Sam Acho, You Had Me At Hello
It seems once you make it to the NFL level, there are a few things that quickly follow suit. You join Twitter, you get groupies, you get haters, you learn to juggle all these new responsibilities (and bank accounts) and you start or participate in a charity.
To my knowledge, the NFL doesn’t mandate that players partake in charity or non-profit activities, though I’m sure it’s highly encouraged (like when your doctor suggests you lose weight or you shouldn’t park your oversized SUV where it clearly says “compact cars only”).
Living in Houston, I’ve heard a number of good things about Sam Acho over the years, from his time at The University of Texas. Not a bad word has been said about the guy and after his friendly hello, I quickly understood why. I too had experienced that awkwardly intimate Jerry Maguire moment – Sam Acho had me at hello. I was a fan. For about a billion reasons.
The Arizona Cardinals linebacker, was eager to talk about his foundation, Living Hope Ministries. Most of the NFL guys I chat with are monotone, with answers more rehearsed than an episode of The Hills.
Acho, who says his charity is where his heart is, took time out of his busy day of practice, working out, planning a huge charity event and attempting to build a hospital in Nigeria (that’s busy!), to talk about why his heart is so invested. “Twenty years ago my parents started this [foundation] and we go to Nigeria every year and do missions work where we basically give them free medical care,” Acho says.
Acho’s father’s leadership and guidance instilled a spirit of giving not only in Sam, but the rest of his siblings as well. “My dad is a physician – both my parents were born and raised in Nigeria – Dr. Acho has his PhD in psychology and my mom’s a nurse practitioner. They have a heart for helping people, something I learned to value early on,” Acho says.
Acho explains that about 2/3 of the Nigerian population lives under $1 a day. To put it in perspective, I don’t think you can make a call from a payphone or order anything off the Taco Bell menu for under a dollar anymore.
“They don’t have the simple medicine we have. They get sick and die, from a little illness that a trip to the doctor would easily cure. Now we are trying to build a hospital in Nigeria,” Acho adds.
A quick search of NFL athletes on Twitter will show that a large majority (I’m not good with numbers) include the word “humble” in their bios. I’d have to disagree with quite a few of them. I think T.O. had that in his bio at one time or another. Point taken. But Acho’s (@TheSamAcho) was refreshingly accurate and truly humble. And anything else warm and fuzzy imaginable. It simply reads:
“I believe that God sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. I’m pumped because I know that God will use my failures to glorify Himself. I fail a lot.”
As a fellow believer in God, I value his bio for many reasons, but it’s the last part that’s particularly interesting. You fail a lot? Sporting News named you one of the 20 smartest athletes back in 2010 – only three college players made that list! You’re good looking and have a heart of gold. Oh, you’re also in the NFL. But you fail a lot?
“Yes. It’s something I’ve been dealing with recently. A lot of times we think we’re supposed to be perfect, and when I mess up, I feel I’m not good enough. I beat myself up when I mess up, it’s frustrating because when I’m beating myself up, I’m out of commission – both on and off the field,” Acho admits.
Speaking of Twitter, a few weeks ago Acho tweeted, “Proverbs 18:16 ‘A man’s gift makes room for him, And brings him before great men.’ What’s your gift?? #MyGiftIs” Hundreds of his followers responded with their own individual answers using the hashtag, but Acho failed to include what he thinks his gift is.
“I think my gift is the ability to connect with people and inspire them to do great things. I want to say something to someone that will stick with them for a long time and inspire them to take action,” he explains.
If the Dallas native is so busy inspiring others, who inspires and motivates him? “My dad. He’s been married for 30 years, and still takes my mom on dates every Friday. He works hard to take care of his family. If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t be going to Nigeria every year – he put that in my heart. Along with Scripture, he showed me that failure isn’t the end of the world. You’ll always be able to recover from whatever it is and there’s always still hope,” Acho says.
It’s refreshing to see a guy get excited about something other than an endzone dance. Don’t get me wrong, I love endzone dances, but this is nice too.
Intermittent failure is a part of life – thanks to Sam Acho for the reminder to “keep on keepin’ on.”
This post is part of The Blonde Side’s Momentum Challenge series to interview one active player from all 32 NFL Teams within the short time frame of 34 days. Sam Acho crosses the Arizona Cardinals off the list.
Jayme Lamm is a freelance sports and travel writer based in Houston and is currently in a full-court press writing her hugely opinionated sports column, The Blonde Side. Follow her travels for sporting events and check her out on Twitter.