LOS ANGELES — Over the last year, hundreds of professional athletes across the country have used their platforms to speak out against social injustice — from being a huge driving force for the Black Lives Matter movement, to more recently, standing up against the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.
To Los Angeles Rams safety Taylor Rapp, who is Chinese American, this recent rise in hate crimes and racism has hit particularly close to home.
"This issue is very dear to my heart with just my story and being Asian American," he said. "Seeing these videos pop up every single day, it hits home for me because I have grandparents — my mother's parents — who are in their 90s and could just as easily be the victims we see in the videos."
Watching these events unfold, specifically in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, has motivated the 23-year-old to take personal action. On Thursday night, Rapp launched an online auction, commissioning non-fungible tokens — known as NFTs — with the proceeds to be donated to the AAPI Community Fund.
NFTs are unique digital files stored on a blockchain network, as are cryptocurrencies. The files can also serve as a certificate of authenticity and are original creations. Rapp worked with local L.A. artists in the community to create the vision for this "Year of the Ox" collection, inspired by his background.
"We wanted to tie the whole collection to my story," Rapp said. "The one-of-one edition has my grandpa's brushstrokes and paintings for the Chinese ox graphic, which I actually have tattooed on my shoulder. Each NFT also has his Chinese ox character on it, so each piece has a unique touch to it that is very special to me."
"Having that theme and touch to it means a whole lot more, with that special significance to it," he added.
Rapp will release six digital collections and 90 total NFTs or digital images that will be auctioned on the OpenSea marketplace for crypto collectible items throughout the weekend.
Bidding began at 6 p.m. on Thursday and will run through 9 p.m. PT Sunday.
The winner of the 1-on-1 special edition NFT will also win a meet and greet with Rapp, two tickets to a game, a signed jersey, signed game-worn cleats, signed game-worn gloves, and a signed football.
Rapp said he is hopeful that the auction will raise funds to benefit the AAPI Community Fund and raise awareness around the racism that has grown out of the pandemic. The fund has already generated $5 million through GoFundMe to issue grants to AAPI organizations "working to rectify inequalities in our society."
"I hope everyone can check it out because I'm so excited to launch this thing," Rapp said. "Obviously, [it] has great significance behind it, not only in telling my story and having that Chinese heritage but also to raise money for the AAPI community and bring more awareness to what's going on so that we can move forward and go for some change."