Chris McLaurin was recruited by Lloyd Carr and played three seasons of Michigan football before shoulder injuries compelled him to sit out his senior year. He thought football would no longer be a part of his life. But opportunities and experiences led him around the world, eventually to China, and back to the game he loved.
Graduating from the honors program, McLaurin received a Fulbright scholarship and went to South Africa. He would go on to start a program in the country which mentors orphans and at-risk groups.
“Giving up college football was hard, but I had good mentors who helped me make the right decision,” said MacLaurin.
He went to England, working in Parliament and receiving a master’s degree from the London School of Economics. He also interned at Runnymede Trust, the UK’s leading independent race and ethnicity think tank. And also the White House.
Now, he is a Chinese American football champion.
McLaurin led the Chongqing Dockers to victory in 2013.
McLaurin’s road to the championship began with another scholarship, the Luce Program. He went to China to further his social policy experience, but when his government job stifled his opportunities to gain real experience, he went back to football.
“I moved to Chongqing and didn’t know anyone in the city, and didn’t speak good Chinese,” MacLaurin said of his beginnings in China. “My job told me there was a football team in Chongqing; I thought that was really weird and didn’t believe them.”
Upon visiting the Chongqing Dockers team, McLaurin agreed to play and coach for the amateur players. It takes time and money to play for the team, so the players are an interesting mix. They are colorful characters playing a foreign game. One of them is called “Fat Baby.”
MacLaurin with players from teams throughout China.
American football teams are spread throughout China; major urban centers like Shanghai boast three teams. It seems as if MaLaurin is never content however, and he became the commissioner of the American Football League of China, in addition to being player and coach.
“As a place for cultural exchange, American football is the best,” McLaurin said. “You have so much opportunity to learn about Chinese culture and language, and the Chinese guys get a glimpse into American culture.”
While football players are touted as super-heroes in America, China places an emphasis on individual sports. Football also doesn’t play into Chinese culture’s masculine ideal as it does in America. Despite that, parents sometime encourage their children to join up, for the discipline as well as education in Western culture.
McLaurin did organize and win the country’s first American football championship, but his goals are more socially-minded; developing a fellowship program similar to his experience for Division 1 football players. The student-athletes would receive language training, an internship, and a starting spot on one of the Chinese-American football teams.
“A lot of these guys haven’t had any international experience, and they could gain a lot from getting involved with football in China,” McLaurin said. “They would work with local Chinese coaches and share their knowledge of football, while the locals would share Chinese culture with the students.”
McLaurin has reached out to six U.S. Universities, including U-M, of course. He is raising money and formally launching the program next month in Shanghai. Find the AFLC on Facebook.