Ex-football player uses his words to prevent others from using their hands
by Karyn Brodsky
If the true test of a person’s strength is how they cope with adversity, then football player Chris Johnson is a very powerful individual. He turned a major tragedy in his life into a great deal of wisdom.
Johnson, a cornerback for the Green Bay Packers, St. Louis Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens, lost his precious 33-year-old sister Jennifer to domestic violence.
On December 5, 2012, Jennifer’s 46-year-old estranged boyfriend confronted her in the parking lot of her Fort Worth, TX apartment complex. The two had severed their relationship, but Jennifer had allowed him to see their daughter. On that day, her ex-boyfriend expressed anger and jealousy that Jennifer was seeing another man. He fatally shot Jennifer four times and wounded Chris’ and Jennifer’s mother who was with her at the time.
The murder of his sister hit Chris hard. He and Jennifer were only 15 months apart in age, and they were very close growing up as the children of a single mother. As adults, they were best friends and spoke by phone every day. Chris, the only boy in the family, felt like it was always his place to protect his sisters and mother, and at the moment of her murder, he came to the painful realization that he could not.
When Jennifer was killed, Chris lost a sister, his mother lost a daughter, and Jennifer’s daughters lost their mother. Jennifer’s older daughter Sidney—who was born only twelve days apart from Chris’ daughter—was 13 years old when she lost her mother to violence. Sidney lived with Chris and his family for 18 months before deciding to live with her grandparents and baby sister, Soliel, who was only 2 years old when Jennifer died.
Devastated about losing his sister, it took Chris around a year before he was able to start speaking about domestic violence and how it affects the victims, their children and their family. Since then, he has been an outspoken advocate against domestic violence, speaking at women’s shelters, high schools, juvenile detention centers and to a variety of other groups about how to manage anger. He has given interviews to Dallas news outlets, appeared on the Dr. Phil show and was the keynote speaker at an October Domestic Violence Month event for Hope’s Door, an organization dedicated to domestic violence prevention and intervention in Plano. “From a man’s point of view, we have control over these types of situations. You don’t see women killing men as much as the other way around,” Johnson says. “As a man, if your temper gets too hot, walk away.”
Johnson himself follows this credo. Once, he says, during his second year playing for the Green Bay Packers, he and his wife had a heated argument. Before it could escalate, Johnson asked team security members to intervene, so he could walk away and cool off. “You have to think before you react. I did not want to put my hands on a woman. I grew up with a mom and three sisters, I have a daughter and two nieces,” says Johnson. “If you look at the woman you are with as your mother or your daughter, it will make you stop and think. Every woman has family; how would they feel if you hurt her?”
The easiest way to handle heated arguments, Johnson tells men of all ages, is to turn your cheek, walk away and diffuse the situation. He teaches his daughter and son how to treat others, particularly how women should be treated, and sets the example with the way he treats his wife.
Today, Johnson is retired from football, and spends much of his time doing motivational speaking. He still has a hard time dealing with Jennifer’s death but knows how important it is to create awareness about domestic violence. He notes that domestic violence is not only physical. It can be emotional, with the woman isolated from friends and family or brainwashed so she relies on a man for everything. “Domestic violence knows no age, gender, race, religion or socioeconomic status,” Johnson says. “It can happen to anyone.”
For turning his personal tragedy to wisdom and contributing his strong voice to advocate for victims of domestic violence—particularly women—inspiring young men to take the right path, and being a solid role model to his children, Good Life Family Magazine is honored to present this month’s VIP award to Chris Johnson.
Pictured top: Chris with his wife Mioshi, daughter Krissy, 18, sons Brannon, 15 and Christopher, 10.
Our VIP (Very Inspiring Parent) Award honors the everyday, and not-so-everyday, heroes in our midst. Those whose tenacity, integrity and courage inspire others to exemplify the same character and put their families and community first, in spite of the challenges life has thrown at them. For complete details or to nominate visit goodlifefamilymag.com or email Tricia@goodlifefamilymag.com.
What do you do if you or someone you know is being physically, emotionally, mentally or financially abused and you don’t know where to turn?
Knock on Hope’s Door
Hope’s Door in Plano has been helping victims of domestic violence throughout North Texas since 1986 and is still the only organization in Collin County specializing in services for domestic violence victims, children and perpetrators. Its mission is “to offer intervention and prevention services to individuals and families affected by intimate partner and family violence and to provide education programs that enhance the community’s capacity to respond.”
CEO Jim Malatich says, “Every person that we can help is a success story. Our success is helping our victims and clients get to a point where they can go through life without fear and give them the courage to achieve what they want to achieve.”
At first, Hope’s Door provided a 24-hour crisis hotline and emergency housing in area hotels since there was no permanent shelter. Then, in 1989 a 21-bed permanent shelter opened and services expanded to include counseling for adults and children, support group therapy, rapid rehousing, legal advocacy, community education and battering prevention programs. Hope’s Door is supported by fundraising efforts: individual and corporate donations and proceeds from the sale of gently used clothing donations at the Hope’s Door Resale Store, established in 1997. Via the Crissa’s Closet Voucher program, clients are able to get what they need using vouchers at the resale store, since many often flee for safety with only the clothes on their backs. Any remaining items are sold to the public.
Malatich notes that Hope’s Door’s greatest accomplishment is spreading domestic violence awareness in the community. He explains that when recent cases of domestic violence among players in the NFL were exposed, awareness within local communities was punctuated. “We saw a great number of people—men and women—come forward to ask for help.” Malatich adds that it is important to understand that domestic violence affects males as well as females.
He says that their biggest challenge currently is raising enough funds to meet the needs of the community. At present, Hope’s Door doesn’t have enough space in their women’s shelter and does not have a shelter for men. Plans to help meet these needs include the merger of Hope’s Door and New Beginnings Center in Garland in September, placing two shelters under the auspices of one agency that will serve North Dallas and Collin counties.
domestic violence CRISIS hotLINE: