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Ziggy Ansah 'would love to see' NFL game in Africa

The NFL is eager to spread American football to the far corners of the globe.

On the heels of an expanded commitment to the United Kingdom and a return to Mexico City this year, the league has designs on Germany in 2017 and China in 2018.

Against that international backdrop, Ghana native Ziggy Ansah harbors hopes of an NFL presence in Africa.

"I would love to see a game in Africa," Ansah recently said, via the Detroit Lions' official website. "That would be good, and I think there's a lot of potential back in Africa. I know that one day the NFL will have a game out there just like we do in London."

Soccer has had a foothold in Africa since late in the 19th century when British imperialism disseminated the game through mission schools, military forces and railways.

Football is quickly growing in popularity, though, with 15 active NFL players boasting ties to Africa.

Nicknamed the "Nigerian Nightmare," former Kansas City Chiefs power runner Christian Okoye was football's first great ambassador to Africa, emerging as an inspiration to young African athletes in the late 1980s.

"I think now that there's a lot of Africans playing this game, I know the young guys coming up have been picking up on the game," Ansah continued. "When I went there I met a few guys that are eager to learn the game. It's evolving in Africa."

In addition to the 15 players currently on NFL rosters, there are at least 35 more with NFL experience and ties to the world's second-largest continent, per NFL research.

Former Raiders defensive end and current NFL Media analyst Akbar Gbaja Biamila, whose parents hail from Nigeria, believes those numbers will mushroom if the NFL establishes a presence in Africa.

"If you get a Nigerian player, you're going to get you a responsible player, you're going to get a respectful player, a person who has a great work ethic and there's the athletic talent that can't be denied," Gbaja Biamila told Around The NFL. "It would be interesting to see the can of worms that would be opened up if you were to expose football to Africa.

"There's a lot of talent out there. And that's what football has always been premised around, the athletic talent, the ability to know football."

Without a local NFL presence, though, Gbaja Biamila is skeptical that football will ever rival soccer and basketball in popularity.

"I've traveled to nine countries over in Africa. The first thing they say when they see me is, 'Basketball, basketball, basketball. Michael Jordan, Michael Jordan, Michael Jordan,'" Gbaja Biamila explained. "That's from Egypt to Morocco to Nigeria to Senegal to South Africa. Basketball has more of an international footprint than that of football.

"So when you say football, there's the language barrier. You have to gesture like tackling or helmet. It clearly doesn't have the same footprint. There's a lack of influence. But once there's influence -- in Africa, they do look up to a lot of the Western culture -- so whatever becomes popular here, they want to emulate it. If you have that exposure, you would see a lot of people going out to play football."

The NFL has no plans for Africa to host a game in the near future. If the interest among Africans continues to expand, however, the dreams of Ansah and Gbaja-Biamila have a chance to reach fruition within a generation or two.

"Oh man, I would fall out! I don't care if the tickets cost $5,000," Gbaja-Biamila exclaimed. "I would pay to go see that in Africa. And it can happen. We just saw the World Cup in South Africa. ... From the land to the people, there's nothing but great resources there."

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