CHESTER, Pa. – Philadelphia Union midfielder Michael Lahoud was sharing some experiences from his recent trips to Africa with his friend Thilo Kunkel over coffee when Kunkel stood up and exclaimed, “Man, we’ve got to kick this Ebola in the face.”
Then, Kunkel – a professor at Temple University in North Philadelphia – paused and thought about it some more.
“No, we’ve got to kick it in the butt,” he said.
And thus began the #KickEbolaInTheButt Challenge, an online campaign recently created by Lahoud and Kunkel that aims to raise awareness – and donations – for the deadly virus that is ravaging Lahoud’s native country of Sierra Leone.
The premise behind the challenge is for people to film themselves bending over as someone else tries to kick a soccer ball at their rear end. If that person hits the target, you have to donate money supporting a charity in the fight against Ebola.
If they miss, they still have to donate.
Either way, Lahoud hopes the videos draw attention to the virus that has tragically claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people in West Africa since the epidemic began in March.
On Sunday, Lahoud hosted the #KickEbolaInTheButt kick-off event at Temple, where Kunkel is a professor in the university’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management. Fellow Union players Amobi Okugo, Zac MacMath, Brian Brown, Pedro Ribeiro and Andre Blake attended the event, which was covered by local television and radio stations.
“The premise behind this is: Are you willing to put your butt on the line for the good of others,” Lahoud told MLSsoccer.com following Tuesday’s training session at PPL Park. “I’ve always been a believer that you can have fun while doing good.”
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Like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Lahoud hopes #KickEbolaInTheButt can catch on and go viral. Since launching the campaign two weeks ago, Lahoud has seen videos ranging from kids in the Union’s academy all the way to people in Germany.
And he’d love to see people in the US soccer community rally behind the cause.
“In an ideal world, Landon Donovan does it,” Lahoud said. “But whether it’s Landon Donovan or 100 kids at a school, I think that’s equally important. It’s just getting that awareness out there and getting more people involved in fighting against Ebola. I’m hoping this is a vehicle for that, and I hope it continues to grow.”
For Lahoud, this is a very personal cause. His last two trips to Africa to play with the Sierra Leone national team in Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers have been especially brutal, as he was quarantined in a Kenyan airport because of Ebola fears in early August and heckled by fans chanting “Ebola” during a loss to the Democratic Republic of Congo earlier this month.
And that's nothing to what’s happening to the citizens of Sierra Leone, which Lahoud said is in “real danger of just complete collapse.”
“This isn’t about me,” said Lahoud, who lived in Sierra Leone until he was 6 before growing up in Virginia. “This is about the disease, which is putting my country in a pretty dark place. And if nothing is done to combat it, it can very well come to this part of the world.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.