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Sam Acho: Let the World See You

Growing Up Different

Sam’s parents are from Nigeria but he was born in Texas. His father’s a pastor. Growing up, Sam was different from his peers in the way he dressed, loving literature, playing chess, etc. One night, at only 13 years old, Sam was attending the youth service. He didn’t like being notice but on this night, he was wearing a new outfit and was proud of how he looked. His peers didn’t agree. “Bro, what are you wearing?” several of the guys asked. “Who dressed you? Do you even know how to wear clothes?” they said.“I was thoroughly roasted. I was crushed.” Sam continues, “I was ashamed and ran and hid in the restroom stall.” From that moment on, when Sam had to be around the high school kids at church, rather than being teased, he would hide in the bathroom stall where he felt safe. Sam learned very quickly that in order to fit in, he needed to hide who he really was.

He explains, "At one point or another in our lives, we all face times when our insecurities flare up directly in front of us. In these moments, we are left to choose between one of three options: address the insecurities, run from them, or hide from them. When I was younger, my natural instinct was to choose the third option." As he matured, Sam came to realize that hiding his true self didn’t allow the Lord to use his gifts to touch others. 

Making It 

Sam’s parents wanted him and his brother Emmanuel to play sports when they were younger to help get their energy out. They both excelled in football and people took notice in high school.     

Sam’s first offer to play college football was with USC—the best school in football at the time. Their interest came at a time when Sam was preparing to leave for Nigeria to do missions work with his family. The call came before he boarded the flight but Sam felt a check in his spirit. He explains, “Something wasn't sitting well with me. What I didn't know yet was that, even as a teenager, the Spirit of God was already guiding me." Sam didn't commit at that point. While in Nigeria God showed him that the people there didn't care about those kinds of things. They focused on God. “Those kids in that Nigerian village reminded me of who I was, but not as a football player. They reminded me that there is more to life than football...And that is this: the opportunity, the invitation, the open door to get to know Jesus intimately. Once you know him, everything will change. I guarantee it, “ Sam explains. 

When he got home from Nigeria, he had over 50 missed calls, including numerous offers. Sam chose to play for Texas. He would then go on to play for the Arizona Cardinals, the Chicago Bears, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He is now a free agent and sports analyst. 

Finding The Real You

Finding yourself in a world full of fakes can be tricky. Sam offers the following suggestions:

  1. Pray - Ask God to show you who He intended you to be.
  2. Try new things - Sometimes you don’t know what you are good at or where you belong until you get out of your comfort zone and try new things.
  3. Read God’s word - The Lord tells us who we are in His Word.
  4. Listen to God in prayer - Spend as much time as you can in silence, listening for His voice.
  5. Do not be afraid - It’s normal to be scared sometimes but remember that God always shows up. 

The Art Of The Pivot 

When life throws the unexpected at us, learning to be flexible is key. Sam explains, "One of the most difficult things in life is learning how to transition well.” Sam knows what he’s talking about. Making it to the NFL, dealing with an allergy to exercise, and enduring two major injuries sidelined him from playing. In a year's time, Sam lost his car, his house, his friend, his job, and his wife had complications after giving birth. Most recently, he also lost a family member. During these times, Sam’s learned four keys that helped him along the way:

  1. Find your limitations and work around them. When Sam broke his leg, rather than feeling sorry for himself, he found a way to help people who were also suffering. He visited homeless shelters, orphanages, and found a way to make his time count.
  2. Push yourself and don’t be afraid to ask. Sam began learning and growing in other areas. He began doing television segments and got his own show. 
  3. Serve others. Find a need and fill it. When Sam tore his pectoral muscle, he began leading a team Bible study and finding ways to help his teammates. 
  4. Don’t forget to mourn. Lastly, Sam says, “Whenever you go through a transition, you have to be okay with the mourning process...Solomon talks about this in Ecclesiastes when he says there is a time for everything which includes a time to mourn (3:1-4)."

Social Justice 

Sam also has a desire to stand against social injustices. He takes his cue from the Bible when Jesus stood for the oppressed, downtrodden, and outcast from society. He's taken many mission trips back to Nigeria with his parents and has helped the community, volunteered and given to homeless shelters, met with Presidents Bush and Clinton, and ministered to those in prison. Sam was also instrumental during the NFL controversy of kneeling during the national anthem. During the fight between players wanting to stand for their brothers and sisters of color who lost their lives at the hand of police and those who thought it intolerable to kneel during such a time, Sam prayed and asked God for guidance. He wanted people to understand what people of color have endured for years but he also didn’t want to disrespect the flag or America. One shouldn’t negate the other. But he wanted to be heard. So, as he prayed, he realized the players could lock arms in solidarity during the national anthem and that’s what they did. 

Sam is the founder and president of Athletes for Justice and the Vice President of the NFL players association. He makes it his priority to serve others and show them the love of Christ. 

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