‘My Cause My Cleats’: The top 24 Week 13 customs — and why players wore them Reppin’ everything from the American Cancer Society to the Trayvon Martin Foundation to Kaepernick

Week 13 in the National Football League, at least since last season, is all about creativity, customization and cause. Through the “My Cause My Cleats” campaign, which the league started in 2016, players can bend uniform guidelines and wear cleats designed to represent a cause of their choice.

Typically, players are only allowed to wear custom-painted kicks during pregame warm-ups. Then switch to uniform footwear while the game clock is rolling. But in Week 13, flashy cleats in vibrant colors, featuring unique illustrations and messages, are the norm. Athletes all across the NFL, from every position group, commission the hottest designers in the sneaker game to create the perfect pair of cleats for their cause. This year, around 1,000 players reportedly took part in the initiative, and after games ended, select cleats were sold at auction, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting causes such as the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, Colin Kaepernick’s #KnowYourRightsCamp, Habitat for Humanity, autism, POW and MIA families, anti-bullying, social justice and criminal justice reform, the Trayvon Martin Foundation and more.

“This weekend, you’ll really see the impact art has had on the NFL,” Los Angeles artist Troy Cole, aka Kickasso, tweeted before Sunday’s games. Last season, he designed every pair of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s anticipated pregame cleats. “Art is a powerful way to tell a story #MyCauseMyCleats.”

Here are The Undefeated’s top 24 “My Cause My Cleats” customs, along with the players who wore them, the causes they supported and the artistic geniuses who brought charitable creativity to life.


Chidobe Awuzie, Cornerback, Dallas Cowboys

Cause: #BringBackOurGirls campaign

Joe Barksdale, Offensive Tackle, Los Angeles Chargers

Instagram Photo

Cause: Fender Music Foundation

Designer: DeJesus Custom Footwear Inc.

Michael Bennett, Defensive End, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: National League of POW/MIA Families

A.J. Bouye, Cornerback, Jacksonville Jaguars

Cause: American Cancer Society

Designer: Kickasso

Antonio Brown, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers

Instagram Photo

Cause: RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)

Designer: Corey Pane

Kurt Coleman, Safety, Carolina Panthers

Cause: Levine Children’s Hospital

Designer: Ryan Bare, SR Customs

Mike Daniels, defensive end, Green Bay Packers

Cause: Anti-bullying

Designer: SolesBySir

Stefon Diggs, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings

Cause: American Heart Association

Designer: Mache Customs

DeSean Jackson, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Instagram Photo

Cause: Brotherhood Crusade

Designer: SolesBySir

Malcolm Jenkins, Safety, Philadelphia Eagles

Cause: Social Justice and Criminal Justice Reform, Players Coalition

Designer: Sixth-grade class at Jubilee School, Illustrative Cre8ions

Eddie Lacy, Running Back, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: International Relief Teams, Hurricane Katrina

Designer: Bizon Customs

Jarvis Landry, Wide Receiver, Miami Dolphins

Instagram Photo

Cause: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

Marshon Lattimore, Cornerback, New Orleans Saints

Cause: Social injustices and honoring close friend Dayton Williams, who was shot and killed in 2010 in Euclid, Ohio.

Rishard Matthews, Wide Receiver, Tennessee Titans

Instagram Photo

Cause: Colin Kaepernick, Know Your Rights Camp

Designer: SolesBySir

Gerald McCoy, Defensive Tackle, Tampa Bay buccaneers

Instagram Photo

Cause: “The Life of a Single Mom”

Designer: The Hulfish Project

Eric Reid, Safety, San Francisco 49ers

Cause: Colin Kaepernick, Know Your Rights Camp

Designer: Tragik MCMXCIII

A’shawn Robinson, Defensive Tackle, Detroit Lions

Cause: Leukemia patients

Jaylon Smith, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

Cause: Autism

Designer: The Hulfish Project

Torrey Smith, Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles

Instagram Photo

Cause: Torrey Smith Family Fund, Show Your Soft Side, Players Coalition, NO More Campaign

Designer: Kreative Custom Kicks, Dez Customz

Shane Vereen, Running Back, New York Giants

Cause: Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles

Designer: Kickasso

Anthony Walker, Linebacker, Indianapolis Colts

Cause: Trayvon Martin Foundation

Designer: Desmond J. Jones, Art is Dope

Deshaun Watson, Quarterback, Houston Texans

Cause: Habitat for Humanity

Designer: 5-year-old twins Kayla and Jakwan; Evan Melnyk, Nike

Russell Wilson, Quarterback, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: Why Not You Foundation

Designer: Kate Neckel and Dash Tsai

 

Daryl Worley, Cornerback, Carolina Panthers

Instagram Photo

Cause: CeaseFirePA

Designer: SR Customs

Daily Dose: 12/1/17 The World Cup 2018 groups are set

It’s finally Friday, and this week has felt like it was 17 years long, personally. But we’re getting down into the official Christmas season, so spread a little holiday cheer and make your friends and family feel better.

So, the defecation has hit the ventilation for the White House. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, which is very plainly always a bad idea. Flynn has admitted to as much and plans to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. In short, this has suddenly gotten VERY messy. Basically, with his cooperation, you’ve got to assume that he’s going to directly implicate Trump and perhaps the vice president as well in colluding with Russia. Yikes.

We all remember Philando Castile. The man who was shot by police in front of his girlfriend and her daughter while sitting in his car in Minnesota is remembered as a loving soul who worked at an elementary school. His legacy has led to thousands of kids getting their lunches paid for through a fund, and recently his girlfriend was awarded an $800,000 settlement as a result of his death. Then, a local council member tweeted that she would blow the cash in six months on crack cocaine. Seriously.

Office life can be stressful. It’s certainly not the rigor of, say, working in a mine, but it comes with its own issues. Folks stealing your food, general malaise and required meetings can cause problems for the most sane person, but, alas, it’s a life we deal with. Different people then choose to blow off steam in different ways. I like to throw a tennis ball around the office. Some people exercise. But the new bit apparently is bringing in an entire petting zoo to help boost office morale. I guess this is a perk? Petting zoos don’t smell great.

The World Cup groups are set. FIFA placed the 32 teams that will be participating in next summer’s tournament in Russia and there were no real surprises, nor is there an obvious Group Of Death. Basically, the home nation’s got a pretty easy path, shocker. Argentina and Nigeria will be in the same group again, while Panama is in the tournament for the first time. Of course, a few major soccer nations are out, so that changes a few things. And of course, the ceremony was spectacularly absurd, per usual. Here’s the schedule.

Free Food

Coffee Break: The holidays are very stressful. Partially because they’re all jammed together, which has pros and cons. Pros: Once they’re done, you’re rid of them for the rest of the year. Cons: The bunching creates an environment so loaded and stressful that few people can deal. Maybe we should move Christmas?

Snack Time: If you’re looking for a way to pass some time over the next few days, check out this series of Latino short films that PBS made available to stream.

Dessert: These kicks are flat-out dope. Happy weekend, y’all.

Daily Dose: 11/9/17 O.J. Simpson gets kicked out of a Vegas hotel

Thursday was another TV day, so if you get a chance to check out Around The Horn, please do so. I pulled a bit of a prank, so let me know how that goes over.

School shootings are a massive problem in the country. They’re basically everyday occurrences on balance, which overall should scare you very much. Instead of trying to get lawmakers to, you know, help prevent people from getting the types of guns that can kill in mass quantities, we take a different route. Like down in Miami, where a school is offering up “bulletproof panels” for sale to kids to put in their backpacks, in case of a shooting. This is what it’s come to.

KFC thinks they slick. On Twitter, it follows exactly 11 people. If you’re not familiar with its “secret recipe” that includes 11 herbs and spices, where have you been? This is not a reflection on their chicken, which is a whole separate discussion. But, one guy figured out its little social media strategy and it’s actually kind of brilliant. As it turns out, they follow five Spice Girls and six guys named Herb. So, once homeboy cracked the code fast food company hooked him up with a serious gift.

O.J. Simpson is out here wilding. The man who is widely believed to have gotten away with a double murder, then served all sorts of time in prison for an unrelated crime, is now out. And not only is he out, he’s partying with ladies, just like he was before he went to prison. Thursday he got kicked out of a hotel for being drunk in public, which is just an incredibly bad look. I have no idea what the limitations of his parole are, and whether this will send him back to prison. But dude might want to slow down, if he can.

It appears that Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott won’t be playing this week. His on-again-off-again relationship with the NFL has now turned into a matter of public ridicule on multiple levels. Another court has decided that he can’t play and his six-game suspension will now be served. Who knows if it will be off again by Tuesday? This case, by the way, has completely sent Cowboys owner Jerry Jones into the next stratosphere with anger. He’s trying to sue the NFL over commissioner Roger Goodell, which we all know is about Zeke.

Free Food

Coffee Break: If you don’t know who Masai Uriji is, you should. He runs the Toronto Raptors and he was born in Nigeria, and is largely responsible for the resurgence of that franchise in the NBA. He also happens to be very much a part of trying to grow the game in Africa.

Snack Time: Planes get grounded for a lot of different reasons. But if you’re the dude who gets caught by his wife cheating to the point that they gotta land the plane? My guy, that’s not good.

Dessert: I can’t stop looking at these shoes.

NASCAR driver Jesse Iwuji talks diversity, his learning curve and working with Shawne Merriman He’s one of three African-American drivers across NASCAR’s series

One of Jesse Iwuji’s favorite quotes is from motivational speaker Les Brown.

“He said, ‘Someone’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality’ and that’s huge,” Iwuji said.

The 30-year-old NASCAR K&N Pro Series driver incorporates that axiom into his personal and professional life.

A former naval officer, Iwuji says his goals are to progress through the ranks in NASCAR while promoting sportsmanship, mentorship for youth and representing the military community with professionalism. As a rookie in 2016, Iwuji finished among the top 10 in points for the season out of 59 drivers in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.

He recently teamed up with former NFL star Shawne Merriman. Merriman and his company Lights Out became Iwuji’s first big sponsor. Merriman is the owner of Iwuji’s car through Patriot Motorsports Group.

“I met Shawne at this fashion show for the grand opening of his store in L.A.,” Iwuji said. “His products were going to be sold from Lights Out. When I saw him, I mentioned to him about the NASCAR stuff I was doing and the journey I was taking in the sport, and he took interest in it. We decided to link up and make him the car owner of my car in NASCAR, and that was going to get him the opportunity to get his feet wet and into the door of NASCAR so that he could start making big waves and an impact in the sport, especially on the diversity side of things.”

Diversity is a goal of NASCAR, as the organization currently has only three African-American drivers. Twenty-five-year-old Jay Beasley rides in the K&N Series with Iwuju, and Darrell Wallace Jr., known as Bubba Wallace, just became the first black full-time driver in the NASCAR Cup Series.

“I think it’s awesome that he’s getting the opportunity to do this,” Iwuji said of Wallace. “It’s definitely been a long time coming for him, and I think he’s going to do some great things. The guy’s a really good driver. He’s had a lot of great opportunities in his life to be on some great teams and learn a lot and compete at a high level, which has been great. I’m just trying to follow along and hopefully get the same opportunities to compete on great teams and make it up to his level so that maybe I can be the second African-American in recent times to race full time in the NASCAR Cup Series.”

His company, Red District, has hosted drag racing events since 2015.


How did you take the dive into racing?

I’ve always loved cars and racing my whole life. When I was younger, I used to watch a little bit of NASCAR here and there randomly. I don’t know why. None of my family comes from any racing background at all. We’re Nigerian. Both my parents were born and raised in Nigeria before they came over to the U.S. in the ’80s and had me, my two brothers and my sister. Living in Texas, football was the main thing. So my big goal was to get to college, play football for a big Division 1A school, and have a great education, too.

In the middle of college, I started gaining a big interest in cars and racing, and I started researching it more. When I graduated college in 2010, I finally had a little bit of money to go buy a Dodge Challenger. I started drag racing with it at different tracks in Southern California. I kept on building it up and adding more horsepower. Around 2013, I bought a Corvette and started taking that to different road course tracks, where I was spending a lot of time learning how to take turns, left and right, at speed.

In 2014, I met a guy at a car show who had asked, ‘Hey, would you be interested in trying some stock car racing?’ I was like, ‘Stock car racing as in NASCAR?’ He was like, ‘Yeah.’ Then, I was like, ‘Sure. I mean, I’m open to it. I’ve always loved cars and racing. I’ve been thinking about becoming a professional driver, and this might be my opportunity to start going down that path.’ So I went and did a test with his racing team in May 2014. It went well. Right after that, I went on deployment with my ship. When I came back from deployment in early 2015, I decided to start going down that path of the whole NASCAR route. That’s when my racing career began in, really, April 2015.

What drives your passion?

I’m always seeking challenges. I love challenging myself. I love doing things that are fun and exciting and that you can look back on when you’re 57 years old and know that, hey, I lived an exciting life.

How is the NASCAR K&N series for you?

I’ve been learning a lot. Unlike most drivers who race in the series, I don’t have a lot of racing experience. Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve basically only been racing for about 2½ years now, whereas some of the people racing in my series have been racing for 20. I have that learning curve that I’m trying to get over. … I’ve been getting better and better every race, every year. I’m just going to continue to do that and try to really continue to move forward so that I can keep going up the ladder of NASCAR.

How is NASCAR approaching diversity?

They’re trying to reach out to different demographics of people nowadays like African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, you name it. They’re trying to diversify a little bit to gain more fans from different backgrounds, and I think they’re doing a pretty good job on it. Yeah, it could always be better. There’s more things that they can do, and I think they’re working hard to try to figure that stuff out. There’s a lot of opportunity to really bring new demographics into NASCAR so that we can continue to grow, get more fans out there, and continue to be the No. 1 watched motor sport in the U.S. and maybe, one day, the No. 1 watched motor sport in the world.

What goals have you set for yourself on the track and off the track?

I see myself making it to the Cup Series. I want to get up to the top level of NASCAR. I want to compete. I want to be good and eventually win a championship in that series. Also, on the way going up and while I’m there, I want to be able to help people get to their goals and dreams. A lot of people look up to me because I’m just a regular person trying to do some big things. Every step I take that is in the positive direction, people see it, they love it, and it gives them hope for them to know that, hey, they can also do the same thing, too, whether it’s in racing or the business world, school, their relationships, whatever.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

The toughest part of my journey has just been the experience and the funding part of it. You know, racing’s not cheap at all, and it takes a lot of money. Thankfully, I’ve been able to make it this far so far, but it hasn’t been easy at all. I had to go and start my own company to put on drag racing events. I just recently captured my second big sponsor, which is Perfect Hydration. Perfect Hydration, they are a 9.5 pH alkaline water company based out of Southern California. They sell water in Costco and places around the U.S. Great company, great people, and they’ve been really supportive.

Student-athlete and Olympian Micha Powell’s guide to thriving in college A weekly series from the sprinter on how she balances sports, school and life

Hey, all, Micha Powell here. Welcome to my video diary! I’m a recent University of Maryland graduate with a B.A. in broadcast journalism, three-time NCAA All-American and 2016 Canadian Olympian.

I have both my parents to thank for my athletic genes. My father is Mike Powell, UCLA alum and the long jump world-record holder, and my mother is the 400m hurdles Canadian record holder. I guess it’s kind of fitting that I’d end up a student-athlete in the States with roots in Canada.

If you’ve wondered what it takes to be a track and field student-athlete and compete at the international level, look no further. With this weekly video diary, you can follow my journey from training as a student-athlete at UMD to representing Canada at the World University Games in Taipei at the end of August. With my degree in broadcast journalism, I will use my reporting and editing skills to produce an in-depth look at the high-performance world of a 400m sprinter.


Week 1

I have never been afraid of a challenge. I switched sports my senior year in high school, going from hitting serves on green tennis courts to racing around a red rubberized track. I decided to embrace my parents’ Olympic genes and put them to good use in the 400 meters. After receiving a track and field scholarship to the University of Maryland, I then moved away from my family in Canada in pursuit of a higher education and with the hopes of leaving behind a legacy.

Looking back on my four years in college, I had to adapt to many changes, including attending two-hour classes right after running up hills at 5 in the morning, all the while maintaining a balanced social life and remembering to take a deep breath once in a while. The adjustment from living with my mom in a quiet apartment to moving in with five other college roommates was drastic, but I was able to embrace my new surroundings by developing these three key habits:

Time management

I enrolled in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland knowing that I was going to have to learn to work on deadline and take most of my assignments on the road with me when I traveled to track meets. The fast-paced nature of the program forced me to plan ahead and communicate with my professors. If I had a track meet that coming weekend, I knew I had to finish an assignment by Thursday to avoid any additional stress. I also made sure to add some downtime with my friends and go to D.C. for some sightseeing or just stay in and watch some of our favorite Netflix shows.

Sleep takes priority

I aim to get anywhere between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. If I can be in bed before midnight, I know that I’ll wake up the next morning motivated, rejuvenated and less stressed. However, I’m not perfect. During finals week, I had my fair share of “almost” all-nighters that left my mind drained. The best way for me to get a consistent amount of sleep is to keep a routine. As long as I continue to practice self-discipline, I’ll keep a healthy sleep habit that accelerates my muscle recovery and improves my mental health.

Nutrition & home cooking

ESPN Video Player

Nutrition is an essential part of my preparation not only for executing a great race but also for my overall well-being. Whenever someone asks me if I follow a strict diet, I explain that I don’t have to but I naturally gravitate toward leafy greens and lean proteins because it is simply what my body craves. I see eating healthy as the most beneficial way to reward my body for all of the hard work it does in one day. By eating fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates and protein, I train my body to expect nutrient-rich foods after a hard workout, which encourages it to recover at a faster rate and readies it to go through the entire cycle again.

Before practice and post-workouts, you can be sure to find me in my kitchen cooking up everything from spinach and turkey bacon-filled omelets to curried tilapia with steamed zucchini spirals. I always make sure my fridge is filled with whole foods and my spice cabinet stocked with seasoning. I’m known on my track team to always have a different meal on my Snapchat and often get messages that read “Pleassee send me the recipe!” or “You should write a cookbook!” Maybe I’ll consider it now that I’ve graduated and have a little bit more free time on my hands. Cooking is not a chore for me but rather a habit that guarantees my body will get enough nutrients for the week, and it also brings familiarity and the comfort of home back into my life.

My grandmother is originally from Nigeria, and I remember growing up in her house, back in Montreal, smelling the peppery air and immediately recognizing the thyme and cayenne fragrance that was brewing in one of her traditional and tasty Nigerian dishes. Although I can’t make as good an okra soup as my grandmother does, I consider myself fortunate enough to have inherited her cooking skills, which have helped me prepare the majority of my meals that fuel me for the day.

The SEED Project’s annual fundraiser was the premier party for 2017 NBA draft week The program develops African basketball and academic talent and the importance of giving back

On June 21 more than 300 exclusive guests entered the Marquee New York dance and nightclub for the 5th Annual Seed Summer Party, a fundraiser that helps raise money for more than 2,000 students in Senegal, Gambia and the United States participating in the SEED Project.

The West African-themed upscale shindig has become one of New York’s premier summer pre-NBA draft events. The West African vibes, food from celebrity chef Pierre Thiam, and an exclusive private auction, were all in the name of fun and philanthropy.

The SEED (Sport for Education and Economic Development) Project is an international nongovernmental organization that uses sports, specifically basketball, as a way to identify, cultivate and educate leaders. According to its website, SEED works to maximize student potential in educational activities while emphasizing leadership and social responsibility. The organization is based in Senegal and serves 2,000 youths a year, ages 6 to 19, with boarding and after-school athletic, academic and leadership programs in accordance with the principles of education, life skills and responsible citizenship.

NBA vice president and managing director for Africa, Amadou Gallo Fall, said the event fared very well.

“It’s always exciting to, first of all, see those young men and women who’ve been through the program, the SEED Project in Senegal, as they move on to have an opportunity to pursue their education, get a college degree, and continue to play basketball,” Fall said. “To have them come to New York and share their stories with supporters and people who are interested in finding out more about what SEED is about. They [SEED team in New York] did a fantastic job, just a great location and a great turnout. We’re pleased.”

Since 2002, 92 percent of the Seed Project’s graduates have attended university or secured a job upon leaving the program. Fifty-nine percent of graduates have earned scholarships to attend U.S.-based universities.

Fall said the most important aspect of the SEED Project is for it to continue to be in a position to “provide opportunity for young boys and girls who have a passion and a desire to achieve big things, just a holistic approach in terms of using basketball as a conduit to really impact these young lives.”

“At the end of the day, it’s about motivating these young people to have an interest, to take on their responsibility in terms of what they can contribute to the future of Africa,” Fall explained. “I’ve always told them, if Africa’s ever going to have a chance of true development, it has to be able to rely on its youth, which are the biggest asset, more than 65 percent of the population, and it’s only going to get younger in the future. SEED’s mission is really to use basketball to empower and get these young people to focus on their education and learning to be good citizens and having a sense of responsibility towards their community.

“So the most important things for me is just to see them continue to grow as human beings. I think sports come third in bottom row there. Obviously, the values of the game of basketball teach them to be disciplined, to set goals, and learn to work as a team.”

In May, the NBA and SEED Project announced the official opening of NBA Academy Africa, an elite basketball training center in Thies, Senegal, for the top male and female prospects from throughout Africa. NBA Academy Africa is the first of its kind on the continent. Twelve elite male prospects will be selected following scouting programs conducted with local federations across Africa and elite skills camps hosted in Thies that started in May and will end in December. All 12 prospects will receive scholarships and training at NBA Academy Africa.

Besides NBA Academy Africa, the NBA and SEED Project also announced their plan to launch a new NBA Academy Africa facility in Saly, Senegal, for elite male prospects from throughout Africa, scheduled to open in the fall. When the new facility in Saly opens, SEED Project’s facility in Thies will house and train female prospects and younger male prospects.

Courtesy of SEED Project

According to a press release, NBA Academy Africa will employ a holistic, 360-degree approach to player development that focuses on education, leadership, character development and life skills. As part of the program, the students will compete against top competition throughout the year and will have an opportunity to be selected for travel teams that play in international tournaments and exhibition games.

NBA Academy Africa builds on the NBA’s existing basketball and youth development initiatives in Africa, including Jr. NBA programs for boys and girls ages 16 and under in Cameroon, Congo, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Uganda, Senegal and South Africa. Basketball Without Borders (BWB), the NBA and FIBA’s global basketball development and community outreach program, has been held in Africa 14 times, with nine former BWB Africa campers drafted into the NBA.

Fall said he feels blessed to see the growth of SEED across Africa.

“The work we are doing at NBA Africa in some many ways dovetails with what I’ve started at SEED,” he explained. “It’s really, really an exciting time for basketball in general, but especially for us. Just humbled and blessed for the opportunity to work with such brilliant group of young people who, undoubtedly, all we’re doing is just provide the enabling factor for them to have a chance to be successful in life, first and foremost. Some of them, yes, will achieve big things in basketball, but that’s really the cherry on the top of the cake, I say.”

Fall’s journey plays out in the narrative of how the SEED Project began.

“It’s really my story, how I stumbled into basketball many, many years ago. I was helped by a generous soul, somebody who was with the Peace Corps who saw me play and helped me get a scholarship to come to the U.S. It opened my eyes to the power of sports, and also opened doors for me to meet unbelievable people along the way,” he said. “I found a career in basketball even after a short college career. I just endeavored from that point on to figure out a way to give back, especially replicating my story and we’re able to do that with number of other young people. Ultimately, we thought coming up with an organization which sole mission would be how to use sports as a conduit to socioeconomic development.

“That’s how SEED came about. SEED’s going to be 20 years old in 2018, so that’s an amazing … 20 years later seeing all the young people who have been imparted. We just want to make sure that they all continue to focus on having the duty to give back, to inspire the next generation,” said Fall. “It’s great to see now that people who are running the organization instantly are all young people that we’ve crossed paths with many, many years ago who are coming to basically carry on the torch. The mission remains the same. What is exciting is to see now people who have gone through the program coming back and taking it to even greater heights.”

WNBA star Chiney Ogwumike does it all The Connecticut Sun forward is getting a head start on her potential post-basketball career

There is one rule of thumb Connecticut Sun forward Chiney Ogwumike continually abides by these days as a WNBA player: Don’t wait to begin your next career until after your current basketball career has ended.

It’s a mantra the 25-year-old repeats to WNBA rookies, and a sentiment that carries her through her many off-court endeavors, including her most recent announcement of joining ESPN as an analyst for its newly launched ESPN channel on Kwesé TV. The channel provides coverage and a unique sports experience to fans in Africa. For nearly three weeks, Ogwumike has faithfully rehearsed lines, shadowed on-air talent and attempted to correct her posture to ready herself for the new role.

“It’s an adrenaline rush, almost like playing in a game,” Ogwumike said. “You’re excited, but you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know if you’re going to win, you don’t know if you’re going to lose. I second-guess myself because athletes tend to be different in broadcast. It’s a cool challenge for me because I love sports, it’s an African audience and, to me, the most important thing is, I knew this was out of the realm of what I imagined myself doing, but I knew representation matters.”

As a Nigerian-American, Ogwumike understands the passion African fans have for sports. Physical activities have always served as a bonding experience in her family, and the love for sports is partially responsible for Ogwumike and her older sister, Nneka, turning to basketball after being told they were too tall for gymnastics.

Staying connected and recognizing the need for in-depth sports coverage not only in her home country but throughout all of Africa is something that has been a priority for Ogwumike since her days as an international relations major at Stanford University.

Growing up, Ogwumike would travel back to Nigeria with her family once or twice a year. While attending Stanford and becoming a mentee of former U.S. Secretary of State and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Ogwumike was encouraged to align her passion for giving back with her academic pursuits. For the first time, Ogwumike made solo trips to Nigeria before studying abroad during her junior year. In her free time, Ogwumike traveled the continent, working with nonprofits on basketball clinics and to help raise money to build basketball courts.

“I saw the country with new, educated eyes,” Ogwumike said. “It was a huge educational experience for me, and I left very optimistic because when you think about Nigeria, you tend to think of a place left behind. But the potential is there.”

After being drafted as the WNBA’s No. 1 overall pick in 2014, Ogwumike immediately went to work. She completed her rookie season averaging 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds before being named the 2014 Rookie of the Year. Shortly afterward while playing in Italy, Ogwumike suffered a right knee injury that required microfracture surgery. She missed all of the 2015-16 season.

“I think athletes tend to make the injury their narrative,” Ogwumike said. “Injuries happen in sports, but I never wanted to be defined by it, and I think that’s my motive. My mindset has always been I love basketball, it’s my passion, it’s opened doors, but it’s not the be-all and end-all for me. When I got injured, it sucked because I was worried about what would be my basketball future, but the injury also gave me time to step back and think and plan on my future. I know I can’t play forever.”

Thinking ahead, Ogwumike focused less on the pain and slow rehabilitation process and more on how she can continue to strengthen and develop relationships on a different side of the sports realm. During her downtime, Ogwumike took advantage of television time, including co-hosting opportunities on ESPN’s First Take and His & Hers, as well as serving as an analyst for NBATV during the 2015 WNBA playoffs. Ogwumike also partnered with NBA Africa to help launch Power Forward, a youth engagement initiative that uses basketball as a tool to develop health, leadership and life skills in Nigeria.

The next season, Ogwumike returned to the court to finish second on the team with 12.6 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game, earning her Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year honors. In a situation similar to the first, unfortunate circumstances befell Ogwumike again — this time, in the form of an Achilles tendon injury in her left leg while playing overseas in China.

“The second injury in China was a heartbreaker because I knew something was off,” Ogwumike said. “But I always try thinking of the positive. I got home within three days from China and had surgery quick, because I had doctors on speed dial for my other injury. The situation could be worse for me. If I’m going to be challenged in my career, I’d rather it happen now than later. I also know that my worth is not just my stats. As women basketball players, our worth is not just how we play but how we represent ourselves. Yeah, I’m missing my WNBA season and it stinks, but I’m really excited about this opportunity with ESPN.”

Juggling her WNBA career while co-hosting SportsCenter across subSaharan Africa will present challenges, Ogwumike said, only because it’s uncharted territory for her. Yet, Ogwumike is keeping a positive outlook. As she looks forward to returning to the WNBA in the 2018-19 season, her focus also lies in finding a deeper meaning off the court and giving back to the countries that have given so much to her.

“It’s unique for me because being Nigerian, I know what our passions are, and it’s sports,” Ogwumike said. “If you look at who I am, I’m a Nigerian-American female basketball player. And this show caters to all Africans, especially Nigerians because that’s some of the higher viewership, and I think female sports are on the rise. Even though it’s out of what I perceive to be the realm of possibilities for my career, it’s perfect for me.

“I always try to think of my little sisters and young girls that want to do what I’ve had the opportunity to do. That outweighs the fear. At age 25 it feels like an avalanche, but at the same time it’s like that adrenaline rush that I get from playing, and it’s cool. No matter what your lane is, attack it, do it to the best of your ability, and that can be the thing that opens doors.”

Three friends are on a mission to bring reliable electricity to Nigeria Their company is pioneering solar microgrids for small businesses

An energy crisis has plagued Nigeria for nearly 40 years, leaving thousands of people without necessities while facing difficulties obtaining education and work, along with increasing criminal activity at night.

Nigerian-born Ifeanyi Umejei decided to do something and reached out to friends and fellow Virginia Tech alums Emmanuel Ekwueme and Cedrick Reynolds for help with his vision to bring reliable electricity to the West African country.

The three started a business, ICE Commercial Power, that develops solar microgrids. The project is in its pilot stage, currently serving 15 consumers in a commercial shopping center in Asaba, Nigeria. The majority of the businesses in the area operate for about 12 hours each day.

“There’s a real electricity crisis,” Umejei said. The country’s largest stations are only able to produce 2,800 megawatts. “If you think about what you’re able to do with electricity on a daily basis, that’s an opportunity that doesn’t exist for over half of the population [in Nigeria]. This is a significant population of humanity that does not have access to electricity. You can’t hardly do anything without electricity anymore. You can’t learn, you can’t work.”

The modular microgrids are powered by photovoltaic panels located on the rooftops of buildings. Consumers are connected to the microgrid via smart meters, which monitor and regulate power remotely via cloud access, according to ICE Solar’s business plan.

Umejei’s vision came during a trip back to Nigeria in 2016. He spotted two little boys holding hands, trudging in their worn sandals in the middle of a red dirt road in Asaba. Their faces held no expression in particular, but Umejei noticed that their dark eyes still appeared curious and hopeful. He paused to speak to them before snapping a picture and moving on.

Umejei couldn’t shake the impression the boys had left on him. He often looked at the picture and thought about ways he could give them a better future. Umejei also couldn’t forget the older people he met and their experience of struggle and heartache.

“It was sort of that coming-to-God moment,” said Umejei, who lived in Nigeria until he was 7 before moving to the United States and settling in Virginia Beach. “I saw the look of despair on people’s faces, and it was really heartbreaking to see the loss of hope. I’ve accomplished so many things in my life because I had hope. Without hope you really don’t have much, but these two kids still had that spark. For me, I felt I had do something to still give them a shot. I can’t allow them to turn into what everyone else is feeling right now. We all start out with the same level of faith, but conditions force some of us to lose hope along the way.”

These were the concerns Umejei took into account before devising his plan to help. Although Umejei studied biology with a minor in psychology before graduating in May 2007 from Virginia Tech, this project is one he feels is worth more than what his degree could teach him. But first, he’d need a hand.

“I wasn’t concerned about whether or not they would like the idea, because these were two high-quality individuals,” Umejei said. “With people’s lives and careers, the question was if they had the capacity to take on this task. I was pleased to discover that, despite everyone’s schedules, they jumped on board, and that’s such a great testament to who they are.”

Balancing their careers with this project was the most difficult task. Umejei works as a financial analyst in New York, while Ekwueme is a bioengineering postdoctoral research fellow in Massachusetts. Reynolds works as an executive director at an investment banking institution in New York, which meant the three ended up sacrificing their weekends and most of their free time to devote to the project.

With a population of about 190 million and a gross domestic product of more than $560 billion, Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa, but it also experiences the greatest number of power outages monthly. They have a huge impact on small businesses, which, on average, experience 239 hours of outages every month.

Although the project is off to a good start, Umejei hopes other corporations will help.

“For us to have meaningful impact, we need more than 15 consumers,” Umejei said. “So we need to figure out how to scale quickly and reduce the upfront costs to make it affordable for people. The grids and electricity is really expensive to produce in Nigeria.”

The company recently competed in a conference at Harvard University titled Partnering for Prosperity: Working Together for a Strong & Inclusive Africa. After presenting their business concept, ICE took second place and was awarded $5,000 to put toward the business. The company is in discussions with Microsoft to form a partnership for the smart meter’s cloud component. Umejei also plans to begin crowdfunding for those willing to donate to the cause.

“At some point, you have to stop complaining and you’ve got to start taking action,” Umejei said. “I looked at other people who were doing things and saw them as superhuman. But to be in this position and taking action, I want anyone who’s listening to know that they are absolutely capable of doing what they want and taking action.”