The NFL is headed to Africa, and Osi Umenyiora can’t wait.
Umenyiora, a former All-Pro defensive end and two-time Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants who is of Nigerian descent, has been a leading voice in the league’s efforts to establish a foothold on the continent. Umenyiora will be part of an NFL contingent traveling to Ghana for the league’s first official events during weeklong activities, beginning June 21.
A talent identification camp will be the centerpiece of the program, which is also scheduled to include a fan event and a flag football clinic. There are more than 100 players of African descent (either born in Africa or first-generation born in the United States) on NFL rosters, according to the league.
With the new program, the NFL isn’t merely dipping its toe into Africa, Umenyiora told Andscape. The league is diving in — and the former star pass-rusher says it’s the right thing to do.
“This is incredible, just the NFL’s whole approach to get started, and going in like this is the best way to do it,” Umenyiora, who was born in London to Nigerian parents and spent seven years of his childhood in Nigeria, told Andscape.
“You see the number of athletes we have in the NFL right now of African descent. There are a lot, and the winds are blowing even stronger in that direction. We’ve seen what the NBA has done in terms of its investment in Africa. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be in full force on ground there also. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
The NBA already has a very strong presence in Africa. In 2021, the league created a new entity to oversee its business in Africa. The partnership between the NBA and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) is reportedly valued at nearly $1 billion.
As part of the first NFL prospect camp in Africa, player-personnel officials will evaluate 40 players during a two-day process in Ghana. Players were selected after first participating in regional camps under the direction of Umenyiora.
“We look forward to hosting our first camp in Ghana and will look to activate in Nigeria and other African countries in the future,” said Damani Leech, the NFL’s chief operating officer of International. “We want to provide an opportunity for the next generation of African prospects to showcase and further develop their talent.
“As we continue to look for ways to strengthen the pipeline of international players, we hope this camp, and future camps, provide a path for aspiring players from across the continent. Top talent from the camp could be invited to participate in international combines, the International Player Pathway program, and for those athletes ages 16 to 19, there’s the opportunity to attend the NFL Academy in London.”
In Nigeria, Umenyiora founded The Uprise, a football developmental program for prospects ages 16 to 22. Umenyiora conducted additional camps in Ghana and South Africa as well.
This year, three prospects who participated in Umenyiora’s regional camps — then subsequently received invitations to the NFL’s international combine and its International Player Pathway program pro day — signed with NFL teams: Chigbo Roy Mbaeteka (Giants), Haggai Chisom Ndubuisi (Arizona Cardinals) and Kehinde Hassan Oginni (Kansas City Chiefs).
In addition to Umenyiora, former NFL players Mathias Kiwanuka (Uganda) and Roman Oben (Cameroon) are scheduled to be in the league’s traveling party. Current players expected to attend events include Uchenna Nwosu (Nigeria) of the Seattle Seahawks, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (Nigeria) of the Houston Texans, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Ghana) of the Cleveland Browns and Kwity Paye (Liberia) of the Indianapolis Colts.
“We’re doing this the right way,” Umenyiora said. “This is where we need to be.”