Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ian O'Connor: Bears' Johnson shouldn't be allowed to play

Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson, who has been arrested three times in 18 months, isn't ready to say "sorry."

Wednesday, January 31, 2007


MIAMI -- Tank Johnson talked about demons, and not the kind with gargoyle heads and bloody claws. These are demons disguised as garden variety columnists, dime-a-dozen haters and Hall of Fame running backs.

In short, anyone who thinks the Bears' defensive tackle has no business Sunday lining up on the other side of Peyton Manning's ball.

"They come in so many different shapes and sizes," Johnson said.

But only in one color.

"I've never had a person come to me and say anything racist my whole life," Johnson said, "and now I look at it, I'm like, 'Wow.' I realize that people buy into stereotypes. ... I'm young, I'm black, I've got tattoos, so it's easy to stereotype me and put me into a category. I've learned a lot about people."

He apparently hasn't learned that James Caan wasn't the one playing Gale Sayers in "Brian's Song."

Sayers, the dignified Bears' great, isn't just on record saying that Johnson should've been suspended from Super Bowl XLI for his multiple brushes with the law. Sayers has declared that Johnson would've been fired had he been the one making the call.

"No question about it," Sayers said.

At the very least, Johnson shouldn't be representing the Bears in Miami. He spent a full hour Tuesday saying otherwise while being deposed by a circle of unlicensed attorneys, and the journalists conducting the interview found a 315-pound man willing to absorb any and all body blows.

Johnson was respectful, polite, at times even engaging. He took his grilling like a man, and gave a full answer to every question but one:

"Are you sorry?" the columnist asked.

"Am I sorry to [whom]?" the tackle responded.

Johnson would chuckle and let a deafening silence hang over the group. He should be sorry to his family, his team, his league and his community for being arrested three times in 18 months, for allegedly turning his home into a supply shop at the OK Corral, and for finding himself at a nightclub suspected of being a gang hangout, the nightclub where his best friend and housemate was shot dead.

But Johnson shouldn't be the only one left to apologize. The Bears should be sorry for refusing to suspend him for the balance of the season, including the postseason. The NFL should be sorry for declining to push the Bears in that responsible direction.

And John J. Moran Jr., a judge out of Cook County, Ill., should be sorry for losing hold of his moral compass and freeing Johnson from his house arrest so he could have some fun in the Miami sun before winning one for the home team.

"I'm free to do what the Super Bowl allows," Johnson said.

And hallelujah to that.

First, the rap sheet: In November of 2005, Johnson was sentenced to 18 months' probation after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gun charge. In February of 2006, Johnson was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest outside a Chicago nightclub when he tussled with a police officer attempting to ticket Johnson's limo driver.

The Bear reportedly told the cop: "You ain't the only one with a Glock. If it wasn't for your gun and your badge, I'd kick your [butt]." The cop used mace to subdue Johnson, but the charges ultimately were dropped.

Last month, with Johnson still on probation, police raiding his home reportedly found marijuana, more than 500 rounds of ammunition and six firearms that weren't properly registered -- two assault rifles, a hunting rifle, a .44 Magnum and two other handguns. Johnson's daughters, ages 3 and 1, were in the home at the time.

Johnson was arrested on the gun charges and his best friend and bodyguard, William Posey, was arrested on the drug charge. Not even 48 hours later, Posey was gunned down.

"He was everything to me," Johnson said.

Then the Bear caught a big career break, because that's what professional athletes on winning teams often do. Moran could've held him to the strictest terms of his house confinement. He could've prevented him from crossing state lines. He could've done to Johnson what he likely would've done to your average accountant who wanted to attend the Super Bowl of accounting conventions in Miami.

Clipped him at the knees.

Moran turned him loose on South Beach and the Colts instead. No more messing around, he said, "or dire consequences will result."

Way to go, Judge. Let Johnson trade the Chicago winter for South Florida, let him walk barefoot in the sand into the small hours of night, and then let him play a championship football game before 100 million viewers -- all without having to check in once with a probation officer.

That will teach him.

"I don't have any kind of confinement," Johnson said. "I've been out to dinner, I've been able to do a couple of things. ... I've had a great time out here."

He caught the movie, "The Departed." The film's subtitle reads: "Cops or criminals. When you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?"

Johnson said he's probably through with guns. He said he'll tighten his circle of friends, stay clear of music and TV shows that glorify violence, and commit himself to giving his daughters a better youth than the one given him.

Growing up, Johnson was shuttled from school to school, city to city, relative to relative. He has said his parents battled drug problems. As a boy in Gary, Ind., before he was moved to Minnesota and then to Phoenix, Johnson said he was attacked by gang members who had harassed his sister. They poured gas on him and tried to set him ablaze.

"Luckily the match didn't ignite," Johnson said. "I've been through some unbelievable situations."

He's caused some, too. Johnson had his two toddlers living with an arsenal of weapons, and with three pit bulls that frightened neighbors and caused police to make some of their 10 to 20 visits to Johnson's home.

The Bears suspended him for one lousy game, clearing the way for Johnson to play in the Super Bowl while he awaits trial.

He's gotten rid of the guns and the pit bulls, and he wants the demons to disappear, too.

"It's the job of you guys to write the hot story," Johnson told reporters, "and unfortunately I was the story that gave you guys the ammunition to write about me."

No more ammo from Johnson's stash is required. His story isn't about race; it's about celebrity and the warped place that winning athletes occupy in our culture.

Someone should've blocked this tackle long before he faces the Colts' offensive line.


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