Heart of a Lion

Heart of a Lion

Israel Idonije, a Canadian now in his 10th NFL season, is being recognized once again for his efforts off the field.

The former University of Manitoba Bison was honoured as an “Everyday Sportsman of the Year” in Sports Illustrated’s annual issue recognizing the world’s most impactful sportsmen and women.

“The majority of athletes have a giving heart, but what happens is third parties get in the way,” former Bear Adewale Ogunleye told Sport Illustrated’s Robert Klemko. “The difference between Izzy and 90% of guys who give is he is completely hands-on. You’re never going to hear about someone taking advantage of the Isreal Idonije Foundation.”

The 6-foot-6 defensive end played only one year of high school football before joining the CIS University of Manitoba Bisons in the late 1990s. In 2003 he began his NFL career when he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Cleveland Browns. After ten years in Chicago with the Bears Idonije was signed by Detroit in 2013.

As Idonije told Sports Illustrated, his philanthropic foundation comes from his parents, Christian missionaries from Nigeria who moved to Manitoba in the 1990s. Over his career Idonije has donated close to 10% of his career earnings to his eponymous foundation.

This past summer Idonije was recognized at the White House and awarded the Daily Point of Light Award for his charitable efforts.

The Israel Idonije Foundation provides support to thousands of kids through after-school programs, sports camps and medical missions. The foundation focuses on three places: West Africa, the Canadian city of Winnipeg and Chicago. Daily Point of Light Awards are given to individuals who find innovative ways to meet community needs; efforts which often lead to long-term solutions and impact social problems in their local communities.

As Sports Illustrated’s Klemko reported, Idonije spent several off days this season in Chicago, tutoring kids in his after-school program and helping with ‘Shop with a Cop’, a program pairing underprivileged kids with police officers for a shopping spree. Idonije also organizes annual trips to Africa, including medical supplies and services for struggling communities.

“It would be a disappointment to just be known for what I did on the field,” Idonije told Sports Illustrated. “Because for me to get where I am today I’ve had countless people support and uplift me. I look at what I’ve been given as a gift, and with that I can impact and touch some lives.”