Winning the Super
Bowl and the game's MVP award should have been the crowning achievements of his
career, successes that would allow him to forgive and forget any perceived
slights by coaches or the organization. And while it would seem that the
hard-nosed Ward would be the ideal Bill Cowher guy--tough, physical,
intense--the wideout says he's never had a warm relationship with him. "I
don't have anything to say to him," he says. "After what he did to me,
after how he treated me, no. The numbers I put up? The seasons I had, for them
to keep on bringing in guys...?"
having anything but respect for Ward. "Our decision to draft other wide
receivers was not a reflection on Hines Ward," he says. "We had lost a
couple of our top veterans, and we were just trying to strengthen that
It is a rite of
passage for Asian-Americans to visit their ancestral homes. These pilgrimages
can be cathartic or, in some cases, leave the returnees confused because they
are unable to make a spiritual connection with a place that has loomed so large
in their minds for so long. They can come back to the U.S. with the
disconcerting sense of not fitting in with either culture.
For Ward, this
journey is even more complex. He did not go to Korea merely out of curiosity or
a sense of family obligation but to rid himself of all that hurt and anger--and
shame. And he arrives at the peak of his celebrity, as that nation's greatest
sporting figure, in the spotlight from the second he steps off the plane. He
meets with South Korean president Rho Moo Hyun, has honorary Korean citizenship
bestowed upon him by the mayor of Seoul and travels in a motorcade that rivals
that of a visiting head of state. His Q rating here is off the charts, and he
knows he has a chance to have a great influence on this society. For just as
Ward is struggling to come to terms with his Korean heritage, so has Korea
never been willing to accept children of mixed race as anything like equal
members of society. Mixed-race children have been systematically discriminated
against in Korea since the Korean War, when American GIs began fathering
children with Korean women. Those children were considered reminders of that
dark time, which is part of the reason why mixed-race Koreans were not allowed
to serve in the Korean military from the 1960s until this year. The Hermit
Kingdom, as Korea is known, has never been particularly welcoming to
outsiders--the country remains 99.5% ethnically homogenous--perhaps because of
its brutal treatment at the hands of Chinese, Mongol and Japanese conquerors
over the centuries. "A lot of it goes back to that history," says Janet
Mintzer, president and CEO of Pearl S. Buck International, an organization
which works on behalf of mixed-race children in Korea. "In terms of being
invaded, it all resulted in this promotion of being pure-blooded." That
lingering resentment has meant that Amerasian children have been treated as
second-class citizens; as a result, they have dropout rates of 27% before high
school and a 45% unemployment rate as adults. Mixed-race kids regularly
complain that classmates, and even some teachers, bully and harass them.
treat these kids terrible," says Kim. "That's why, even when Hines's
daddy left me, I couldn't come back to Korea. I knew it would be easier for me,
but for Hines it would be terrible."
In the wake of
Ward's visit to their country, South Korean lawmakers are likely to pass
legislation to protect the rights of mixed-race Koreans, after having just
repealed the laws that had prevented mixed-race men from serving in the
military. "I really want to raise some awareness about this issue,"
says Ward, who plans to return in the next few weeks and set up a foundation
for mixed-race kids. "I'm not here to change laws. But I want to shed light
on [the treatment of] biracial kids, or maybe change a person's mind who is
borderline, make people look differently at a mixed-race kid because of what
they've seen me accomplish."
He walks in a slow
gait, hand in hand with his mother as they tour Changgyeonggung Palace in
Seoul. Kim wears rubber-soled brown loafers, faded jeans and a white sweater.
Her hair is cut short and piled up like the graying pompadour of an aging
rocker, a curling lock out of place over her gold wire-frame glasses. Her
stride is ambling, her back and rear moving in a circular motion. She is tiny.
Three of her could fit in her son.
Wherever they go,
they are surrounded by bands of yellow security tape held by eight security
guards. Inside the little patch of earth demarcated by the tape are Ward, his
mother, his two security managers and several Korean lawyers hired by Ward's
management team to coordinate the visit. Outside the tape are hundreds of
Korean schoolchildren, sightseers, photographers and reporters. Ward and his
mother are picking their way over the courtyard stones, between red-lacquered
walls and beneath ornately painted tile roofs, and listening while a guide
explains how palaces were designed: "There are three gates for a king, and
five for an emperor, sometimes even seven."
"And how many
does Hines get?" someone shouts.
answers one of the lawyers.