In honor of Black History Month, Student Services and SGA invited two guest speakers to campus. On February 19, 2013, the second, Lonnie Johnson, former tight end for the Buffalo Bills, regaled the audience with his refreshingly honest tales of his upbringing and his history with various sports.
Mr. Johnson told the crowd of growing up in Memphis in a low income household with undereducated parents. His mom, while uneducated herself, valued education and demanded that her sons attend college and also pay for it themselves. The rule in the Johnson family was that, at 18, it was time to get out. In an effort to make his mom proud and follow the household rule, Lonnie Johnson turned to sports in the hopes of excelling in one and earning a scholarship to college.
Surprisingly, Mr. Johnson did not turn to football as his sport of choice. He confessed that he loved (and continues to love) basketball, but was never good enough in it; he blamed his height for his shortcomings in this sport. He was into track and field in high school and did well, despite, according to him, not practicing his technique. He also played water polo, even though he did not know how to swim, and badminton. Mr. Johnson began playing these sports because he attended high school in Miami, an hour drive from his home, and he frequently drove home with his coach, whom he had to wait for after school. He participated in these sports because he was bored and needed something to do, and also simply because he was asked to.
Mr. Johnson did not center his talk around his football career. Instead, he focused on the sports he played in high school and on the insights he gleaned from participating in them. He told the students, “You never know what you can accomplish.” He could not swim, but he became an excellent goalie in water polo. He did not initially love football, nor did he think he was especially talented, but he did well because he was willing to work harder than the others and to outlast his competition. When others became tired, that was when he went into overdrive, knowing that was when he could win. His advice to the students was to work hard and overcome challenges by applying themselves completely to whatever they try to accomplish. Despite having been a professional athlete, Mr. Johnson advised students to never have the goal of professional sports. That had never been his own goal; sports had simply been the ticket to an education.
Mr. Johnson could empathize with the many students who admitted sometimes feeling tired as they work toward earning their degrees. His advice, that everyone gets tired but they have to be willing to work when others are not, seemed to resonant with the student body and will hopefully be a lesson that stays with them.
~ Gretchen Dreimiller
Photos courtesy of Michael Huey