RSL’s Nedum Onuoha uses podcast to connect with teammates, other athletes and everyone in between

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Real Salt Lake center back Nedum Onuoha has been outspoken about racism back home in the United Kingdom. In the offseason, Onuoha who worked as an analyst for BBC Manchester, was at the game where Manchester City star Raheem Sterling was accosted with racist slurs. It's an unfortunate trend in worldwide soccer, as racist hate groups begin popping up around MLS fan bases.

Nedum Onuoha likes to talk. About soccer. About music. About life. No matter the topic, Onuoha will likely engage, and do so in a manner that feels like the person across from him has known him for years.

So it may not come as a surprise that for the past year, Onuoha, who plays center back for Real Salt Lake, has put his penchant for conversation on the air with his podcast, “Kickback with Nedum.” It's a show that’s featured guests like teammates Albert Rusnák and Corey Baird, but also gone outside the world of soccer with DJ Bangarang, former University of Utah football player Zack Moss and Utah-based mixed martial artist Ramsey Nijem.

But Onouha would not describe the dynamic he has with guests as an interview.

“The conversations I have on the show are the same as conversations I would have with the people if I was spending time with them and I just wanted to talk about things,” Onuoha said.

The show’s name, “Kickback,” represents the type of vibe Onuoha wants to have with his guests. A kickback, per Urban Dictionary, is a small gathering of friends — more than a hangout, less than a party. At times, he said, the types of chats he has with guest feels like the ones had at 2 a.m. after a night out with a friend.

“That’s also the energy that I want to have in the studio,” Onuoha said. “I want people to trust me and feel relaxed enough to be able to talk about absolutely anything.”

And oftentimes, talking about absolutely anything is what occurs. He’s talked to teammate Aaron Herrera about what it’s like to sign a new contract. He’s asked Rusnák to assess his own play and potential, and whether he wants the public at large to know what he’s really like as a person.

More recently, Onuoha compared his goal-scoring prowess to Becky Sauerbrunn’s, albeit in jest. And he’s even talked about adjusting to life amid the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down sports all over the world.

Ironically, the term “kickback” wasn’t in Onuoha’s vocabulary until it became the name of his podcast. He said he doesn’t remember exactly how the name of show came about, but he mentioned in his first episode back in August that his cousin had suggested calling it “Kickin’ It.”

“I’d never even said the word kickback before in my life,” Onuoha said.

Onuoha never thought about having his own show. But Ryan Hale approached him with the idea last year after appearing on Utah Royals FC players Rachel Corsie and Erika Tymrak’s podcast, “REthink." (Tymrak has since retired). Onuoha thought it was a good idea, and off it went.

Onuoha’s podcast is recorded once a week at Mtn. Air Studios in Draper and released every Friday. A couple of days before recording, he does research on his guests and formulates topics of conversation and specific questions to ask. Although sometimes an interesting story will shift the conversation.

That happened when he spoke with Real Monarchs captain Jack Blake, who operates a YouTube channel that explores his life as a professional soccer player. Onuoha said talking to Blake about his journey from England to the United States ended up inspiring him even though he’s had a longer career to this point.

Onuoha also incorporates music into his show. On most episodes, he’ll broach that topic to guests, asking where they find new music, who the best hip-hop artist are, or what songs they would want playing if they were about to fight someone.

Adding to the music element is the Spotify playlist for the podcast, which Onuoha adds to every week.

Booking guests hasn’t been a problem for Onuoha in his 33 episodes and counting. But he has learned what it’s like to attempt getting access to athletes he may not already know.

“It’s been weird for me as a player sometimes speaking to people as if I’m a member of the media trying to gain access to a sportsman,” Onuoha said. “That’s been very weird for me.”

But he’s learned to navigate. He’s also learned how to ask questions that make his guests really think about their answers. And that’s what he wants: to give listeners a sense of who his guests are as people without framing it in terms of what is going on with their teams at any given time.

“I’m basically trying to promote these people because these are people who I think have value in their sport, but they have real value as people,” Onuoha said. “And I think the more listeners that get the chance to hear that, I think they buy into it and start to understand how my world works with the people that I know.”

Once the pandemic hit and RSL furloughed staff, Onuoha thought the club’s entire podcast apparatus would be affected because Hale, who produced or helped produce them, was one of the people let go. But Hale wanted to continue.

“I thought it was done, but he said it doesn’t have to be,” Onuoha said. “And he was very open and happy and wanting to continue with the show.”

That reassurance made it easy for Onuoha to keep the show going, which is what he wanted to do anyway.

“I love doing it,” Onuoha said.