By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network
NEW YORK | 13 February 2024 (IDN) — By the time you read this, the Super Bowl will be over and done. As will the Africa Cup of Nations 2023. What you may not have heard is how the league swapped the greenery of American football fields for an Accra marketplace in a mission to grow its brand and engage new fans across the continent.
In the 15-second teaser seen over the weekend, the NFL spotlights growing global initiatives in a Super Bowl commercial. Three of the league’s top stars are seen in downtown Accra, scampering through Ghana’s Makola Market, passing street vendors, flipping and leaping, before doing the Azonto dance.
In the ad campaign, titled “Born to Play,” Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson and Saints defensive end Cam Jordan are centerpieces in the spot.
The NFL has been growing its presence in Africa, starting in Ghana, with the Cleveland Browns’ Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. A linebacker, his use of Ghanaian and other African cultures in his pre-game wardrobe makes his fashion sense stand out – not often seen in American pro sports.
In the league today, there are currently over 125 players of African descent (born in Africa or children born to African immigrants), per the NFL.
Last year, the National Football League’s “NFL Africa” program expanded to Kenya as the League continues to invest in growing the game at all levels across the continent.
The Indianapolis Colts currently have six Africans on their 53-man roster: defensive tackle Adetomiwa Adebawore, tight end Mo Alie-Cox, linebacker Segun Olubi and defensive ends Samson Ebukam (Nigerian), Dayo fOdeyingbo and Kwity Paye (Liberian). Defensive tackle McTelvin Agim, who is of Nigerian descent, is on their practice squad.
That’s the most of any team in the league, creating an environment where players are able to share different experiences that many of their other teammates can’t relate to.
While the players enjoy their shared experience, there is also a sense of pride that comes with representing Africa.
“You’re definitely an ambassador in everything you do,” Olubi said. “I’m an ambassador with my last name. Everybody knows where my last name comes from. My first name, my family, got to make them proud and make the people around them proud.”
In January 2024, the League announced its International Player Pathway (IPP) program Class of 2024, which features 11 athletes from around the world.
Osi Umenyiora, who spent part of his youth living in both London and his native Nigeria, played 12 seasons in the NFL, winning two Super Bowls with the New York Giants. After retiring, Umenyiora began working for the league, eventually rising to lead the NFL Africa initiative, where he foresaw a lot of potential on the continent.
“This is just the beginning for these players, and we eagerly anticipate sharing their stories and the game of football with the world.”
Since its inception, 37 international players have signed with NFL teams. “Without a shadow of a doubt, that is the home of the most incredible athletes in the world,” Umenyiora said of Africa. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo: Cleveland Browns linebacker, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, in a preseason game against the New York Giants on August 22, 2021. CC BY 2.0
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