Having a ball
Seahawks star stoked by China visit as QB enjoys fun with fans
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’.”
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.