For the launch of our newest Athleisure collection, we spoke with Nigerian-American Defensive End, Ifeadi Odenigbo of the Cleveland Browns, on his journey to the NFL and lessons from his family that keep him grounded.
When were you introduced to football, and how did your parents respond?
I didn’t start playing football until late in my high school career. I was originally a track and field athlete. My parents weren’t a big fan of football, and I actually had to convince them to allow me to try out for the team. In my house, grades came first, which was definitely the right approach. However, I have always been a highly competitive person, so I needed an outlet. When I first started playing, football was seen as a potential distraction from my studies, so I really had to go above and beyond to show them that I could balance both.
Once I started getting noticed and collegiate opportunities became available to me, they fully supported my decision.
What comes to mind when you hear the words culture and family?
Culture and family are synonymous to me. The person that I am today is the culmination of generations of traditions and values passed down through my ancestors. I take pride in all aspects of my identity as a Nigerian-American. From the foods that remind me of home to the stories that my mother used to tell me as a child, it’s all meaningful in its own way.
What values were instilled into you as a child, and how have they helped you to become who you are today?
"In life, you get what you work for. For most, rarely, if ever, are things just handed to you." When it comes to football, I have never been the fastest, strongest, or most highly touted player. However, I knew that I would be the most relentless in terms of my pursuit to be better. I learned that approach from my parents, and that is something I will teach to my kids.
What challenges have you faced?
I was a 7th round draft pick and from that moment, the odds were stacked against me. The biggest challenge I have faced is debunking preconceived notions about who I am as a player and person. Everyone has an opinion about you, whether right or wrong, and the most challenging thing is blocking out the noise and remaining focused on the task at hand.
How do you define success?
I think success is an experience, and an ever-evolving one at that. Each of us has an idea of what defines success for ourselves, but once we achieve that milestone, only we will know if we are satisfied. From what I’ve accomplished so far in my life, I am blessed, but what success looks like today will always be different from tomorrow.
What inspires you to keep going?
My family keeps me going. Repaying my parents for the sacrifices they have made makes this all worth it.
What are some of your aspirations to give back?
Being from Ohio, it was pretty cool to read about Lebron James’ IPromise School. Sometimes we treat quality education as an afterthought, when in fact a lot of people don’t have access to equal resources. If I could provide children access to things like education and nutritious foods, that would be really special.
Have you always been proud of your heritage and wore it boldly?
Growing up as a Nigerian man in Ohio was tough, but I learned a lot about myself during my childhood. My heritage and lived experiences are things I would never change and will forever be proud of.
How has your style evolved over the years?
My understanding of style has changed over the years. Before, I thought being stylish meant keeping up with the latest trends, but I quickly realized that everything isn’t for everybody. I’m just comfortable with my choices now. I like what I like, and I don’t second guess myself.
What Afrobeat song is on your game day playlist right now?
My game day playlist is all over the place, but on the bus ride to the stadium, you can usually catch me listening to Wizkid. He has a mellow vibe, so he provides the calm before the storm.