The United States is exporting a former big-name football player to China: Ricky Williams.
The former Heisman Trophy winner, who rushed for 10,009 yards during his 11-year NFL career, is an assistant coach, helping Chinese university students who will compete in the nation's first-ever international tournament this May. Williams also is an assistant coach at a private university in Texas.
"My expectation," Williams told USA TODAY Sports' Tom Pelissero, "is when we're out there, we look like a football team."
The Chinese, as Williams points out, have a long way to go to learn the game.
"A lot of these kids grew up really being coddled and taken care of," Williams said.
"When they get little nicks, they think that the world's over. It was fun watching them over the week I was there (in December) kind of realize that it's not that bad and they can get back out there."Williams is joined by two-time Super Bowl winner Byron Chamberlain (tight end, Denver Broncos). The NFL is not associated with either the international tournament or the university teams.
Pelissero's piece does a fantastic job of detailing the difficulty for football pioneers in China -- hindrances ranging from cultural aversions to the one-child (family planning) policy, which discourages parents from letting their child play in contact sports.
The NFL isn't even a top 10 sport in popularity in China, but it's gaining traction due to flag football and increased availability to other football games. (How have we not yet forced Fantasy Football on the Chinese?)
My favorite line from Pelissero:
"The Chinese call it ganlanqiú, which translates to olive ball, since they associate the word "football" with soccer."
Olive ball. We couldn't even get lemon, or simply oblong. Nope. Olive.