Whether it’s locally or in Nigeria, as part of the Living Hope Christian Ministries founded by his parents in 1989, Bears outside linebacker Sam Acho has made giving back part of his life.
Acho is the Bears’ nominee for the 2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for the second straight year. The award recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service off the field as well as excellence on the field.
“What we do is not necessarily only for people in Nigeria, but for people who are less privileged,” said Acho, who began traveling to Nigeria with his parents when he was 15.
“It puts your life into perspective. If you look at your life in a bubble, it’s easy to complain,” Acho said. “If you actually open up your eyes and take a step outside of your shoes, whether it’s in Nigeria or maybe it’s certain places in Chicago, you get a chance to see what real struggle looks like.”
Acho hosted his second annual celebrity waiter night in September, which raised more than $75,000 to expand the work LHCM does and support its new medical center in Nigeria. He also makes regular appearances at local schools and hospitals with the Chicago Bears community relations department to help support multiple causes.
On the field, Acho has started 21 games in his three seasons with the Bears and has established himself as a team leader and a valuable special-teams player. The seven-year veteran is 10th on the Bears with 26 tackles and fifth with 4 special-teams tackles.
“Sam is a high-energy guy,” Bears special-teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said. “Very positive mindset. Great attitude. Works extremely hard. He’s a smart player. He’s been really good teaching the younger guys some of his (special-teams) experiences, how to watch tape, the things that he looks for out of other players.”
As for his many charity efforts, Acho says he gets more in return than he gives.
“It brings me joy,” he said. “I think anybody who’s ever served or done anything for someone else, it’s a joy that you really can’t get anywhere else.
“I think I’m going to help all these people, and then I get there and I tell them, ‘Y’all are helping me.’ They’re helping me change my perspective on life, whether it’s football, a contract situation or stuff going on with family or teammates.”
Whether it’s struggling through another losing season or dealing with injuries, Acho has gained perspective from his travels. He’s seen up close what most only see on TV.
“I saw what real struggle looks like,” he said. “People who have to walk miles to get water from a stream that other people shower in or wash their clothes in. Put (water) in a bucket, put it on their heads, and they walk back miles to their house to put it on a fire, boil the water to purify it, (then) let it cool down because there’s no refrigerators over there, just to drink that same water.
“And I’m mad at my teammate? Come on. It puts life into perspective.”