ESPN.com Feature: Arena football vets never saw anything like new Chinese league
- Updated: November 18, 2016
By Thomas Neumann – ESPN.com
J.J. Raterink has seen a lot in more than a decade of professional arena football.
The 35-year-old former University of Wyoming quarterback broke Iowa Barnstormers franchise records set by Kurt Warner and later played for the Los Angeles Kiss, a team owned by rock stars Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. In addition to two stints with each of those teams, Raterink has plied his trade with the Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings, Chicago Rush, Fairbanks Grizzlies, Kansas City Command, Las Vegas Outlaws, Quad City Steamwheelers and Spokane Shock over the years.
Still, Raterink wasn’t quite prepared for the challenge that awaited him in the first season of the China Arena Football League, when he lined up alongside Guangzhou Power teammates who had begun playing the sport only weeks earlier. In addition to speaking a different language than many players, he learned that things can get lost in translation even with players who speak English.
“I would say something in practice like, ‘Take the top off the defense,'” Raterink said. “We know that as someone who runs a deep route and backs the safeties up so we can throw underneath. But one player looked at me and took his helmet off — because that’s the top of their equipment.”
Indeed, the CAFL was uncharted territory, and nothing Raterink learned in Alaska, Louisiana, Nevada or anywhere else in the football world could fully prepare him for it.
“Trying to balance everything while trying to learn a little bit of Chinese myself was interesting, to say the least,” said Raterink, who also served as a commentator on broadcasts for other teams’ games. “I had never been around a challenge quite like that in 10 years of arena football in the States.”
With the official announcement of approval from the China government, the new professional league will be called CAFL (China Arena Football League), and the Beijing based operating company, formerly known as Ganlan Media International, will carry the same name.
“We think this acronym says it all,” said David Niu, the President of AFL Global, the founding corporation based in Conshohocken, PA, USA. “The league, and all of our efforts, are unique to China. We want to highlight the fact that we are playing American-style football, not to be confused with soccer. And we want to emphasize that this is China’s first ever professional league, played by the best players in the world.”
Many of the rosters will feature Chinese players, who have been learning and training for the arena game specifically for over a year, at 6 select Chinese Universities, under the guidance of AFL Global.
CAFL headquarters are located in Beijing, with leadership comprised of senior media executives and sports professionals with an array of government and commercial experience.
For more information please contact the following:
Lou Tilley, VP CAFL Communications and Media
Alvina Alston, CAFL Public Relations