Symposium focuses on role of sports in AAPI community

May 26th, 2023

NEW YORK -- Kelsie Whitmore is on the rise. On May 1 last year, as a member of the Staten Island FerryHawks, she made history when she became the first woman to start in an Atlantic League game. She played left field that day and went 0-for-2.

But making history on the diamond isn’t Whitmore's proudest moment. Being a role model for women on a daily basis is what quenches her thirst.

“I never had a female that I was able to look up to growing up,” said the 24-year-old Whitmore. “I’m proud to be able to represent younger women and to hopefully inspire and motivate them.”

Whitmore shared this story with at On the Rise: The 2023 Asian American and Pacific Islander Sports and Culture Symposium, which was held on Wednesday at the NBA's New York office. It marked the sixth year of the symposium, an event jointly run by Asian employee resource groups at MLB, the NBA, the NFL and, for the first time, the NHL.

The symposium celebrated Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with a mission to recognize the AAPI community within the sports world, while exploring the importance of sports and how they create belonging in the AAPI community.

Approximately 150 people attended the event, while many more watched on Zoom. It was hosted by author Min Jin Lee and the panelists included Whitmore, WNBA player Kianna Smith, NFL official Lo Van Pham and Donny Khan, the NHL's senior director of hockey development and strategic collaboration.

The NHL's Donny Khan, author Min Jin Lee, baseball player Kelsie Whitmore, NFL official Lo Van Pham, WNBA player Kianna Smith and brain coach/author Jim Kwik. (Mary DeCicco/MLB)

Before the symposium started, Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai started things off by talking about his history in sports since moving from Taiwan to the United States at the age of 13. Two uncles -- one living in Texas and the other living in New Jersey -- helped Tsai become a Cowboys and Mets fan, respectively. Tsai loved the Roger Staubach era and was a big fan of former Mets outfielder Lee Mazzilli and his famous basket catch.

Tsai was playing football for Lawrenceville School in New Jersey starting at the age of 14. Then he tried out for the baseball team, but was cut. It was his first failure, he said. Not playing for the baseball team prompted Tsai to play lacrosse, a sport he supports at all levels to this day. He attended law school at Yale and played pickup basketball at the Payne Whitney Gymnasium.

“The true moral of this story is, I think sports is a part of my experience that taught me to pursue my dream,” Tsai said. “If you think about it, if you play sports, every season there is a dream, the dream of beating a rival, the dream of winning a championship, the dream of scoring that last-minute buzzer beater. Those are the dreams that every kid can live through.

“... I don’t think you can realize your dream in the classroom. In the classroom, it’s like if you received a B- for the whole year and then you take the final exam, it’s not like you can ace it and it gets you back to an A+.

“In sports, it’s very different. You can be the eighth seed and still be in contention for a championship. So the dream stays alive. You have to be good enough during the regular season to get into the playoffs. But once you are in the playoffs, you can pursue your dreams.”

Each member of the panel was asked to name their hero and how he or she influenced them in sports. All four credited their parents, but Whitmore went a step further and picked Jackie Robinson, who was the first African American to break the color barrier and play in the Major Leagues, and whose talent made him one of the best to play the game.

“My goal is to help motivate and inspire other people within the game and with the things they have a passion for,” said baseball player Kelsie Whitmore. (Mary DeCicco/MLB)

“Being a female playing baseball, I feel alone a lot of the time,” Whitmore said. “So being able to look up to him, growing up trying to pursue the game that I love despite adversity was something to keep in mind, especially with him.”

Whitmore first learned about Robinson through word of mouth and then researched everything she could find about the impact he had on Major League Baseball.

“Hearing about the adversity he went through and to come out of it -- and it was the same sport and passion -- it’s really something I admire,” Whitmore said. “The biggest thing he accomplished was not giving up. It’s easy to give up. It’s easy to say I’m done. It’s hard to continue going when things are difficult.”

Whitmore is still with the FerryHawks as a pitcher and outfielder. Like anyone else, she has goals before this season comes to an end. It’s more than just putting up impressive stats.

“My goal is to help motivate and inspire other people within the game and with the things they have a passion for,” she said. “I want to encourage my teammates as well as put up good numbers. I want to be the best I can on the field and off the field.”