Chisom Mbonu-Ezeoke Image Via Fox Sports
LOS ANGELES (FOX SPORTS WEST) — Chisom Mbonu-Ezeoke had never seen an ice rink or a hockey game, let alone lace up ice skates.
Mbonu-Ezeoke, a sports broadcaster in Nigeria, was about to check that trifecta off her bucket list within two days in Los Angeles.
With the help of Los Angeles Kings broadcaster Daryl Evans, she donned a pair of skates and leaned on Evans as they made their way around the rink at the Toyota Sports Center. Mbonu-Ezeoke’s progress was slow and steady, but she was determined to get to center ice for a photo.
She had the event documented on Facebook Live so many of her followers could see a rink for the first time as well.
“First of all, it was fun,” she said. “In the sports world, I’ve pretty much covered everything I’ve wanted to cover, Olympics, world championships, everything. Being in that rink, wow. I just wanted to share it with the people back home.”
And that’s why she’s here in Los Angeles, to learn and glean as much information as she can and in return share her experiences with women and girls in Nigeria in the hope of arming them with the tools to lead better lives.
The 38-year-old Mbonu-Ezekoke, who was the first female soccer analyst for SuperSport, a network she watched and dreamed of working for one day.
She is spending a month away from her husband and two children and career in Nigeria while she’s in the United States as part of the Global Sports Mentoring Program, in which, the U.S. Department of State seeks to empower women all over the world as they give back to their communities through sports.
FOX Sports is hosting Chisom this month, while participants in the program are paired up with league offices, agencies, and media partners around the country.
Mbonu-Ezeoke proudly wears the slogan “GSMP” on T-shirts around town and at games. There were few females doing what she wanted to do while growing up and watching soccer, basketball and participating in track and field.
“I was inspired by a guy,” Mbonu-Ezeoke said. “There was this anchor (South African broadcaster Thomas Mlambo), a very young boy about my age or a couple years older in South Africa. I watched the English Premier League and everything. I wanted to be like him. For me, it was a guy. I liked him and I told my friends, that one day, I was going to do that. It wasn’t that I saw women and wanted to be like them. I saw him. At the time I was young. I didn’t know the challenges facing women to do this.
“The norm for women is to get married and have children,” Mbonu-Ezeoke added.
She is married to Melvin and the two have a 4-year-old daughter, Dabeluchukwu Ezeoke, and a 2-year-old son, Yagazie Ezeoke, but Mbonu-Ezeoke has a career as well.
Her sister is helping take care of the children while Mbonu-Ezeoke’s in the mentoring program.
Mbonu-Ezeoke hopes her daughter is among the many women and girls who might be helped by the tools she’s learning. She plans to get tents and have parents drop their children off for a weekend of fun and education. They’ll play net ball and other sports on Saturday and Sundays and not just for the exercise.
“We use sports to teach life lessons,” Mbonu-Ezeoke said. “With sports you want to constantly improve. You want to win. You want to be better. You want to be faster. You want to defend better. You have to have tactics to win a game. These things translate to everyday life.”
She’ll use defense as a theme.
“You need to defend yourself against HIV, so no unsafe sex,” she said. “You have to defend your mind from perverts. Don’t let them come in. Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do something, so you defend your mind.”
And Mbonu-Ezeoke will have help. She knows the power and strength in numbers. She plans to enlist the help of many of the men and women she’s met in the United States and have them give talks via Skype, like Jennifer Pransky, one of her mentors and coordinating producer at FOX Sports.
Pransky is expected to travel to Washington D.C. where Mbonu-Ezeoke will present her action plan to the Global Sports Mentoring Program this weekend before returning to Nigeria.
“She’s in a situation where it’s tougher to make an impact,” Pransky said. “Here, it’s a little easier to inspire people. We don’t have the culture pressures. We don’t have the pressure to get married at 15. Her work is cut out for her. One of her main motivating factors was her mother. The fact she didn’t have a mom that went along with the societal and cultural norms. She encouraged her to make strides forward and do what she wanted.
“Chisom is someone who can go back and be that role model. Here there’s so many people you can look at who do great and wonderful things and there there are so few. She’ll have to be that singular figure for a while, doing the little things and and there will be more weight on her shoulders. She got where she is because of her mother.”
In Nigeria, 63 percent of the population lives on $1.90 per day. Mbonu-Ezeoke hopes to educate and inspire so that women can lead better lives.
She’s enlisted so many in her quest to learn, including chats with Kings defenseman Drew Doughty and Eric Shanks, president, COO and executive producer of FOX Sports.
And of course, there was that first skating lesson with Evans.
“You just hope that this little bit, with the couple of days I was able to chat with her and with the others she’s been meeting, hopefully she’s able to take some of that back and get it on the right sets of ears and somebody will listen,” Evans said. “Make steps. Don’t expect anything to happen overnight.
“I remember when I first came here with hockey in California in 1980 when I was drafted to see where it is now 37-years later is a whole new world. If something like that could happen and hopefully it doesn’t take quite as long, you never know. It could be something special in the years to come.”
Mbonu-Ezeoke and her family have access to a small generator so they can have electricity. Generators are considered luxuries for many. It’s that very reason that ice or hockey rinks in Nigeria would be a costly endeavor and something the country likely wouldn’t see for quite some time.
“I had never seen ice hockey,” she said. “We don’t have ice in Nigeria. I’ve held a baseball bat and a football, but I’d never seen an ice rink. It was a totally new experience.”
She didn’t conduct the Facebook Live of her ice skating experience herself, she said, because she “was trying to save my life.”
Everything is done with a smile or laugh.
Mbonu-Ezeoke attended her second NBA game and first in the Clippers-Lakers rivalry last week, where he Clippers won easily.
She saw the professional debut of Lonzo Ball and has since looked up his statistics to see how he’s progressing. She follows American sports and admires Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Candace Parker among others. She posed with many of the Staples Center statues, like Magic Johnson’s, outside Staples Center
The Kings game she attended was her favorite event because of the show. She wishes sports arenas hosted such light displays and made cool videos in Nigeria.
Mbonu-Ezeoke learned she had the opportunity to watch the Ducks play the Montreal Canadiens last week but she wasn’t getting out of a meeting in Los Angeles until 5 p.m. on game day.
Mbonu-Ezeoke didn’t flinch about the prospect of the hours-long commute to Anaheim. She hopped in an Uber and arrived during the first period. She got to sit in the stands when the Ducks scored three goals within 97 seconds and watch the FOX Sports West crew broadcast the game.
Afterward, she chatted with saxophonist Michael Forbes, who plays outside the Honda Center and told her “your smile is worth a million bucks.” At her request, he played Lionel Ritchie’s ‘Hello’ for her.
Chisom’s smile and infectious personality are as big as her hopes and dreams for other women in Nigeria. She’ll use the fun of sports help accomplish her goals.
“It also made me a little sad. I see the way things are done, and I think, ‘why can’t we do this?'” Mbonu-Ezeoke asked. “If it’s rocket science, I would understand. I don’t understand why we can’t have the same. I’m not just talking about the fan base. The arenas, the production, everything. The excitement. It actually looks good, something that everyone could enjoy. You guys are about 300 years ahead of us.”
Mbonu-Ezeoke is trying to bridge that gap.
One slow and steady lap around the rink at a time.