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Life In Focus: Ameer Abdullah and the art of being human

By Rachel Gossen | Digital Managing Editor

Ameer Abdullah sat down quietly on a stool in his Henderson, Nevada, apartment. His piercing brown eyes watched as the crew set up cameras and lights to film this .

"What kind of camera are you guys using?"

"Is the shot good? Should I move to my left?"

Ameer is not your typical football player. It sounds cliché, but it's true.

Books scattered on the table next to a laptop, crystals laid out on the windowsill, a guitar propped up by the couch, plants soaking up the sunlight on a hot Las Vegas day. Art pieces of Malcolm X and Jimi Hendrix adorn the walls and meditative music plays through speakers; Ameer is a man of many interests and his apartment is a culmination of everything that's important to him – football, history, film, music, art, culture – yet I quickly found that he is someone who cannot be defined.

Ameer was the ninth child welcomed into the Abdullah family in Homewood, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham.

Without any other relatives nearby, the 11-member family formed a very close bond, filling the house with loudness, laughter and occasional sibling squabbles.

His eight, older siblings – two brothers and six sisters with a 18-year age difference between oldest and youngest – and parents, Kareem Sr. and Aisha, have all played a part in inspiring Ameer to reach his greatest heights.

In fact, the NFL player with a nine-year career could even be considered the odd one out in the highly accomplished family made up of attorneys, musicians, doctors, business owners, bankers and journalists.

"All the influence that I got from them, as you can hear all the different things that they do, really gave me probably the most well-rounded perspective to head into life with," he said. "I saw everything from people who are into politics, people who are into legislature, and then you have people who are into music, so I feel like I became really well-rounded growing up in our household."

While he had many people to look up to, being the youngest child comes with the territory of developing a tough skin, fast.

"He definitely had a chip on his shoulder," said his brother, Kareem Jr. "He was always fighting to be heard, fighting back when we would tease him and pick on him. He's always had that mentality of like, 'I'm not gonna sit here and let them pick on me, I'm gonna defend myself.' And even when he didn't need to defend himself, he was very assertive with, you know, his opinions and his thoughts."

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Just four years apart but sharing the exact same birthday, Ameer was often Kareem's shadow – hanging out with Kareem's friends, listening to music, playing video games and playing sports together in the neighborhood.

Kareem saw one distinct thing about his sibling, though. He was always more athletically advanced than other kids his age.

"We didn't have a lot of money at the time," Ameer said. "Playing park league football was kind of expensive. You've got to get your own pads; you've got to do all these things. My brother would beg my dad, like, 'You've got to let him play. He's good.'"

"I was like his unofficial coach because I would always see the potential in him," Kareem added. "He was just way faster and stronger than all the other kids."

Then, there was the day where Kareem Sr. stopped to watch his youngest son playing in the yard, catching the ball and avoiding every tackle from kids four years older than him. The next day, Kareem Jr. handed their dad the youth league sign-up sheet.

"From that point on, my dad was at every single game with the camcorder, recording everything, even up to college," Ameer said smiling. "I remember my dad used to sit in the stands, and he would have headphones on. He would listen to the TV or the radio copy, just to get the breakdown of what's going on. … He's my No. 1 supporter still to this day."

According to the Abdullah kids, their parents always seemed to give an even, calm presence in their home, fostering creativity and open-mindedness – with Kareem Sr. often serving as their own personal Mr. Miyagi, especially when his youngest son was frustrated by football.

"He doesn't give you the answers, but he gives you a jewel or nugget that will have you thinking about it even years later, you know?" Kareem Jr. said.

Those jewels that he still hands out even though his kids are in their 30s and 40s include "Set your own standard" and

And one of Ameer's favorites: "Genius is persistence in disguise."

In a family of many different interests, Ameer absorbed it all.

He majored in history at Nebraska, has performed spoken word poetry and devours books in an effort to learn new skills.

But his ongoing category of interest, outside of football, has been film.

He first picked up a camera at a young age, gifted to him by second-oldest sister Ruqayyah. Inspired to "timestamp" the moments in his life, he shot photos of everything from his friends at school to football practices to his nieces and nephews.

As he got into the rhythm of life, photography was something that allowed him a release from the day-to-day grind of college work and football.

"A touchdown is a touchdown. There's no discretion in that," he said. "First down, the yardage and all those things.

"But when you get behind the camera, what you see may not always hit someone else the same, but what it really helps you express and release is subjective to you. It allowed me to really express myself a lot more in that space."

He began to transition from photography to videography as he explored more of what interested him. As a young boy, he said he always felt drawn to movies like "Seven Pounds," anything that explored human stories and the human experience.

"It's one of the more beautiful forms of art," he said, "being able to articulate someone else's perspective or expression through visuals or stories that you build out."

He's taken to shooting and editing short reels of his offseason travels that he posts to his Instagram account, but has also delved in the short film world with his most recent film, "Joshua Tree," which he published on YouTube in October 2022.

A psychological thriller, "Joshua Tree" explores an alternate future where only Black people exist. It came about on a vacation with his friends to, you guessed it, Joshua Tree, California, where they brought along camera equipment and decided to make a movie.

It was also the first project in which Ameer did it all – shot, acted, directed and produced.

Not to give away any twists, but it's a good peek inside weird, wild ideas that roam around in his mind.

"I'll be driving, stop at a red light and see something, and immediately I'll think, 'What if this is why I saw this specific thing at that time,' but I'll create an entire storyline in my mind on like, 'If I didn't turn right, right here, where is the trajectory of my life?' Sometimes it's just fun just to take your mind to those different places."

Though Ameer finds it more comfortable to be behind the camera, he never shies from a challenge. That's why this past year, he has been taking acting classes to learn another side of the industry. His work paid off as he landed a role in the upcoming film, "Break the Cycle," featuring Cuba Gooding Jr., and Vivica A. Fox, which begins filming this March in Memphis, Tennessee.

He's far from being the first Silver and Black player to make an appearance on the silver screen. The running back joins a long list of Raiders who have recorded film credits including Howie Long, Nnamdi Asomugha, John Matuszak and Carl Weathers, to name a few.

But as Ameer noted, it isn't just the act of filmmaking that interests him. It's the art form and ability to share his perspective with the world in an effort to connect with others and help them feel seen.

It wasn't an easy path to grow up as a young Black, Muslim kid in an Alabama town with a population of under 25,000 people.

His mother, who worked in psychology, made it a priority to teach each of her nine children that not only could they pursue any passion they wanted, but to pave their path with kindness and acceptance – two traits Ameer hopes reflect in both his films and his daily life.

"She has a very good read on people and why people act certain ways," Ameer said. "The conversations were very mature and I think it helped us step into a world that isn't always kind to African Americans in Alabama, as well as Muslims in Alabama."

Though the Abdullahs lived in what Ameer describes as a multi-cultural neighborhood and attended a "fairly diverse" school, he faced the uglier side of humanity as an eighth grader on the Amateur Athletic Union travel basketball team when the opposing team saw his last name on the roster.

"We were playing in Hartselle and they were chanting 'terrorist' at the free throw line, which was just so wild to me," he said. "It was really crazy that they would say that or think that because I was observing Islam, that I was in favor of terrorist attacks. That was the first time I really actually dealt with something like that."

It's one of the experiences Ameer looks back on now as a moment of growth, not letting the chants and jabs affect his performance. It only grew a mentality he would need later as he faced the trials and tribulations of making it in the NFL.

"My career has been kind of reborn in the sense that I went through highs in Detroit, got hurt, went to Minnesota, had to learn different roles of playing special teams that I'd never done before. Kind of got the spark again in Carolina when Christian [McCaffrey] was hurt and I was able to fill in and played really good ball. Now, to come here with the Raiders, and then in year nine to, you know, withstand a lot of the ups and downs.

"You've got to be very consistent with your word. You have to be kind of like a steward, you have to be a steward to your craft. I think that was really seeds that I planted at the age of 15."


He's always been someone who believes in – and follows – the signs he feels the universe gives him.

When Ameer first started high school football, he was playing as both a slot receiver and cornerback and thought his future would be as a defensive player. However, in his junior year, the team was lacking a starting running back. Ameer, naturally one to jump at a new opportunity, volunteered.

He went on to record 1,800 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns, while catching 33 passes for 515 yards as a senior.

However, his step to the next level wasn't that clear.

"My family, we were all about us in the house and building outwardly. We weren't really in touch then with the outside world. We didn't know how to get recruited. We didn't know we had to send film out. So going into my senior year, I had never sent any film out. I thought colleges if they liked you, they just came to your house."

He began working with a trainer, former NFL defensive end Otis Leverette, who helped Ameer get into football camps which led to more scout attention and garnering offers from top schools like Alabama, Vanderbilt, USC, Tennessee and LSU – but as a cornerback.

Two weeks before signing day, Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini showed up in Alabama and offered Ameer a scholarship on the spot to play running back, plus a visit to the university that weekend.

A 10-degree January visit to Lincoln, Nebraska, might not be the most ideal recruiting trip for an Alabama native, but "a sign" would only confirm to Ameer that it was the right place for him.

"I went back home and I'm actually driving to school one day and I see a Nebraska license plate in front of me. I'm like, this has got to be a sign. I'm in Alabama, I saw a Nebraska license plate. I committed on the spot and then I told my mom. She was mad about that because I didn't talk to her before, but it was definitely a calling."

Taking the chance on himself to ignore the cornerback offers and follow his heart is simply part of who Ameer is.

"Growth is my only goal really in life. I don't try to set too many tangible goals. It's really just to grow every single day."

If there's one way to describe Ameer, it's that he doesn't like to be stagnant.

Filmmaking started as a side hobby, working on promotional shoots for companies like lululemon and BestBuy while living in Minneapolis during his tenure with the Vikings.

It was in Minnesota where he met Uzoma Obasi, an artist, fellow creative and now friend/business partner.

Ameer originally hired Obasi as a videographer for a YouTube series he wanted to make, but as they got to know each other, they realized their similarities and desire to create.

"There's no one box that fits Ameer," Obasi said. "It allows me to think bigger and think more than what I thought was possible. Working with him expands my mind, expands the boundary of what I think is possible."

Obasi asked if Ameer would like to join him as an assistant, but the running back knew that outside of football, he wanted to work on his own terms.

The two ultimately teamed up to create an apparel brand called Creative House, which has now evolved into their production company that put out "Joshua Tree."

"We knew that we had a bigger passion for film, both separately," Obasi said. "We get to make the rules when it comes to what we're doing with our own stuff. Now, we are working on a couple different scripts together. We're going with the flow as far as not really tying ourselves down to anything and any boundaries."

Ameer's creative ambitions leveled up when co-writing scripts and co-producing, including a 2019 thriller titled "Hell on the Border," but it wasn't enough to keep him satisfied.

In the midst of the pandemic in 2020, he picked up the book, "Save the Cat," which detailed every step of the film industry from scriptwriting to storyboarding to pitching.

This led to the development of his first written show, which he described as an "intellectual animated adult comedy" that showcases his self-proclaimed cynical humor he shares with his siblings.

"For me, I've always kind of been a little bit more daring in my thoughts, my actions or my decisions," Ameer said. "I've been pitching it around to other producers, and they love it. Now we're at the point where we're in the production stage and the animation is becoming more real."

In addition to the animated series, he's working with Obasi on a mockumentary style sitcom à la The Office, in which two completely different worlds come together to dismantle stereotypes. (That's all we can tell you as it's another secret project).

These aren't just offseason projects either. He's a strong believer in the "power of making a schedule" and setting monthly checkpoints to achieve a goal – whether it's a simple or ground-breaking goal.

When in season, his typical day involves the daily football practices and workouts, where his schedule is made by the coaching staff, followed by going through the playbook for the week and then transitioning to his scriptwriting or collaborations with an animator over video calls toward the end of the day. If he has downtime, he'll either double back to the playbook or script, whichever he feels needs more of his attention at the time.

What sounds like a packed schedule and a balancing act is really just Ameer's outlet that feeds his desire to constantly grow and learn.

"I'm probably writing like six scripts right now," he said laughing. "Some of the content, it's all over the place. It will probably make my mom cry. It's a lot of stories that I've been through at a very young age. Things that I've seen, things that I've experienced, that I think using this as a therapeutic outlet for myself, to express and to get out on the big screen that I know will be much more beneficial than just for me, is definitely a goal of mine."

The thought of failing – in any area of his life – doesn't seem to ever occur to Ameer, and maybe that's a symptom of the confidence instilled in him by his parents and siblings.

"With six sisters, I was surrounded by feminine energy that was also very strong and sturdy. They were nurturers, but at the same time, they were very self-aware. They had standards and they had boundaries that they set for themselves."

While he gleaned so much from his parents and older siblings, over time, he's poured back equal amounts into each of them.

"He's a very thoughtful person. He's very genuine," Kareem said. "He actually introduced me to the vulnerability of just allowing yourself to be yourself. That's literally my best friend. He's the f'ing man."

Ameer Abdullah is a piece of the chessboard when it comes to the gridiron.

But when he's off the field and behind the camera, he's the one ensuring all the pieces move in unison.

Whether it's watching film on an upcoming opponent or watching his own script come to life on film, the foundation of discipline he learned from years of football has helped establish how he wants to model his life.

"The common denominator that I've identified with all the things that I do in life is being a leader, being someone that can bring education to wherever space that I'm in," he said. "I feel like as a director, you help other people step into their light a lot of times.

"I think it's something that I also reflect in the locker room as well. Any time we have younger players coming in, I love to bring them into specific routine that can help them stay sustainable throughout the week."

It may seem as though the two worlds of art and sports don't mesh easily, but as I said, Ameer is not your typical football player.

"I don't think any one thing defines me," he said. "I will say I'm a creative but so are you. So is Coach, so is Davante Adams. We all choose to create in different ways.

"Being formless is one of the most beautiful things that you can be as a person. I think we all carry duality within ourselves, that we have to step into different shapes at different times. I think that's what creates the art of being a human, really."

Photos courtesy of Ameer Abdullah

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