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Rams’ Taylor Rapp goes NFT route to support Asian Americans

www.latimes.com

His maternal grandparents live in Seattle’s Chinatown area, and Rams safety Taylor Rapp is concerned when they venture out.

The surge in “heartbreaking” and “gut-wrenching” attacks on Asian Americans in the United States “really hits home for me,” said the Rams’ safety, who is Chinese American.

Rapp, 23, said he has been motivated to take personal action to help Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — and hopes to capitalize on a digital trend to drive it.

On Thursday night, non-fungible tokens — known as NFTs — commissioned by and featuring Rapp will be put up for auction online. He said a portion of the proceeds from the four-day auction will be donated to the AAPI Community Fund, which has generated nearly $5 million through GoFundMe.org to “issue grants to trusted AAPI organizations working to rectify the racial inequalities in our society,” according to the “Support the AAPI Community Fund” GoFundMe website.

“The Asian community and my Asian heritage play a huge role in representation and who I am,” Rapp said Wednesday in a phone interview, adding, “I’ve always wanted to make a difference. … It was a perfect opportunity to get in on the NFT marketplace and launch my own collection, not only to connect with fans in a cool innovative way but also to help raise awareness and also raise some money to help the AAPI community directly.”

NFTs are unique digital files that are stored on a blockchain network, as are cryptocurrencies. The files can serve as a certificate of authenticity.

The NBA — which in partnership with the NBA Players’ Assn. and Dapper Labs created the NBA Top Shot platform — Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes are among the sports entities and personalities that have ventured into NFTs with collections or as investors.

Rapp said “the buzz that the NFT world and market is getting right now” will help him “raise a lot of awareness around anti-Asian hate crimes and anti-Asian racism” that has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rapp said he worked with artists to create a vision for the NFTs and the “Year of the Ox” collection, which will be auctioned on the OpenSea marketplace for crypto collectibles. Several of the NFTs are portraits of Rapp with frames, others resemble trading cards.

NFT image of Rams safety Taylor Rapp.

(Courtesy of Taylor Rapp)

Rapp, a third-year pro, also is preparing for the start of offseason workouts. The NFL this week informed teams that the first phase of offseason programs could begin April 19, though a determination has not been made about how much of those programs would be conducted virtually. Last year, because of the pandemic, the entire offseason program was virtual.

Rapp, who grew up in Washington and played at the University of Washington, was a second-round draft pick in 2019. He played well as a rookie — starting 10 games in place of injured John Johnson — and appeared primed for a starting role opposite Johnson last season.

But Rapp was sidelined during training camp because of a knee injury, opening the door for rookie Jordan Fuller. Rapp played in nine games before suffering another knee injury and was put on injured reserve.

“Last year was just kind of just a train wreck for me in all aspects,” Rapp said, adding that although it was frustrating, “I just think of it as a blessing in disguise, and all the adversity only makes you stronger.”

With Johnson departing for a huge free-agent contract with the Cleveland Browns, Rapp is expected to compete to start opposite Fuller, who intercepted three passes in 2020 for a defense that gave up the fewest points in the NFL.

“We saw what Jordan Fuller was able to do,” coach Sean McVay said after Johnson signed with the Browns.

Second-year pro Terrell Burgess and third-year pro Nick Scott also will be in the mix at safety for new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris.

Rapp said he would focus on preparing his body to sustain a full season.

“Looking forward to getting back to work with these guys,” he said, adding, “Whether that’s virtual or in person just getting to work on this next year’s defense and hopefully taking the crown for No. 1 defense again.”

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