I grew up in a house where the Chicago Bears were more like a religion than a football team so, my brother and I were no strangers to names like Walter Peyton, Mike Ditka, Israel Idonije, and Brian Urlacher.

While each of the players I mentioned above, have all since retired from the NFL, they all still remain influencers in the Chicago community and have all contributed in some way or another to bettering the lives of others.  So, after still recovering from the excitement (and stress)  of the NFL Draft weekend here in Chicago, I thought I’d take time to highlight one of the Bears most charitable alums, Israel Idonije.

I recently had the honor of sitting down with the former defensive end and we talked about everything from, life after the Bears, to creating the Israel Idonije Foundation and what he has planned next!

Get ready to be inspired!


Honestly Unfiltered: You have so many things on your plate – can you give us a look at what a typical day looks like for you?

Israel Idonije :  I wake up around 5;30/6 and workout.  Meditation/Prayer If I’m in town then I head into the office and work on whatever projects are on the roster for the day.  It could be manufacturing, sales, comic books, adventure park…. we have a lot going on.  Days in the office are always fun because when I’m not in the office I’m usually traveling.  During football season the past two years, I have been in Toronto several days of the week doing NFL analyst work for Canada’s TSN (equivalent to our ESPN).  Life after football has been non-stop — and it’s been great!


HU: Through your foundation, there’s a great focus on setting up children for their best future.  What would you believe to be the best social and emotional life skills for kids working towards their goals?

II: Without question the most important skill is effective communication.  Which is two fold. 1. being able to understand your own emotions (good or bad) 2. being able to articulate that understanding to those around you in a positive way.If you can do those two things you will be able to build positive relationships.  Relationship building (connecting) is  so critical to success.


HU: Out of all the work you have done through your organization, what was your most-rewarding effort?

 II: It’s all very rewarding. However, one of the most memorable moments was the transformation of a young girl by the name of Segun who we met in a village in Nigeria.  She needed heart surgery to stop blood from pumping into her lungs.  The Heart Gift Foundation was going to cover the operation if we could get her to Austin, TX. We were fortunate to make it all work and she had the surgery.  She and I later spent a day in Chicago and she was a completely different child. She ran the full length of Soldier Field, which is something she could not do previously. We rode on the Navy Pier rides and ate everything in sight. It was amazing to see how us being in that village that day transformed a special life.


HU: Recently, there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding cops, but I love the concepts behind your Shop With a Cop event to evoke good thoughts in kids when it comes to cops. How were you inspired to create this event?

II: Well we wanted to do something around the holidays to let our kids know how special they are and that a lot of people in our community love and support them.  So we started doing the shopping experience and it was amazing.  Later that year I was walking in the school with officers and one of our kids yelled they hated cops but really couldn’t articulate why.   We then added the officers to the shopping experience the following year.  This has really helped the kids realize that there are a lot of great officers in their neighborhoods doing good things.  Relationships are built during our Shop With a Cop event.  It’s a fund day watching the kids have positive interactions and bond with the officers while they bowl them, eat lunch with them and shop with them. The officers who participate are from the same neighborhoods as the kids so as these positive connections are reinforced,  we hope that both the officers and the kids have a refreshed perspective on how to handle some of the challenges they face.


HU: Chicago is a great mix of a big city and a small town. How does Chicago as a community aid the foundations strides? 

II: Since day one I’ve had incredible support from the city, my teammates and an endless list of community leaders. That’s Chicago for you!


HU: Where did you find this passion for children and underserved communities? 

II: My Parents.  Some of my earliest memories are of serving with my family to help others in our community.


HU: How do you find ways to incorporate your background in football as part of your work?

II: I think the lessons in sports directly correlate to so many life lessons. Those lesson can be incorporated constantly.


HU: What’s the most rewarding thing about what you do?

II: I’m not sure.  I’m just thankful.  I try to live my life in a state of thanks.  I’m thankful for all the opportunities that I have.  A reward is something we get….. I feel that I have lots to give and share. Everyday I wake up with the mindset to create and build something to make our world better a better place. I’m thankful.