Last Saturday, Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe spent the afternoon at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. He wasn’t there to take in a sporting event. Instead, he was gladly breaking his normally very rigid diet as a guest judge at the 32nd annual DC 101 Chili Cook Off.
“I dove into that event,” Shiancoe says. “I wasn’t missing it.”
The Cook Off, featuring 101 of the best chefs in the D.C. area, was a big deal for Shiancoe because he considers himself a chili lover.
“I like spice,” he says. “My Mom cooks with a lot of spice, a lot of heat, flavor and texture. A lot of things go into that. The meat they use — everything. I like turkey or ground beef and not too much oil.”
But the bigger reason Shiancoe took part in the daylong event was because it benefited the National Kidney Foundation.
“My mom works with dialysis patients,” he says. “Plus, my cousin Alfred had a kidney transplant and is doing great now. Both inspire me to get involved.”
With the NFL lockout in its 11th week, Shiancoe has devoted himself to getting more involved in a variety of charitable works. Living in his offseason home in Maryland, he has had the time to lay the groundwork for a brand new foundation.
“I’ve got it up and running, but I want to do it right,” Shiancoe says. “I am not just throwing a foundation together to just do it. I want to do research and be involved. I want to feel and hear and touch what I am trying to do.”
What he is trying to do his help the people of his native African country, Liberia. When Shiancoe was a newborn, his mother Ethel took him and his older brother Jon out of the war-torn nation.
“My Mom took it upon herself during the Civil War in Liberia and left,” Shiancoe says. “She knew there was better opportunity in U.S. ”
The family first landed in New York, then settled in Maryland. Shiancoe has never returned to Liberia but knows the people there could use his help.
“It is a country that is trying to get back on its feet,” he says. “For so many years, there has been no structure. I want to work with kids. Also, I want to help the elderly to solidify their heritage. In African countries, the elderly are very respected, revered and listened to. So I want to somehow keep that going.
“There is so much there that can be helped. I want to work with orphanages and kids and battered women. I want to be directly involved. That’s my roots. ”
Shiancoe looks forward to the day he can return to the country and help the people. He has always enjoyed helping others, but now — after eight years in the NFL — he can finally do it the way he has always wanted.
“If you change one person’s life, that is worthwhile,” he says. “Think about how important your life is to you. I have always felt like that but never had the resources to help out huge. I have done small things, but now with resources available, I can really get things done. I think players can lose touch with reality. Everybody isn’t rich. Not everyone can go to the doctor and get medicine or simply take care of the things they need.”
Shiancoe credits his mom for his desire to help others.
“When I was young, we were poor,” he says. “But I didn’t know it as a kid. My mom just did a good job. Nothing came before me or my brother. She was always there for me. I am extremely c lose to her. She is my heart. ”
And it was his mom who encouraged Shiancoe to play football .
“She wanted me to get out of the house; I had too much energy,” he says.
Shiancoe is entering his ninth season overall and his fifth year in Minnesota. He is in the final year of his contract and will turn 31 next month. But, even while taking more time to help others, he has also sharpened his focus on staying in shape. This offseason, Shiancoe hired a personal chef who cooks for him daily. He also has a personal trainer he works with five to six days a week. His body fat is down, and he says he is faster and stronger than ever.
When the Vikings drafted tight end Kyle Rudolph in the second round last month, Shiancoe wasn’t surprised.
“You’ve got three tight ends on the current roster (Jeff Dugan, Jim Kleinsasser and Shiancoe), and all of their contracts are up this year,” he says. “It was expected.”
With the addition of Rudolph and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, the Vikings’ offense will have a different look.
“I don’t know how exactly Rudolph and me are going to be used; we have to wait to see what is going on,” Shiancoe says. “But, they’ve talked about using two tight ends, sometimes three. You just never know. We now have more options.”
Shiancoe has not yet talked to Rudolph, but he has communicated with the Vikings first-round pick quarterback Christian Ponder.
“I was impressed,” Shiancoe says. “He reached out and took the initiative to get in touch with me.”
Shiancoe is also impressed with Ponder’s skills.
“He has great footwork, a good arm, and good accuracy,” Shiancoe says.” Those are the basics that he can run with. From what I know and have heard about him, being a leader, well, that is good groundwork. So the potential is definitely there to be a great QB in this league.”
With June fast approaching, Shiancoe is eager to return to Minnesota. Each day the lockout continues, he is more concerned the Vikings are losing time to build chemistry and camaraderie.
“To go though workouts together, this time of year, creates a closeness only we can understand on the field,” he says. “All teams are going through this. It is like going to battle with your counterpart — they guys you grind it out with. It also creates confidence in each other. You get perspective, a sense of how hard the other guy is working. That camaraderie is something that needs time to happen.”
But time certainly isn’t on any NFL team’s side right now. Though Shiancoe continues to work out, eat right and build his foundation, he is looking forward to getting back to Minnesota to focus on football.
“Once this lockout ends, I am prepared,” he says. “It is all about being ready.I feel like I am closer football when I am back. It is just not the same not being there.
But in the meantime, he’ll stray a bit from his diet and savor the memories of eating a little chili at RFK.
“No. 16,” he says. “That was the winner for me.”