Biracial Korean Adoptee Inducted Into AFL Hall of Fame

Pictured above: Australian footballer and Korean adoptee Peter Bell being carried by his fellow teammates. (Photo courtesy of Megan Lewis/Freemantle Dockers)



Australian footballer Peter Bell was inducted into the Australian Football League (AFL) Hall of Fame in Melbourne on June 4, marking him the first player of Korean descent to join the small, elite group.

“I thought it was an error or [that] one of my mates was playing a practical joke on me,” the 39-year-old Bell told The Sydney Morning Herald, of his induction. Yet Bell’s tale of perseverance and dedication to a sport akin in popularity to American football in the U.S. is nothing to joke about.

Born in Jeju Island to a Korean mother and American serviceman father, Bell was adopted at age 3 by an Australian couple and raised in Western Australia. He played in 286 games and scored 250 goals—securing All Australian selection twice—before he retired from the sport in 2008 after a remarkable 14-year career with both the Fremantle Dockers and North Melbourne Kangaroos.

At roughly 5’7”, Bell’s shorter stature might have led scouts to doubt his ability to excel in a highly physical contact sport that relies on speed and tackling to kick an oval-shaped ball between two tall goal posts as many times as possible in four 20-minute quarters.

Yet Bell defied those presumptions, and two broken legs in his youth, to convince coaches to include him on school squads during his teenage years. When it came time for Bell to be considered for the AFL draft—similar to the NFL draft in the U.S.—he deferred eligibility by a year in hopes of joining the AFL’s Fremantle Dockers—a club based in his home region of Western Australia.

While playing for South Fremantle in the Western Australia Football League that year, Bell proceeded to win the “best and fairest award,” or the equivalent to an MVP award, and was drafted by the Dockers in 1995. However, his rookie year in the professional leagues did not go well, and he was delisted from the team by the end of the year.

Bell would turn a disappointing setback into triumph. Six months after being recruited by AFL’s North Melbourne Kangaroos, he helped the team win the premiership, or “Grand Final,” against the Sydney Swans in 1996; the Kangaroos would repeat that victory three years later against the Carlton Blues. Bell ended his stint with the Kangaroos in 2000 after receiving the club’s Syd Barker Medal, the team’s highest honor.

In spite of his resounding success with the Kangaroos, Bell later told Australia’s Herald Sun he felt there was “unfinished business” with the Dockers, and that it was almost a “compulsion” to return to the team of his home region. Indeed, he mounted a comeback, proceeding to win the Dockers’ top honor—the Doig Medal—three times; he also served as team captain from 2002 to 2006. Under Bell’s leadership, the Dockers reached the AFL playoffs for the first time in their history. In addition to his on-field duties, Bell served as president of the AFL Players Association from 2003 to 2007.

The half-Korean adoptee, who is well-known among millions of AFL fans, is presently a radio announcer on a commercial news talk radio station in Perth. Now that he can add Hall of Famer to his long list of achievements, Bell said in a short video on AFL’s official website, “It is a unique story, my story, the fact that … I could be born in a country like Korea and then wind up making a profession, making a career in Australia playing a uniquely indigenous game.”

Bell added: “That was a real driving force—this opportunity that allowed me to end up playing Australian Rules Football for close to 15 years professionally, and many more years before and after that. That was a great motivating force throughout my career. I really wanted to make the most of it.”


This article was published in the June/July 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the June/July issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).

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