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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Steelers' Hines Ward travels to mom's homeland, Korea


PITTSBURGH -- Growing up in suburban Atlanta, Hines Ward often felt he was a victim of double discrimination. Not only did some of his white classmates make fun of his biracial heritage, his South Korean mother felt ostracized by her homeland because she had a son with a black American soldier.

Since the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver won the Super Bowl MVP award last month, Ward has become a huge celebrity in Korea - cheered by those who know little about American football and once may have shunned him for being less than pureblooded.

To learn more about his heritage, Ward and his mother, Kim Young-hee, plan their first trip together to Korea next month - a country he knows little about and, until recently, knew little about him. Partly because of his recent accomplishments, Ward said Friday he hopes to find a land that may be more receptive to others of mixed blood than it might have been not long ago.

"I'm proud of my mom and proud of our Korean heritage," said Ward, whose name is tattooed in Korean on his right arm. "It's something I should have done a long time ago ... and it's going to be very emotional. And I hope they accept me for who I am."

The 29-year-old Ward, a four-time Pro Bowl receiver and the Steelers' career receiving leader, was born in Seoul but left with his mother and father at age 1 and settled in the United States, where Ward's mom hoped society would be more accepting of the multiracial family.

Ward's parents did not stay together long but, even after they split up, his mother remained in America to be with her son. Despite knowing no English before arriving, she worked as many as three jobs at a time - among them, at an airport, a convenience story and in a school cafeteria - to support her son and give him some of the things his wealthier classmates enjoyed.

At times, he felt embarrassed by their background, but he soon came to appreciate what his mother was doing for him. Now, Ward thinks some of the traits that made him into one of the NFL's top receivers, including a willingness to block with the passion of a lineman while playing a skill position, came from his mother's commitment to hard work.

Even after Ward began making millions in the NFL, his mother returned to her school cafeteria job in Forest Park, Ga., after quitting for a couple of months, saying she felt bored and depressed while not working.

"I want to see where she grew up. I want to see where I was born. I want to see where she played hooky and hung out ... I want to learn more about my heritage," said Ward, who has never returned to Korea since leaving as a toddler, though his mother has gone back 3-4 times. "I want to learn everything."
Ward and his mother planned the weeklong trip before the Super Bowl, where Ward made five catches for 123 yards and a touchdown in a 21-10 Steelers victory over Seattle. But what was supposed to be a "private" trip for Ward devoted to sightseeing, shopping, meeting relatives and eating Korean food has since become a media event.

Ward is expected to meet Korean dignitaries during a trip that begins April 1. He also wants to spend time with some of the children being helped by Pearl S. Buck International, an organization that aids biracial children in Korea.

"When I was there, it wasn't cool to be a mixed kid. There probably was some hatred there," Ward said. "Some of the kids are treated badly and, sadly, it happens, but it's not the kids' fault."

Ward is encouraged because his success has led to considerable media attention in Korea of how society treats those of multiracial backgrounds. A recent editorial in the JoongAng Daily, the country's largest newspaper with a circulation of more than 2 million, cited the praise being heaped on Ward and urged the end to the "embarrassing habit of discrimination against mixed-blood people."

The editorial concluded, "We should open our minds and hold their hands to raise the second and third Hines Ward in Korea."

Ward plans to help fund a scholarship in his mother's name for Korean-American children. He was chosen for a similar scholarship while attending the University of Georgia, even though he was also on an athletic scholarship.

"It's like my mother still tells me, `Always be humble, never forget where you came from,' " Ward said. "My story is kind of a perfect story, of how I was able to overcome all that. Maybe some other kids can use that as motivation."

NFL Labor Negotiations Resume, Deal Close - Wash Post

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 5, 2006; 12:24 PM

Labor negotiations between representatives of the NFL's team owners and the players' union resumed late this morning in New York amid renewed optimism that a settlement was within reach, a day after the talks had collapsed yet again.

A union official said just before 11:15 a.m. that the bargaining session was about to begin. Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the Players Association, and Richard Berthelsen, the union's general counsel, traveled back to New York from Washington this morning after leaving New York when talks broke down yesterday.

Upshaw said via e-mail early this morning that the parties were "now in the area where we will get a deal. I think it may be there. It comes down to a few final points."

Another participant in the talks said just before today's bargaining session began that any optimism should be tempered, however, because the sides had not yet resumed face-to-face negotiations and there still was plenty of work to be done. He said he was hopeful but less than certain that a settlement was imminent.

It seemed possible that the two sides could agree to a second postponement of the opening of the free-agent market, scheduled for midnight, if they made progress today but could not complete a deal.

Even if the parties emerge from today's negotiations with a tentative agreement, the owners and players would have to ratify the deal. It could be particularly difficult for NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to get a consensus among the owners. The labor deal would have to be ratified by at least 24 of the 32 teams.

If the labor deal is accompanied by an agreement among the owners for clubs to increase the degree to which they share locally generated revenues, it's possible that nine high-revenue teams would band together to block approval of the labor settlement. If the labor deal isn't accompanied by a revenue-sharing accord among the owners, it's possible that nine low-revenue clubs could block it.

Tagliabue had informed the owners they would meet Tuesday in Dallas if there's a labor agreement with the union up for ratification.

The players' executive board is scheduled to meet this week in Hawaii, and the union could put any settlement with owners up for the players' approval then.

The negotiations broke off yesterday with Upshaw saying the owners were unable to compromise, and he left New York and returned to Washington. But the owners were meeting via conference call when Upshaw departed, and league spokesman Greg Aiello said the owners expected negotiations to resume today.

The talks ended yesterday with the owners offering 56.6 percent of an expanded pool of league revenues to the players as compensation under a salary-cap system. Upshaw had dropped his demand that the players receive at least 60 percent, but he would not specify exactly what percentage his latest proposal called for.

Upshaw has maintained that any labor deal between the players and owners would have to be accompanied by an agreement among the owners to increase the degree to which the 32 NFL teams share locally generated revenues. Otherwise, Upshaw has said, lower-revenue clubs could not afford the salary commitment they would be making to the players. Owners have said they could complete a labor deal with the players without finishing a revenue-sharing agreement immediately.

The compromise might be a provision in the labor deal to limit the amount of money that teams can spend above the flexible salary cap. That would address the concerns of lower-revenue teams that the high-revenue clubs could gain a competitive advantage by using their wealth to consistently outspend the salary cap and get better players. The sides had been negotiating about such "cash over cap" before talks broke off yesterday.

The league's free-agent market is scheduled to open at midnight. Teams must be under next season's $94.5 million salary cap by then. If they must release players to get under the cap, they must do so by 6 p.m.

But Upshaw and Tagliabue, facing a similar deadline, agreed Thursday to push back those deadlines by 72 hours, and they could agree to another postponement today if more time is needed to complete the deal or an agreement must be ratified.

The current labor deal keeps the salary-cap system in place through the 2006 season, then there would be a season without a salary cap in 2007 before the deal expires. Tagliabue said Thursday, just after the owners had a 57-minute meeting in New York to officially reject a players' proposal, that the owners had proposed an extension that would run through the 2011 season.

A labor settlement would push next season's salary cap as high as $108 million per team and would alleviate the salary-cap crunches being experienced by many teams.

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