For sports fans of a certain age, the name “Keyshawn Johnson” is not one closely associated with terms like “humility” and “wise counsel.”
Drafted as the overall #1 pick in 1996 by the New York Jets, for more than a decade the hot-shot wide receiver from the University of Southern California made headlines and football highlights shows in equal parts for his impressive on-the-field talent and for his attention-grabbing off-the-field impudence.
Arguing with teammates. Challenging coaches. Mocking the League. Scolding members of the media. And always with a defiant grin on his face.
But times, like people, change.
Since retiring in 2007, Johnson has returned to the Los Angeles area to raise his children and try his hand at various media gigs (including the obligatory Dancing With The Stars appearance). He’s kept a relatively low profile, and on more than one occasion has spoken out about the need for men in this country to be better, more responsible fathers to their children.
One of Johnson’s children – Keyshawn Johnson, Jr. – was a highly sought-after football recruit for the University of Nebraska this past year. Nebraska’s head coach, Mike Riley, coached Johnson Sr. at USC twenty years ago and Keyshawn the Elder has been helping his former coach and mentor nab some coveted SoCal talent for the Cornhuskers. Johnson, Jr. was the cream of this year’s crop.
Until this happened.
LINCOLN — Keyshawn Johnson Jr. — one of the most touted wide receiver recruits in recent Nebraska football history — is taking an extended leave of absence from the Husker program in hope of returning in January, his father, Keyshawn Johnson Sr., said Tuesday night.
The younger Johnson had enrolled at NU in January, a semester early, in hope of playing in 2017. He returned home to Calabasas, California, Tuesday after what the elder Johnson called a joint decision among himself, Nebraska coach Mike Riley and the Huskers’ athletic department. Keyshawn Johnson Sr. wants his son to “mature” for six months before considering a return to the school.
“You’re in college now,” Johnson Sr. said. “You’re an adult. You’re not a kid. You take a look at it from afar and let me know how important it is to you.”
Keyshawn Johnson Sr. continued:
“One thing you will not do as my son is you will not embarrass Nebraska, you will not embarrass Mike Riley and you will not embarrass this family,” the elder Johnson said. “If you mature and you’re ready to resume your football career and academic goals, then Nebraska will be ready to embrace you.”
Young men need their fathers. And they need their fathers to care more about doing what is right than looking cool or winning popularity contests. I don’t personally know Keyshawn Johnson Sr., and I’m sure he’s made his fair share of mistakes, but there simply is no substitute for an involved father in the life of a young male.
And what did Johnson Jr. have to say about his old man’s decision?
“I never asked him,” Johnson Sr. said. “At the end of the day, I don’t think that decision was in his hands. He squandered that decision. He still wants to play football, and he still wants to play for Nebraska. But if you don’t do the things you’re supposed to do, under the guidelines of me, it’s not going to happen.”
There are two things that every young man craves: love and structure. They want (and need) these things to help give them purpose. Even if his words sound harsh to the untrained ear, it’s clear that Johnson Sr. loves his son and wants him to embrace the type of structure in his life that will lead to purpose (and success). Accountability is a blessing, so long as it is not vindictive and cruel. The goal of correction is restoration, not defeat.
Some may call Johnson Sr. a hypocrite for being a loud-mouthed sports star who was constantly embroiled in one controversy or another as a player. I would put a different spin on such sentiments. Who better to identify waywardness in a young athlete’s life, and who better to have insight into how it might be course-corrected, than the wiser, grown-up version of a loud-mouthed sports star who now sees his own children making foolish mistakes?
We will see how young Keyshawn responds to his father’s and coach’s challenge. I’m rooting for him, and I appreciate his dad’s willingness to publicly address his son’s situation while simultaneously offering his boy a positive pathway forward. This isn’t about humiliation, it’s about renewal. More fathers should follow Keyshawn’s example.
Image: By Keith Allison from Baltimore, USA (panthers299) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons