From the time he began playing sports as a young boy with neighborhood buddies, Pat Chun stood out as the only Asian American on the block. It’s no different professionally for Chun, who has grown accustomed to being the only Asian American in the room since he started in athletics administration.
The pioneering athletic director at Washington State frequently deploys humor as a way to address that distinction. He may offer an amusing anecdote about growing up as the only son of Korean immigrants, with a father who taught taekwondo — “talk about stereotypical,” Chun said, chuckling — and a mother who worked as a grocery-store clerk.
Or he may elicit laughter by mentioning some of the travails linked to a career in which Asian Americans have been underrepresented to such a degree that, through 15 years as an understudy at Ohio State, his alma mater, he had no one of his or any other Asian ethnicity to count as a mentor.
“Let me put it this way,” said Chun, 43, who arrived at Washington State in February following 51/ years as Florida Atlantic’s
2 athletic director. “It’s not lost on me the significance of being the first Asian American athletic director at a Power Five.”
Like many Asian American children of his generation, Chun’s parents pushed him to be a doctor or a lawyer. But Chun knew neither of those occupations was for him after taking a liking to sports as a child in the Cleveland suburbs.
Athletics served as a vehicle for Chun to assimilate. His friends were white, and Chun shared a love of sports with them. They collected and traded baseball cards and gathered to watch football games on television. His closest friends remain those with
he played football in junior high and high school.
Still, his peers occasionally reminded Chun that he wasn’t exactly the same. He hasn’t forgotten the slanty-eye gestures or teasing in a mocking Asian accent.
“The joking comments that were made to you growing up would not be tolerated today,” he said.
Even as Chun immersed himself in sports, his mother, a classically trained pianist, was far more concerned with him practicing the violin. Eventually, she relented, allowing Chun to drop violin lessons in the sixth grade to concentrate more on sports. All the while, she remained skeptical about his career choice, even as he began moving up as an administrator at Ohio State.
“You’d have to be an Asian American to understand this,” said Chun, whose parents divorced when he was in the eighth grade. “Like a lot of Asian parents, they put this crazy emphasis on college and dreams of Ivy League schools and things like that.”
When Chun and his wife, Natalie, a former Buckeyes softball player, were discussing starting a family, his mother didn’t hesitate to offer more advice.
“This is 2002, 2003, and I’m already well into my athletic career, and we were talking about having a baby, and my mom pulls me aside and says, ‘ Hey, if you guys are going to have kids, you really need to start thinking about getting a real job,’ ” Chun said, laughing. “At that point, you know you’re not going to win that debate with your mom. It’s like: ‘Mom, just trust me. I’m on a great path here.’ ”
‘A modern success story’
When the news of his hiring at Washington State became public, Chun began receiving emails from Asian American administrators and coaches from other schools congratulating him.
Much of that correspondence came from well-wishers he had yet to meet in person. Still, Chun indicated, he couldn’t help but feel an unspoken kinship given his position of prominence within the small community of Asian Americans involved in college athletics.
“Pat, like a lot of successful people, he’s so focused on doing what he needs to do that I think he sometimes maybe isn’t as proud of that as he needs to be,” Washington State President Kirk Schulz said. “Pat’s a little bit humble that way. He’s just a modern success story.”
Chun gained a reputation as a skilled fundraiser at Ohio State, having overseen record contributions to the Buckeyes’ athletic department that included $42 million in 2012 and $41 million the previous year. A “relationship builder” was how former Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger, who gave Chun his first job as an intern, described his protege.
He became athletic director at Florida Atlantic in 2012, and three years later, the school announced the largest single gift in its history: $16 million. With Washington State’s athletic department facing a budget deficit of $67 million, according to a recently released internal audit, Schulz made it his priority hiring a candiwhom date with a deft fundraising touch.
As an added benefit, Chun had hired Lane Kiffin to be FAU’s football coach in December 2016. Chun’s experience dealing with the occasionally controversial Kiffin reassured Schulz and other Washington State officials that he could forge a fruitful working relationship with the Cougars’ colorful football coach, Mike Leach.
Chun flew to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport for an initial off-campus interview in January, volunteering to be the first of eight candidates to meet with the search committee. Six of the semifinalists, according to Schulz, were sitting athletic directors. The other was a top deputy Schulz said would be one in the near future.
“When you start getting more involved, then it hits you: ‘Wow, no one really looks like you,’ ” Chun said. “You never really quantify these things until you start competing for jobs and you’re trying to get to different levels of your career. It’s like, ‘Wow.’ It does hit you.”
The conversation with Chun left such a positive impression, Schulz recalled, that one member of the search committee, minutes after Chun left the room, said with the utmost sincerity, “I think we’re done.”
‘It means a little bit more’
Chun was to be introduced at Washington State on Jan. 17, but university officials pushed the ceremony back a week because of a tragedy that had left the campus reeling. The day before Chun’s originally scheduled news conference, Tyler Hilinski, a redshirt sophomore quarterback on track to start for the Cougars this season, committed suicide in his Pullman apartment.
The sensitivity with which Chun navigated those tragic circumstances endeared him to the football program, the athletic department and the Washington State community, colleagues said.
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Baseball Pitchers and Catchers have reported to Spring training and are back in action! MLB teams are reporting to sunny Florida and Arizona in preparation for the 2018 season. Moe Berg spent 15 years in major-league ball with most of them as a catcher.
In 1926 White Sox owner Charles Comiskey granted Berg’s request to miss spring training so he could finish the semester at Columbia law School. However, in February of 1927, Moe contacted Charles Comiskey to request permission to report late for spring training again. Comiskey wrote back ”My Dear Young Man, The time has come when you must decide as to the profession you intend following. If it is baseball, then it is most essential and important to the club and yourself that you report for spring training. Whether or not you decide to play baseball, the Chicago Club must continue, so you may rest assured that whatever action you take will make no difference to us.” Berg wrote back, unconvinced, and Comiskey’s next letter read, “should you decide that you would report for spring training, I might tender you a contract with an increase over the contract which you now have in your possession.” Berg did want to play baseball, so he got a leave of absence from the law school dean for the remainder of the academic year. As a result of reporting late, he spent the first three months of 1927 on the bench and that was when Manager Ray Schalk yelled, “Get me another catcher, quick.” Berg told the manager that the team already had another catcher – referring to Earl Sheely, but Schalk misunderstood and thought Berg was volunteering so put him in as catcher. Moe did eventually complete his law studies at Columbia (his father wanted him to be a lawyer) and received his degree in 1930.
Award-winning filmmaker Aviva Kempner wants to know: where is Moe Berg’s final resting place? As part of researching her new documentary about Berg, Kempner is currently in Israel trying to solve this final mystery of the man most remembered as the catcher who was a spy.
A Jewish baseball player, Berg caught and coached for five major league teams from the 1920s up until the 1940s during baseball’s Golden Age. But Berg also worked as a spy in Europe, Latin America and Japan for the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. Today he is considered a hero, especially to American Jews.
But Berg’s final resting place has become as mysterious as his double life. After his death in 1972, the urn with Berg’s ashes was interred in the family plot in a Jewish cemetery in Newark, New Jersey. His name was engraved on the stone tombstone. However, at some point his sister Ethel apparently had the urn dug up and took it to Israel in 1974.
One story has Ethel burying her brother’s ashes in a location on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus, in a grove of trees near Hebrew University. It could even be a location near where now students take breaks between classes. Other reports have his ashes spread over Mount Scopus, and another scenario is that Ethel herself buried the urn with Berg’s ashes somewhere outside Jerusalem. It is believed that a rabbi from an US/Israeli charity she had given money to guided Ethel, but who this rabbi was and the exact location of the burial are unknown.
In yet another version of the mystery, after Ethel’s death in 1987, their eldest brother Sam discovered that his brother’s remains had been moved from New Jersey. He contacted the unknown rabbi and pleaded with him to find the remains.
Years have passed. Still, the remaining mystery of Moe Berg’s life is that no one knows his final resting place. In his biography of Berg, The Catcher Was a Spy, author Nicholas Dawidoff wrote that “the final mystery of Moe Berg’s inscrutable life is that nobody knows where he is.”