Hav­ing a ball

Sea­hawks star stoked by China visit as QB en­joys fun with fans

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By SUN XIAOCHEN sunx­i­aochen@chi­nadaily.com.cn

NFL quar­ter­back Wil­son leads a fun run on the Great Wall

Rus­sell Wil­son re­al­ized his life­long am­bi­tion of run­ning on the Great Wall this week, but what started as a stan­dard pro­mo­tional event ended up ex­ceed­ing the NFL player’s wildest dreams.

Like many vis­it­ing sports stars in China, the Seat­tle Sea­hawks quar­ter­back took a trip to the his­toric land­mark on Tues­day for a photo op­por­tu­nity, but around 200 fans and passers-by ended up spon­ta­neously tag­ging along for the fun to leave Wil­son awestruck.

“I al­ways dreamed of be­ing on top of the Great Wall in China. I have a big imag­i­na­tion but I never thought it could hap­pen like this. It was way bet­ter,” said Wil­son, who is on a week­long visit to China, or­ga­nized by Nike and Alisports, to pro­mote Amer­i­can foot­ball.

“The coolest part of this is that it wasn’t staged. I just had a thought to run and soon ev­ery­body joined in. It was amaz­ing.”

From his hum­ble be­gin­nings as the 75 th over­all pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Wil­son has be­come one of the league’s pre­mier play­mak­ers, ty­ing Pey­ton Man­ning’s record for the most pass­ing touch­downs (26) by a rookie and lead­ing the Sea­hawks to their first Su­per Bowl vic­tory in 2013 in just his sec­ond sea­son.

His Chi­nese visit has con­vinced him that the sport has a bright fu­ture here.

The coolest part of this is that it wasn’t staged. I had just a thought to run and soon ev­ery­body joined in. It was amaz­ing.” Rus­sell Wil­son

“I am grate­ful to be at the fore­front of chang­ing foot­ball in China,” said the 28-yearold. “My goal is to have Amer­i­can foot­ball af­fect the ‘ big ball’ that is China, and even the world, and help peo­ple em­brace a health­ier life­style.

“You can’t come here and never come back again. You have to keep en­gag­ing these kids and stay emo­tion­ally con­nected with them.”

Wil­son kicked off his trip by host­ing a youth-train­ing clinic on Mon­day, shar­ing tips with kids and tak­ing part in a game be­tween two lo­cal ama- teur clubs in Shang­hai.

Be­fore ar­riv­ing in China, the three-time Pro Bowl pick opened a so­cial-networking web­site, traceme.com, to share his ex­pe­ri­ences on and off the field by reg­u­larly post­ing pho­tos and videos.

“That al­lows me to con­tin­u­ously keep in touch with the kids here,” Wil­son said of the site.

Thanks to the ef­forts of NFL China, Amer­i­can foot­ball has been steadily boost­ing his grass­roots base in the world’s most pop­u­lous na­tion.

The China Univer­sity Bowl, a tour­na­ment for the less­phys­i­cal “flag” ver­sion of the game, has grown from 20 teams from when it was first staged in 2009 to 60 by 2016, while over 50 am­a­teur clubs have been play­ing in grass­roots com­pe­ti­tions, such as the 16-squad Amer­i­can Foot­ball League of China.

In terms of view­ers, around 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple tuned in on a weekly ba­sis to watch live games in the 201617 NFL sea­son, on 15 dif­fer­ent me­dia plat­forms. Wil­son, though, is aware that the per­cep­tion of the game as the pre­serve of big men still ham­pers the sport’s de­vel­op­ment in China.

At 5-foot-9, how­ever, he is proof that size doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mat­ter.

“A lot of the Chi­nese kids are wor­ried that they are too small. I’ve been there be­fore grow­ing up in Rich­mond, Vir­ginia, be­ing told that I was too small. But here I am.

“When they see me play­ing next to them, they will be like ‘OK, he’s not big, too. If he’s an NFL quar­ter­back that has won the Su­per Bowl, maybe I can as well’.”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Su­per Bowl-win­ning quar­ter­back Rus­sell Wil­son of the Seat­tle Sea­hawks jogs on the Great Wall with a group of kids in tow on Tues­day. The 28-year-old is on a week­long visit to China to pro­mote Amer­i­can foot­ball.

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