Michael Johnson is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Raiders after suffering a concussion against the Chargers. Despite that, he didn’t miss the chance to help out dish out food to those less fortunate with the Ladies of Leadership group.
“We’re a mentoring program for ladies 8-18,” Ladies of Leadership founder and CEO Kimberly Huckleby told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “We meet the first three Wednesdays of every month for nine months since 2007. This is the first year we’ve incorporated the boys. Every month we do a community service. They must know it’s better to give than receive. They’re very excited. Michael Johnson. No. 90. Wow. He’s very personable but they were looking at him in awe.”
It isn’t how most people would picture an injured NFL player spending their day off, but then again, Johnson isn’t your normal NFL player.
Johnson’s personality and leadership abilities are well documented, and it’s not hard to realize where his value lies within the Bengals’ locker room. The 10-year veteran is someone who other players are going to look to for advice, which comes in handy as an experienced player in a room full of young guys for the Bengals, but it is more valuable off the field as Johnson tries to make Cincinnati a better area than when he arrived.
That starts by setting an example. Like following through on charitable commitments despite being injured. Even as a veteran football player, Johnson is just a guy that players gravitate towards.
“They listen to (Johnson) more than they listen to me. That’s just the way it is in the NFL,” Bengals defensive line coach Jacob Burney said. “He’s a competent guy to say the least that can lay it out there for you. He’ll play hurt. He’ll play anything. ‘Coach, l’ll do anything to help us win.’ For an older guy to have that kind of mentality… that means a lot.”
Along with setting the right example as a professional, this makes it easier for those guys to buy into the program of giving back. Johnson has also showed he is able to put his money where his mouth is when supporting his causes.
One of his recent charitable events has been a reoccurring meeting between police and teens, which has been graciously helped by Eddie Hawkins, a Cincinnati police officer. Hawkins and Johnson met with the teenagers to help answer any questions they may have as well as build up a connection between the two. Johnson thanked Hawkins by giving him his two Super Bowl tickets from last season when the Bengals nominated him for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
Things like this have become fairly normal with the Bengals since Marvin Lewis became the head coach in 2003 and brought in John Thornton soon there after. Since then, players like Thornton, Johnson, Geno Atkins and now even Carlos Dunlap, the Bengals’ nomination for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for this season, have grown into models of professionalism and philanthropy. This legacy has become a very proud tradition to carry on for this defensive line.
That is something the team may have to hope can continue beyond the span of Johnson’s career. Sunday could be Johnson’s last game in Cincinnati as his contract is expiring and he will be 32 by the time Super Bowl 53 rolls around. Even if he does end up playing somewhere else or retiring after the season, he will be able to move on knowing that the tradition of giving back is going to be living on after his departure.