while buying into his parents’ belief that he would one day develop into an elite athlete.

It was no different an upbringing than what his parents encountered working their way through the Chinese Olympic program.

“We taught them that an athlete has to be disciplined,” Robert Wang explained, also referring to younger son David, an offensive lineman who completed his freshman season at Virginia Tech. “We told them, ‘An athlete has to put in a lot of extra effort. You’re different than normal people. You have a big future.’ ”

It wasn’t easy.

Ed Wang wasn’t allowed to have a girlfriend until he earned a scholarship. He couldn’t attend movies with his friends, or go over for sleepovers. And then there was waking up at 7 a.m. every Saturday to run sprints.

“I was mad as a child,” Wang said with a wide smile. “I was like, ‘Oh man, not this again.’ But every Saturday we did it. And I just got accustomed to it. That’s how life is.”

And he’s grateful for it.

“They really prepared me for everything, all the life challenges that I’ve been through,” he said. “They told me, life wasn’t easy. Nothing comes free. And I always took that with me. And it’s been a part of me ever since.”

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