Sunday, 19 December 2010

African faces of American football giving back to their home countries

Nnamdi Asomugha of the Oakland Raiders, Madieu Williams of the Minnesota Vikings and NFL newcomer Ndamukong Suh of the Detroit Lions are distinguished members of the growing fraternity of NFL players with African roots.

Despite all their fame and fortune, the three players have not forgotten their African background -- Asomugha, Williams and Suh have been engaged in humanitarian work that has touched the lives of thousands, both in the U.S. and in Africa.

African Voices present the three NFL stars who let their ties with Africa show on and off the field.

Nnamdi Asomugha

The 29-year-old from Torrance, California, is considered to be one of the most formidable cornerbacks in the NFL. His exceptional athletic talent has earned him a three-year $45 million contract with the Raiders, making him the highest-paid cornerback in the league.

For the first-generation Nigerian, having deep roots in his African culture has helped him cope with success and kept him grounded.

When he was 25, Asomugha founded ACTS -- an annual college tour and mentoring program that provides low-income kids with the opportunity to visit college campuses around the U.S.

With the help of his mother, he also heads the OWIN initiative that helps orphans and widows in need in Nigeria and other African nations.

Through the Asomugha Foundation, that Nnamdi chairs, OWIN has raised money to feed, clothe and educate more than 5,000 Nigerian women and children.

This year, Asomugha won the NFL Players Association's highest honor for outstanding contributions to his team, community and country.

He says his work with the Asomugha Foundation will continue long after his football days come to an end.
"You don't stop -- it's not a job, it's not an occupation, it's a way of life," he told CNN. "It won't stop because it comes from the heart."


Ndamukong Suh

Standing at almost two meters tall, or 6 feet 7 inches and weighing around 136 kilos, or just shy of 300 pounds , 23-year-old Suh is the latest player of African descent to join the NFL. The defensive tackle, who was the second overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, grew up in a multi-cultural family, his father hailing from Cameroon and his mother from Jamaica.

"They're very similar and hard working cultures and helped me become the man I am today and instilled a lot of values into me, which is working hard and being very humble for the things that I've earned. And on top of that, never take anything for granted," Suh told CNN.

The Detroit Lions are hoping that Suh can strengthen the team's defense. But the natural athlete knows that it's just as important to help his team as it is to help his community.

In April, prior to the NFL Draft and before knowing how much money he would be making, Suh pledged $2.6 million to the University of Nebraska in a move designed to showcase his appreciation for the place where he played college football and majored in construction management.

Suh says he values education as much as football and hopes to spread his passion for learning to his father's homeland of Cameroon, even though he's never been there before.

"I would like to get back to Cameroon and more or less help in the education area," he says. "I know the education system isn't the very best and that's one of the reasons why my dad left the country and ventured off for a better education and came to Portland, so I think that's a big thing that needs to be somewhat addressed."

Madieu Williams

One of the highest-paid free safeties in the NFL, Williams left Sierra Leone when he was a child, shortly before the eruption of the country's civil war in early 1990s.

Yet, his love for the West African nation has stayed with him all these years.

A frequent visitor to Sierra Leone, Williams built an elementary school in 2009 in one of the poorest parts of Freetown, the city he was born.

"Every time I go to Sierra Leone and spend time with the school, I see a piece of myself in those children," he told CNN. "I don't feel far removed from Sierra Leone."

The school, which has four classrooms, running water and will be able to teach up to 170 students each year, is named after Williams' mother, a huge influence on his life.

"She would make me spend my birthday in soup kitchens, spending time with the elder -- I thought I should be receiving gifts or presents of some sort but, in a way, I was giving something to someone than receiving on that day that was supposed to be for me. And I think it taught me a valuable lesson."

Inspired by his mother's teachings of social awareness, Williams has developed a rich philanthropic work.
Every summer, he hosts his own youth football camp for 200 children free of charge where he teaches them the importance of sportsmanship, physical training and nutrition as well as the rules of the game.

And in November 2009 he donated $2 million to the University of Maryland -- where he played college football -- to create the Madieu Williams Center for Global Health Initiatives.

The center addresses public health issues in the two places that mean the most to him -- Sierra Leone and Maryland -- focusing on malaria, illiteracy, infant mortality and HIV/AIDS.

"Everybody has a story and everybody's story is quite unique," Williams tells of the NFL players with African roots that have established a solid presence in the league.

"At the end of the day, everybody is still grounded -- they know exactly where they came from, the history, the ancestry and its ties to Africa.

"In our own unique way we are trying to give back to Africa, to our own continent -- that's what it's all about, making a difference and making an impact."

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