A friend of mine once said “A Black Man will excel at anything he sets his mind to”. I say “Now imagine adding Nigerian to that”. This is not to say that one race is superior to the other, as we are all equal in the eyes of He who created us. Looking through the book of life, today, yesterday and even many years ago, one thing is constant – Nigerians have proven time and time again that IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING. We’ve broken barriers over and over again, as though they never even existed. There’s an astounding quote from a speech by Rtd General EmekaOdimegwuOjukwu that is descriptive of my thoughts. Permit me to share:
“In the three years of war, necessity gave birth to invention. During those three years, we built bombs, we built rockets, we designed and built our own delivery systems. We guided our rockets, we guided them far, and we guided them accurately. For three years, blockaded without hope of imports, we maintained engines, machines, and technical equipment. The state extracted and refined petrol, individuals refined petrol in their back gardens, we built and maintained airports, we maintained them under heavy bombardment. We spoke to the world through a telecommunications system engineered by local ingenuity. The world heard us and spoke back to us. We built armored cars and tanks. We modified aircraft from trainer to fighters, from passenger aircraft to bombers. In three years of freedom, we had broken the technological barrier. In three years, we became the most civilized; the most technologically advanced black people on earth.”
If this does not best explain my point. Perhaps we’ll break it down using other aspects of life that we can all relate to — Music, Fashion, Sports, Movies etc ? How many Nigerians do you know that have excelled and continue to raise the bar in these various industries ? Talk about Music and we’re quick to scream the Legendary FelaKuti, Sade Adu, Seal, ChiwetelEjiofor, Hakeem Olajuwon, Jay JayOkocha, KanuNwankwo,Alexander Amosu …. The list is quite endless. Talent is TALENT, doesn’t matter where you’re from. Some folk will even argue that soccer is in our genes. But then take a sport like American Football, ranking around the globe, as one of the top games to play and watch, a sport that has absolutely NO business on our soccer monopoly that is African Soil. Run through the NFL list and voila!!! Nigerians! Nigerians! Nigerians! They’re everywhere… and guess what ? They’re not just getting by as ordinary players…. These guys are setting records everyday and we’re ignoring their existence. Today, I’d like to take time out to send a major shout out to all Nigerians making a mark in Sports all across the globe — Swimming, Ice Hockey (uh huh! We know y’all are there), Boxing, Volleyball, Basketball, Racing, Cricket …. We might not hear about you but keep making us proud!
SPORTS FOCUS FOR TODAY —- NFL (AMERICAN FOOTBALL)
Nigeria – the hub of African football, or “soccer” as the Americans call it. It is the national religion. Transcending ethnicity, politics or language group, football united the country. We will always remember winning the Atlanta 96 Olympic Gold medal on American soil, so also we will always celebrate our soccer stars. But we must remember, there was once a time when sports did not equate soccer alone, a time when our sports legends were not necessarily soccer players, but athletes in all sporting fields.
Nigeria had its first appearance in the Helsinki Olympic Games in 1952, and its first victory in 1954, when Emmanuel Ifeanjuna won a gold medal in the high jump at the commonwealth games in Cardiff.
Fast forward to 2011, there are a host of African players in the NFL (American Football League) and in college football.
Where is Nigeria in the American Football League ?
Not only is Nigeria a predominant sports nation in Africa, but a legion of athletes either Nigerian –born or of Nigerian descent are setting new standards in American Football. In 2008, the NFL draft recruited about 6 new Nigerian players who were phenomenal in college football. Last years draft saw the influx of quite a number of Nigerian players in the first round, and this year a few more are projected to be signed into the NFL. There are currently about 40+ African players in the National Football League out of which 70 percent are Nigerian.
The list below is a fraction of players we currently have in the NFL
Ositadimma “Osi” Umenyiora (born November 16, 1981) is an American football defensive end in the National Football League for the New York Giants.Umenyiora is one of three players to have won a Super Bowl ring, joining Scott McCready and Giants teammate Lawrence Tynes. Umenyiora has been selected for the Pro Bowl twice, and holds the Giants franchise record for most sacks in one game, coming against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2007.
NnamdiAsomugha is an American Football cornerback for the National Football League’s Oakland Raiders. He was drafted in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Raiders and played college football for the Golden Bears at the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently considered to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
AmobiOkoye (born June 10, 1987) is an American football defensive tackle for the Houston Texans of the National Football League. Okoye was drafted by the Houston Texans in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft. He is the youngest player to ever be drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft at only 19 years old. He was the highest draft pick to come out of the University of Louisville since the AFL-NFL merger.
James UgochuIhedigbo (born December 3, 1983) is an American football safety for the New York Jets of the National Football League. He was signed by the Jets in 2007. He played college football at Massachusetts. He is the son of Nigerian immigrants to the United States.
Oshiomogho Isaac “O. J.” Atogwe (born on June 23, 1981) is an American football safety for the Washington Redskins of the National Football League. He was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He played college football at Stanford.
AdewaleOgunleye (born August 9, 1977 in Brooklyn, New York) is an American football defensive end. He was signed by the Miami Dolphins in 2000. He played college football at Indiana.Ogunleyewas named the “NFL’s Defensive Player of the Day” for the 2008’s first day after recording one safety and made a key fourth down stop against the Indianapolis Colts.
Israel Idonije (born November 17, 1980) is a Nigerian-Canadian defensive end for the National Football League’s Chicago Bears. He was signed out of the University of Manitoba. A draft pick of the now defunct Ottawa Renegades of the Canadian Football League, for whom he never played, Idonije spent the start 2003 season on the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad prior to his release in September. He was subsequently signed to the Bears’ practice squad for the final six weeks of the season.
Brian Orakpo (born July 31, 1986) is an American football linebacker for the Washington Redskins of the National Football League. He was drafted by the Redskins 13th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft. He played college football at Texas.
Chinedum “Nedu” Ndukwe(born March 4, 1985, Charlottesville, Virginia) is an American football safety for the Cincinnati Bengals professional football team. He was drafted by the Bengals in the seventh round, 253rd overall, in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Ovie Phillip Mughelli( born June 10, 1980 in Boston, Mass.) is an American football fullback for the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL. He signed a 6-year, $18 million contract with a $5 million signing bonus on March 2, 2007 with the Falcons. The contract was the largest given to a fullback in NFL history at the time.
Remilekun “Remi” Ayodele (born April 22, 1983 in Grand Prairie, Texas) is an American football defensive tackle for the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League. He was signed by the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2006. He played college football at Oklahoma.
Ayodele has also been a member of the Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons. He is the younger brother of NFL linebacker Akin Ayodele.
Akinola James “Akin” Ayodele (born September 17, 1979 in Irving, Texas) is an American football linebacker for the Buffalo Bills in the National Football League. He was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft. He played college football at Purdue.
Ayodele has also been a member of the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, and the Denver Broncos.
Ikechukwu Nelson “Ike” Ndukwe (born July 17, 1982 in Powell, Ohio) is an American football offensive tackle for the New York Giants of the National Football League. He was signed by the New Orleans Saints in 2005. He played college football at Northwestern.
Ndukwe has also played for the Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, and Kansas City Chiefs. He is the older brother of NFL safety ChinedumNdukwe.
Busari “B.J.” Raji, Jr. (born July 11, 1986), nicknamed “The Freezer” is an American football nose tackle for the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League. He was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft (9th overall). He played college football at Boston College.
Franklin NonyeluOkam, Jr. (born October 16, 1985 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas) is an American football defensive tackle who is currently a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was drafted by the Houston Texans in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. He played college football at Texas.
HALL OF FAME
Christian EmekaOkoye (born August 16, 1961), is a former American Football running back for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1987 to 1992. Nicknamed “The Nigerian Nightmare,” Okoye was known for his powerful running style and ability to break tackles. Okoye’s six seasons in the NFL saw a league rushing title in 1989, two Pro Bowl appearances (1989, 1991), and three playoff appearances. He voluntarily ended his NFL career due to multiple injuries. He wore number 35.