When we think American sports in Japan, we think baseball. But Japanese also play football in college and pro leagues. Some of those players want to hit the big time, the National Football League. This week Tokyo held a scouting combine, an event where potential NFL players are evaluated, and drew a number of young men hoping to be the first Japanese player in the league.
“Ever since I started watching the NFL when I was in high school, I’ve dreamed of playing there one day,” Tomokazu Sueyoshi, who plays running back at Waseda University, told The Japan Times.
American football came to Japan in the 1930s, with an American professor. Japan’s professional league, which features teams sponsored by Japanese companies, started in 1971. Every year, the top Japanese teams face off in the Rice Bowl. And Japan finished third in the most recent World Cup of American Football, held in 2011.
There have been a few Japanese-Americans who’ve played in the NFL, notably Johnnie James Morton, a first-round draft pick whose mother is Japanese. Currently, Haruki Nakamura, whose father was Japanese, plays for the Baltimore Ravens. But no player from Japan appears to have played in the NFL.
In contrast, Japanese baseball has produced a number of players who now play Major League Baseball.
One might think that ex-Sumo wrestlers could be good candidates for linemen, but one of the scouts at the combine said that kicker was the easiest position for a non-American to fill, because it requires the least understanding of the game and the least training. Running back and wide receiver are also possibilities, because those rely more on natural athletic talent.
Last year, three players from Japan made it as far as the top U.S. combine. Maybe one day a Japanese player will have U.S. fans yelling “tatchidaun!”