Osi Umenyiora: "I wish more athletes would take a stand for what they believe in" 5 years ago

Osi Umenyiora: "I wish more athletes would take a stand for what they believe in"

Osi Umenyiora knows what it takes to be a champion.

Born in London to Nigerian parents in 1981, the 2005 All-Pro defensive lineman moved to the birthplace of his parents as a child before settling in Auburn, Alabama, where he learned to cut his teeth on the gridiron.


Now retired, he is one of just three British-born players to win a Super Bowl - a feat which he achieved twice as a member of the New York Giants' famed defensive line which took down the mighty Tom Brady in both 2007 and 2011.

Umenyiora may not be playing anymore, but he is still involved with the game and has returned to the UK to share his knowledge with British fans.

Carolina Panthers v New York Giants

Coming into the season, the main storyline does not surround who will walk away from Houston with the Vince Lombardi trophy on February 5, nor is it even on the battle between the two quaterbacks picked first and second overall in this year's draft.

No, the biggest issue is over San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to sit during the national anthem before games.

Kaepernick has decided to sit out the anthem in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter campaign, which highlights the discrepancy between how people of colour and white people are treated by police officers in the US - and it's a stand which Umenyiora supports:


"We have something that's ongoing in America, something that's caused a lot of consternation and a lot of difficulty for a certain group of people. So [Kaepernick] making a statement, standing up for what he believes in, I don't think that can really ever get old. It has to be addressed and until it is addressed, he's going to continue to do that.

"I wish more athletes would take a stand, one way or another, for what they believe in."

SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 12: Colin Kaepernick #7 and Eric Reid #35 of the San Francisco 49ers kneel in protest during the national anthem prior to playing the Los Angeles Rams in their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on September 12, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Other players have joined Kaepernick's protest, with players from several teams around the league showing signs of protest during 'Star Spangled Banner', such as going down on one knee, sitting down or holding their fist in the air in a black power salute.

But even though some analysts might like to pretend that such protests have ruined the sport, games still went ahead last weekend without much fuss. And the season's storylines are beginning to take shape, such as the potential of Jared Goff, the first overall pick in the draft.

During his time with the Giants, Umenyiora watched the development of another quarterback who was forced to carry the weight of being the first-overall pick - Eli Manning. Under Manning, Umenyiora claimed two Super Bowl crowns in dramatic fashion, a fact he puts down to Manning's never-say-die attitude.


"I saw Jared Goff and he's really struggled [in preseason] and with the Rams, he's the third-string quarterback which is highly unusual for a guy that they gave up a lot to get in the draft, so that surprised me.

"The Rams want to win right now, they don't want to wait 'til later... I think that usually the best way for a quarterback to learn is to throw them out there and let him take his lumps early and you'll see him progress early on.

"[Back in 2005] Kurt Warner was the starter initially [for the Giants] but halfway through the season they switched to Eli [Manning] and he didn't play so well initially, but it turned out pretty well."

Super Bowl XLVI

In a league that prides itself on parity, Umenyiora's Giants encapsulated the 'any given Sunday' nature of the competition than anyone at the turn of the last decade. In his nine years with the team, the Giants only won a playoff game in two seasons - both of which ended with Umenyiora and his team-mates hoisting the Lombardi trophy above their heads.

While he understands fans' frustration with slow starts, Umenyiora emphasises the fact that it's a long season and a loss in the first two weeks doesn't necessarily doom your favourite team.


"Fans pay their hard-earned money to see their team perform, so they don't want see to their team struggling, so they overreact," he says. "The players know it's a long season, and there are lots of ups and downs, so they can't panic.

And when asked who he expects to see in the Super Bowl come February, he is hesitant to make any snap judgements but there is an unexpected name who stands out.

"It's really difficult right now but if I'm going to say anybody I'll take Pittsburgh [for the Super Bowl]. I like their team, I like their offense. Defensively, they're always solid. So if I was to pick anybody I would say Pittsburgh right now."

We'll find out in February if he's right.


The 2016/17 NFL season is underway – catch all the highlights Tuesday nights on BBC 2 and Saturdays on BBC1 after Match of the Day