Q+A with Emmanuel Acho

Emmanuel Acho is an NFL linebacker, who has played with the Browns, Eagles and Giants over his 4-year career. He played in 48 games over a 4 year career at the University of Texas where he earned First-Team All-Big 12 Linebacker as well as a 3-time First-Team All-Big 12 Academic Honor. He is currently a free agent looking to see if a team will give him another chance. His older brother Sam is a also an NFL linebacker, currently on the roster of the Chicago Bears.

I met Emmanuel this past May in New Jersey and in talking to him, I quickly realized that he is one of the smartest people I've ever come across. His ideas on life and faith are smart and thought provoking. Recently Emmanuel was gracious enough to answer a few questions about his football career, his faith and his work in the community.

Me: What was your childhood like?

Emmanuel: I grew up in a very close knit family of 6. My parents being born and raised in Nigeria instilled the same biblical principles they grew up with in us the children. I attended an all-boys private school from grades 5-12 with a heavy emphasis on academics; this academic emphasis matched the focus of the Acho household. I found my passion for sports at age 8, beginning my football career then, and have never looked back.

Me: What was your dream as a kid? 

Emmanuel: I didn't have any real clear cut dreams as a kid, I was always just going with the flow of life.

Me: When did your walk with Christ begin?

Emmanuel: My walk with Christ began at age 7, I remember hearing a sermon where the pastor said, “when you believe in Christ you’ll proclaim it to the mountaintops”. I went home, ran outside and screamed, “Jesus, I LOVE YOU!!” I would say that was the day I gave my life to Christ, but my intentional and active pursuit of Christ came closer to my senior year in high school.

Me: You and your brother Sam have both achieved athletics at its highest honor by making it to the NFL, when did you start to believe that you and your brother could accomplish this?

Emmanuel: I started to believe I could make it to the NFL during my sophomore year in college. I started that season along with my brother at the University of Texas, we went on to play in the national championship game and I realized, I’m pretty good at this whole football thing.

Me: In high school, besides football, you also lettered in basketball and track and field. How important was it for you to play multiple sports? 

Emmanuel: Sports have always been a passion of mine, not just football but all sports, being a well-rounded athlete was imperative for me.

Me: What was it like being at Texas in college as a believer?

Emmanuel: It was tough at times, Texas is obviously known as a party school and my friends were often doing things that I had no business doing. What I will say about being a believer at Texas is that it will either make your faith or break your faith, but you will not leave with the same level of relationship with Christ as you came into college. Thankfully, my faith grew.

Me: When you reached the NFL, what was it like trying live out your faith in the locker room? What were the challenges?

Emmanuel: The challenges to living out my faith in the NFL were very similar to the ones in college. Your faith has to be your own, it can’t be your parents faith or your grandparents faith, in the NFL you have to be committed to your walk with Christ or you will veer off track. The challenges of pride are constant, people often telling you they love you and that “you’re the best." I constantly try to remind myself to make Him greater as I become less and less.

Me: What is your greatest athletic achievement?

Emmanuel: My greatest athletic achievement is probably being drafted into the National Football League or being an all-american (third team AP) my senior year

Me: How do you work on a daily discipline of prayer and worship and devotions during an NFL season when your work becomes very time consuming?

Emmanuel: The biggest way I pursue discipline daily during the grueling duration of an NFL season is through community. I always have a very close knit group of believers in the locker room that I do life with. We bare each other’s burdens, we lift one another up, and we live life as one. We typically have bible study twice a week, a collective bible study with a chaplain and then a players only time when we are totally transparent with one another. So rather than trying to “find the time”, we bring the prayer and worship right into the locker room.

Me: Who was a mentor to you at Texas?  

Emmanuel: My mentor in college was probably my older brother Sam, I look up to him for basically everything.

Me: Which NFL players helped you in your development as a believer and as a man?

Emmanuel: The same goes as I transitioned into the NFL. There were some other guys like Chiefs WR Jason Avant, and 10 year LB DeMeco Ryans who also played a vital part in my spiritual maturity.

Me: Is there a story you can share during your NFL career where you saw a teammate or coach come to trust in Christ?

Emmanuel: I did not necessarily see individuals come to Christ during the season, however in the offseason there is a 3-day conference called PAO (Pro Athletes Outreach). During this conference I have seen dozens of my peers and closest friends rededicate their lives to Christ.

Me: What do you think your role should be in speaking out on social issues given your platform as a professional athlete? 

Emmanuel: As a pro athlete we are put in a tough position regarding social issues. Typically regardless of your stance you will please 50% of your fan base, and upset the other half. I believe our main goal should be to spread truth in all situations. That's the same approach I take with social issues.

Me: Recently you moderated a panel in Austin, TX with members of the police department following the recent tragic events that took place in Dallas, Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. How and why did you become involved?

Emmanuel: I became involved because I felt convicted about just sitting around in my safe bubble and doing nothing. I know I am more than likely not at risk of any of these dangers, but I have a voice and I have influence which I must use. As a result, I took it upon myself to meet with the Austin Chief of Police along with some other professional athletes and start a real conversation.

Me: What does our world need right now?

Emmanuel: Right now our world needs truth .... biblical truth. We are being so easily swayed by our desires, and our desires our inherently wicked and sinful.

Me: Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years? 

Emmanuel: I see myself as a speaker both on-air and publicly. Hopefully I will be sharing the gospel on a large scale level, while also living out my worldly dream as a top TV personality.

Me: What's your Favorite bible verse?

Emmanuel: Exodus 14:14 “The Lord Himself will fight for you. You have only to be silent”.

Me: You can have dinner with 3 people (dead or alive), who are you choosing?

Emmanuel: Jesus (obviously), Will Smith, Albert Einstein

Me: What are you most proud of in your life?

Emmanuel: During my senior year in college, a scrap book was compiled with all the accomplishments I had achieved during the previous 4 years. This scrap book ended with write-ups by some of my dearest friends wishing me success in my future endeavors. Each one of my friends, both believers and non-believers, wrote that I had spread Jesus love to them in one way or another. That was truly special. 

You can follow Emmanuel here on Twitter and Facebook as well as read more about his work in the community in a first person piece he wrote for The Players Tribune.