A young defensive back with the Los Angeles Rams is the latest pro athlete launching a non-fungible token (NFT), hoping to use the sale to raise money, and awareness, to combat the wave of anti-Asian hate crimes this year.

Taylor Rapp, the free safety entering his third season in the National Football League, completely lacks the star power of a Rob Gronkowski or a Patrick Mahomes, marquee players who leveraged their splashy brands into multimillion-dollar NFT sales earlier this month. 

But the backfield starter, who said he’s been hustling with his co-creators for three weeks on their slapdash NFTs, told CoinDesk he hopes to make up the difference by focusing his sale on its anti-racist cause. He’s the only Chinese-American active in the NFL at a time when reports of hate crimes against Asians are surging.

“The whole reason behind making the collection was to raise money to donate to the AAPI community and, you know, my Asian community, because we’ve seen all the crazy horrific attacks every single day,” he told CoinDesk Tuesday, hours after New York City police began investigating the latest apparent anti-Asian assault in a year full of them.

Rapp hasn’t yet “locked in” what portion of the NFT sale he will donate to community organizations through GoFundMe’s $5 million #StopAsianHate campaign. But he said it will represent “a substantial amount” of the total.

The NFTs themselves, which do not feature team iconography and are not being released through a deal with the league, might shake the gargantuan NFL machine into addressing the attacks against Asians more forcefully, Rapp said. 

He noted league officials issued a statement condemning the attacks under the hashtag #StopAsianHate in late February, “just like all the other big corporations” that he said are finally waking up to a problem that began with COVID-19 nearly one year earlier after the reports of the disease originating in Wuhan, China.

“I really hope the NFL sees this and the important message that is behind it in why I’m actually doing it,” Rapp said. “Hopefully, the Rams will be able to see that as well.”

One of the Taylor Rapp NFTs
(Elena Provolovich)

NFTs for a cause

The NFTs lean heavily on Rapp’s Chinese identity. He’s calling them the “Year of the Ox” collection (a reference to this year’s Chinese zodiac sign) and said each carries a Chinese proverb his mother picked out as well as the Chinese character for “Ox” that he said his grandfather hand-painted. 

Digital artists Elena Provolovich, Ryan Darwent, and David Bircham collaborated with Rapp on designing his six NFTs, only one of which is 1-of-1. The other images run as high as 24 copies and the total supply is 90. Darwent told CoinDesk his contribution takes after photography, though others in the collection more closely resemble a museum piece.

Many also come paired with real-world memorabilia, Rapp said, a concession for the “boomers” who, like his father, don’t buy into intangible digital collectibles. For his part, Rapp thinks NFTs have staying power.

He said the auction begins Thursday night on NFT marketplace OpenSea.

Rapp is hopeful the NFT buzz can serve as a vehicle for spreading awareness of Asian athletes, especially in the NFL where aspiring players face an uphill battle due to their underrepresentation in the league, he said.

“Going through the ranks of high school and college and NFL, you begin to see fewer and fewer people who look like you,” Rapp said, noting he had no such “role model” in the NFL while growing up.

“For me, it’s all about representation and being able to be that figure for” young players, he said.

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