Whether it's through their food, clothing or accessories, Minnesota Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and rookie linebackers Brian Asamoah II and William Kwenkeu make sure their culture is at the forefront.
Adofo-Mensah and Asamoah are both first-generation Americans with parents who emigrated from Ghana. Kwenkeu was born in Cameroon.
All three recently sat down with Vikings Entertainment Network's Gabe Henderson for a special conversation called "Vikings Table Talk," where they spoke about representing their roots in the NFL while enjoying traditional food from Western Africa.
"It's something you don't see every day being emerged in American culture, so [it's about] having the time to take to celebrate, to be around familiar faces," Kwenkeu said. "As many differences that Ghana has from Cameroon or America has from someone, we have similarities and probably have common stories. It's just a moment to appreciate being around each other."
Adofo-Mensah said he tried to fit in when he was growing up, before he realized the importance of his culture.
"As you kind of grow up, you're just so proud of all the different circumstances that made you who you are and how you got there, and you have such an appreciation for not only your culture, but other people's cultures," Adofo-Mensah said. "I love being in an environment like this where we can all share that."
The meal featured jollof rice, chicken, meat pie and a salad.
Asamoah said he grew up eating jollof rice at nearly every meal.
"I think for me it was jollof rice and this thing called omo tuo," Asamoah said. "It's like a rice ball and it's in some soup that tastes really good with all types of chicken, beef, all types of stuff. It was really those two things."
Kwenkeu added he always makes sure there's food from Cameroon in his house.
"I've been fortunate and blessed at home … breakfast from Cameroon, it's just different," Kwenkeu said. "It's a constant reminder so I don't have to really think about it."
Seeing, then believing
The first Ghanaian-born NFL player was Phil Yeboah-Kodie. Yeboah-Kodie was drafted 146th overall by Denver in 1995 and spent time with Washington and Carolina that year before playing two games with Indianapolis in 1996.
Roman Oben was the first Cameroon-born player in the NFL. Oben spent four seasons with the New York Giants (1996-99) and had stints with the Browns (2000-01), Buccaneers (2002-03) and Chargers (2004-07).
There are more than 100 players currently in the NFL who are either from Africa or are first-generation African Americans. Asamoah said Yeboah-Kodie and Oben were the foundation and created a path for others.
"I think it starts with the first person that did it," Asamoah said. "Someone that said, 'Hey I want to be like him,' and just that domino effect that has kept going on and on and on, and for that, it's created a cycle and now I'm in that cycle hopefully giving the next young Ghanaian hope that they can be able to because they saw me do it."
Kwenkeu added the NFL has done a great job of expanding the game globally.
"It's bringing awareness to it on the grand scheme of things," Kwenkeu said.
Asamoah said he's been able to represent Ghana through his pre-game outfits.
"I ordered a bunch of different colors of my traditional African wear," Asamoah said. "It all just shows my culture and what we wear back home to special events and to me, every Sunday is a special event. So that's why I've been embracing that. Obviously on a game day I'm wearing my little headband."
Adofo-Mensah said he tries to honor his culture with small gestures, including wearing a necklace with the Ghanaian coin and bracelets with the colors of the flag.
"When I was a kid, you just kind of get thrown into this country and your parents are immigrants and you're trying to figure it all out," Adofo-Mensah explained. "You're not always so proud to be with a name like my name or look the way I look. And then one day, it just clicks and it's this beautiful recognition, and just loving your time and space with your family and how you got here. I try and celebrate that every day in a little way."
Kwenkeu said he's extremely proud to be from Cameroon.
"Why wouldn't I be proud to be from Cameroon? Cameroon people are just proud in general," Kwenkeu said. "From the way we walk, the dances, the way we carry ourselves. Being proud, being from a rich culture, which growing up there for 14 years has led into what my identity is today.
"I'm just proud because it's my root and not a lot of people have the chance to know what that is, so I'm thankful for that," Kwenkeu continued. "Just being proud and having that self-identity and having that soul that I can always tap into."
Asamoah added just understanding the culture of Ghana and embracing the traditions associated with it is what continues to drive him each day.
"I think it's the culture," Asamoah said. "Just knowing where you're from, from a tradition aspect it's just different. I was there for a year, embracing that rich culture that we have, knowing that you're from Africa, knowing that this happened in the 1900s, this happened in the 1800s, just really understanding more about your country and I think that was the biggest thing for me, and that's why I'm just so happy to express it, because being African in general is really such a blessing. Being able to embrace it here in the National Football League is just a really cool journey for me."
The Vikings have also been building their culture this season through weekly family dinners. The meals are held on Tuesday evenings for coaches.
Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said he wasn't a part of the family dinners when he was the offensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams the past two seasons due to COVID-19. He got to experience it when he was the quarterbacks coach in Cleveland in 2015 under current Vikings Assistant Head Coach Mike Pettine.
"It was really neat for me," O'Connell said. "I had just had Kaden, my oldest son, and [my wife] Leah was a first-time mom out in Cleveland, far away from home for the first time, on her own with the 1-year-old baby. So anytime she was able to come over and I was able to be around Kaden … I want to say some of [Kaden's] first steps might have even been in the indoor [practice facility] there in Cleveland, if I recall."
O'Connell and Leah recently celebrated the birth of their fourth child. He said the family meals offer a special opportunity for coaches and their families to interact and spend quality time with each other.
"It's really special. I think it ends up being an hour – they get a chance to eat, and then we all go – I normally take a bunch of the kids in the indoor facility and run around and play some football for about 15, 20 minutes, and then we go back to work," O'Connell said. "I tell the coaches sometimes it's a small sacrifice, maybe, to stay an hour later – and we know the hours we work – but to be able to get that interaction with our families, at least one time in the week before it kind of gets away from us into the game-planning and the rest of the week, it's really important. I know it is for me and my family, so I just want to make sure I give people the opportunity to take advantage of that."