Being a sports fan can be complicated. The legacy of former NFL player Larry Johnson is a striking example of that.
We aren't talking about the NBA player of the same name, also known as "Grandmama." We also aren't talking about Larry Johnson, Sr., currently the defensive line coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes.
We're talking about his son, Larry Johnson, who was a dominant running back for the Kansas City Chiefs during the early 2000s. During his NFL career and after he retired, it's been a bleak story for him. As a football player, Johnson was great. Off the field, things have been a very different story.
College & NFL Careers
Here is Mel Kiper Jr. breaking down the #Chiefs selection of RB Larry Johnson at pick No. 27 in 2003 NFL Draft. pic.twitter.com/TFqZItv0t4
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) March 5, 2021
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Johnson was born in Maryland, where his father was a legendary high school head coach. His dad, a standout linebacker in high school himself, then got a job as defensive ends and special teams coach with the Penn State Nittany Lions, so Johnson went to State College Area High School before joining his dad at Penn State.
Johnson actually barely played during his college football career until 2002, his senior season. Then, he exploded onto the scene. The back broke Penn State records left and right and finished the year with 2,087 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns.
He torched Michigan State for 279 yards on 19 carries in the Big Ten title game. He was a unanimous All-American and a Heisman Trophy finalist before saying goodbye to the Big Ten and hello to the NFL.
The Kansas City Chiefs took Johnson with the 27th overall pick of the first round in the 2003 NFL Draft. At the time, the team already had Priest Holmes, who was a fine running back himself. Then, before the 2005 season, Johnson took over as the lead rusher and posted back-to-back seasons for the record books.
2005 Larry Johnson highlights!
Johnson that season-
? 336 carries (7th in the NFL that season)
? 1750 rushing yards (3rd in the NFL)
? 20 rushing TDs (2nd in the NFL)
? 33 receptions
? 343 receiving yards
? 1 receiving touchdown #CHIEFS (@2LarryJohnson7) pic.twitter.com/C4u3XZ41jA
— Four Verts ? (@FourVerticals_) September 2, 2019
Johnson rushed for 1,750 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2005, making his first Pro Bowl and the second All-Pro team. He rushed for 1,789 yards and 17 touchdowns the following year, but it was on a whopping league-leading 416 carries. That remains an NFL record for carries in a season. In the playoffs that year, he only managed 32 yards on 13 carries in his lone postseason appearance in his career. It would be the last noteworthy season in Johnson's career.
There were always discipline issues with Johnson, but things kept getting worse and worse. In 2008, he was suspended by the Chiefs for a game against the Tennessee Titans for violating team rules. In 2009, he was suspended again, 75 yards away from breaking Priest Holmes' team record for rushing yards in a career.
Some Chiefs fans signed a petition asking the team to release Johnson so he wouldn't break the record. We doubt they actually listened to the fans, but they did indeed release him.
After being released, Johnson played seven forgettable games with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009. In 2010, he played two games with the Washington Football Team. In 2011, he got all of one carry with the Miami Dolphins, which would be his last NFL action.
Larry Johnson Now
We mentioned Johnson have disciplinary issues while he was in the NFL, and that went beyond the time he complained about his number of carries against the Oakland Raiders. He used anti-gay slurs repeatedly when talking to the media. As a player, Johnson was arrested four times for violence against women. Since retiring, he has been arrested twice more for violent behavior, including allegedly punching a man in Miami in 2014.
In 2020, Johnson talked with the Sports Spectrum podcast and said that he had found God and cleaned up his ways. He said he was focused on raising his daughter Jaylen and living a righteous life.
Unfortunately, Johnson seems to have found a particularly alarming style of religion. Since that podcast appearance, he's tweeted anti-Semitic comments repeatedly, even drawing the ire of CNN's Jake Tapper. Also, he claimed LeBron James taking over for Kobe Bryant was a "blood sacrifice." As recently as 2019, he was contributing to the far-right conspiracy theorist website InfoWars.
In a conversation with the Washington Post, Johnson also said that he believes he has Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. This is not an uncommon occurrence for former NFL players, sadly. In fact, Johnson went as far as to say that he cannot remember two full NFL seasons.
Larry Johnson says he can?t remember two of his NFL seasons: https://t.co/rtyY4dzCwM pic.twitter.com/3uvKqbbDFu
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) December 13, 2017
It's a complicated story with Larry Johnson. He had two Hall-of-Fame caliber seasons but was otherwise a non-entity in the NFL. The back was a force on the field. Still, he was also clearly a violent and dangerous person and remained so after his career ended.
If he does have CTE, it would undoubtedly be doing tremendous damage to his cognitive abilities. On the other hand, no other former NFL players have made a habit of tweeting anti-Semitic nonsense and making unhinged conspiracy claims like he has.
You want to remember Johnson bowling over defenders at Penn State or with Kansas City. It would help if you remembered all the bad stuff, which didn't go anywhere when he hung up his cleats, perhaps too late to save his mental health.
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