SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame football coach Marcus Freeman won’t stick to sports.
When asked Wednesday afternoon about the alarming rise in violence against Asian Americans, especially Asian American women, the biracial son of a black military father and a Korean-born mother spoke from the bottom of his heart. said.
“For me, that could be my mom,” Freeman said during a 45-minute conversation on heritage sponsored by the University’s Liu Institute of Asian and Asian Studies. “That’s what I thought. A woman in the Asian community was attacked…how is it different from my mom?”
Chong Freeman moved to Ohio in 1976 after marrying Freeman’s father, Michael. She raised her two sons with respect for their two cultures and would cook two dinners most nights to make sure Korean food was part of their upbringing.
When violence appears to target Asian women, whether it’s the Atlanta Springs shooting in March 2021 or the recent events in New York and New Mexico, the Freeman family takes notice.
“I think about it a lot and talk to my mom about it,” Freeman told host Tallinn Chun, assistant professor of film, television and theater at Notre Dame. “She rarely talks about it, but I know it’s something she’s concerned about, and so am I.”
Freeman, who raises six multicultural children (four boys and two girls) with his wife, Joanna, said it was a good idea for his young family to see their “melting pot” race as normal. important. Freeman said that whenever her grandmother “Harmony” visited, she would enjoy her traditional Korean “kimchi” on the table.
Whether it’s his children or his footballing family, Freeman believes in free speech. When Chun asked if athletes had a “moral obligation” to use their platforms and speak out against violence, Freeman nodded.
“I think they have a chance,” he said. “If they think it’s morally important to them, then they should use it. … We all have a platform. If you just keep silent, you have to be comfortable with what’s going on, and I’m not just in Talk about attacks on Asians.”
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Freeman joins former Hawaii coach Norm Chow (2012-15) as the only Asian-American head coach at the FBS level, bringing back issues of legacy and identity in discussions with more than 100 attendees.
He said he grew up attending religious services at his parents’ respective churches, noting that meals afterward were generally better eaten in Korean churches.
Freeman recalled that “most of the time” marked his race as black/African American on standardized tests, but said he didn’t know why. In general, Freeman said, he has “always accepted” mixed race while maintaining “the utmost pride” in his black and Korean background.
Freeman said one of the first things he did after being hired as Notre Dame defensive coordinator in January 2021 was to reach out to All-American safety Kyle Hamilton, who shares the same parental dynamics in terms of race.
“I called him and said, ‘Bro! We’re going to eat at a Korean restaurant,'” Freeman said.
While Hamilton is likely to be a first-round pick in Thursday’s NFL draft, Freeman noted that his current roster includes two Asian-Americans at quarterback Tyler Buchner, whose mother is Chinese-American, and linebackers Jordan Botelho, whose mother is Korean-American.
“I hope they don’t just see me as an African-American head coach,” Freeman said. “(I hope) they see me as an Asian American head coach and accept that. Everyone can see the African American side of you. But when you have an Asian American connection, that’s unique. Yes. I embrace it, I love it.”
Freeman, who grew up on the outskirts of Dayton, Ohio, said he admired Asian-American sports figures such as former Georgia and Pittsburgh Steelers star Hines Ward, who was raised by a Korean mother. And golf champion Tiger Woods, whose mother is from Thailand.
“Korean society is not that big,” Freeman said. “They’re very close. When someone in Korean society is successful as an athlete, they all embrace it. My mom is a big Hines Ward fan.”
Benny Meng is a world-renowned martial arts master with a studio in Richmond, Indiana, who taught him in Freeman’s kickboxing classes from ages 4 to 12. The future Ohio State linebacker also looks up to Meng.
It was Chong Freeman who insisted her sons learn taekwondo. However, Marcus Freeman said his wife has so far rejected the idea of their children, who have mostly focused on football, wrestling and gymnastics.
“My mom didn’t know much about (sports),” Freeman said. “She doesn’t know what football is. She does know kickboxing, but she’s always supported us. That’s all she cares about, ‘Hey, how are you? How are you doing?'”
While the father, who served in the Air Force for 26 years, was “very harsh” with his football-playing son, Freeman recalled his mother’s tenderness, even after a disappointing performance in Ohio State’s spring.
“I was looking at my phone after the game and my dad was laughing at me: ‘Ah, you didn’t play well enough, you didn’t do that,'” Freeman said with a laugh. “And my mom was just, ‘Honey, I’m glad you didn’t get hurt. You did a great job. Those experiences are who I am now.'”
When he married in 2010, Freeman said it was “very important” to him that his mother wore a traditional Korean dress called a hanbok.
“I wanted her to feel like it was part of her Korean wedding,” Freeman said.
He has yet to visit South Korea, but recalls a 2017 visit by his aunt and several Korean cousins. The following year, when Zhuang Freeman returned to Korea, Freeman sent his eldest son Vinny along with his uncle Michael.
“As a coach, I didn’t have a chance to go,” Freeman said. “I just don’t have time.”
Thanks to modern technology, even with a 13-hour time difference, the video call helped fill the Cincinnati defensive coordinator vacancy.
“It was an incredible experience for (Vinny),” Freeman said. “If I can’t go, I want my son, one of my oldest, to experience it. It’s been really fulfilling for me. I know she wants to go back again. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to go at some point. .”
Staff writer Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune and NDInsider.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.