Rams rookie safety Taylor Rapp wants to 'show that Asians can play'

Rams rookie Taylor Rapp (7) poses with his mom, Chiyan, hid dad, Chris, and brother, Austin, following Washington's win in the Pac-12 championship game last season. Courtesy of Taylor Rapp

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Standing next to his veteran Los Angeles Rams teammates, Taylor Rapp blends right in.

The rookie safety's No. 24 jersey fits snug across his broad shoulders. Listed at 208 pounds, Rapp fills out every bit of his 6-foot frame.

But a look at his leg reveals a distinguishing mark.

Tattooed on Rapp's right calf is a large mural of two young boys, walking hand-in-hand, along a path through Husky Stadium at the University of Washington and toward the Space Needle in Seattle. Mount Rainier serves as a backdrop.

In the center of the scene is a large Chinese character that translates to "little brother."

There, visible for all to see, is Rapp's life: a Chinese American who looked up to his older brother, earned a scholarship to play football at Washington, and in turn became a role model for young Asian Americans across the Seattle region.

If Rapp makes the impact he intends to for the defending NFC champions, there could be plenty of ink to add.

"I'm trying to change the narrative," Rapp said. "Show that Asians can play and try to inspire young kids."

It wasn't too long ago that Rapp, 21, would do all that he could to try to conceal his Chinese heritage, rather than put it on full display. "I remember being kind of ashamed of it because I didn't necessarily look like everyone else, especially in grade school," Rapp said.

The Rams selected Rapp with a second-round pick in April after he played three standout seasons at Washington. With the selection, Rapp became the newest member of a small group of Asian Americans, and an even smaller number of Chinese Americans, to be drafted into the NFL. Among them are Hines Ward, Patrick Chung, Ed Wang and Thomas Duarte.

"It's not really so much about making history," Rapp said. "I just kind of want to be an inspiration to the kids that were in my position growing up who didn't necessarily have someone to look up to in major sports, in football."

Rapp's mother, Chiyan, is Chinese, born and raised in Shanghai. His father, Chris, is American, born in Oklahoma but raised in Canada. His parents met in China, where Chris worked in a steel mill and Chiyan was a translator. They made their home in the United States.

Rapp grew up in Bellingham, a small town in Washington state, about 25 miles south of the Canadian border. It's a quiet area, known for its safety and sense of community, and close proximity to Seattle and Vancouver.

Like many young kids and teenagers, Rapp and his older brother, Austin -- who has a tattoo of a Chinese character that translates to "older brother" -- wanted to fit in with their friends and classmates. That meant, in a predominantly Caucasian area, concealing their Chinese background as best they could.

"Being a kid, you obviously went through middle school, and middle school kids are terrible, and obviously you go for the low-hanging fruit jokes," Austin said.

Chris and Chiyan put their boys in sports, mostly baseball and football. They had little idea that outside of their family home, where traditional Chinese holidays were celebrated and dumplings were a favorite, that their sons felt challenged to fit in.

"We were just trying to get them involved," Chiyan said. "Keep them busy and they were both very competitive, so we wanted to help their leadership and talent grow."

Both excelled at football. Austin walked on at Washington State, and Rapp began to attract attention from major colleges, though not without an initial struggle.

"It was hard to get recruited. I felt like I didn't look like a typical football player to college coaches," Rapp said. "You don't see a lot of football players who are Asian."

Rapp earned a scholarship to play at Washington. Chiyan said it was there in Seattle, a city with a large Asian American population, where Rapp outwardly embraced his Chinese heritage.

"He had a lot of fans, and he said even a couple times his first year there were little Asian kids who used to walk up, even their parents, who were so excited for Taylor," Chiyan said. "They never really had someone for their kids to look up to and so from that point, I guess more, Taylor kind of realized it."

Recently, Rapp and Austin returned to downtown Bellingham when Austin noticed that Rapp was being approached by strangers and acquaintances to thank him for responding to their messages.

Unbeknownst to his family until that day, Rapp has been responding to direct messages on social media from young people who aspire to follow in his footsteps or simply find inspiration from his story.

"I was like, 'Dude, you respond to everyone?'" Austin said.

Rapp responded: "I do."

With the Rams, Rapp has the opportunity to excel for a team poised to make a deep playoff run, if not a return trip to the Super Bowl. Finding a full-time role in a position group that includes veteran Eric Weddle and rising star John Johnson III could be a challenge.

But Rapp's versatility -- he has shown an ability to play in coverage, around the linebackers and at the line of scrimmage -- could earn him early playing time.

"He's talented," Weddle said. "He's a guy that the more opportunities he gets, when pads came on he turned into a different player in a good way, he's just -- he's a gamer."

But for Rapp, it's not just about proving what he can do for the Rams. He's intent on proving what is possible for anyone who thinks they might not fit the mold.

"I just want to be able to show that not only Asian Americans or Chinese people can play professional sports at the next level, but anyone who looks like anything or anyone of any nationality," Rapp said. "Doesn't matter what you look like."