Former N.Y. Giant to NL students: Please don't even try drugs
New London — Former New York Giants wide receiver Bobby Johnson told a group of freshmen at New London High School Thursday that he never smoked crack cocaine before a football game.
Johnson said he smoked crack after the games, though he thought about getting high even while he was playing.
"How stupid is that?" said the 55-year-old resident of Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Johnson flew to Connecticut this week to help Community Speaks Out, a Groton-based nonprofit organization, with its mission of helping those who are struggling with addiction, supporting their families and preventing others from becoming addicted. He has been sober for 14 years and is hoping to help others avoid the mistake he made when he took his first hit of crack cocaine.
"What's up, Whalers?" Johnson asked the ninth-graders before launching into the story of how addiction cost him everything. He paced back and forth with a microphone and every few minutes repeated his main theme: Don't do what he did. Don't do drugs. There's nothing cool about drugs.
"Your best bet is to not do them at all," Johnson said. "At all."
As Principal Tommy Thompson said afterward, "You could have heard a pin drop" as the students listened to the story of the former NFL player's rise, fall and eventual recovery.
He was a normal kid, like them, Johnson said. His father was in the U.S. Air Force. He loved football, and he earned a scholarship to play at the University of Kansas. In 1984, the New York Giants called, and he walked on to the team as a free agent. For the first couple of years, his career went well.
"I didn't see drugs. I didn't take drugs. I didn't know about drugs," Johnson said.
Then, he said, in 1986 — the same season that Johnson, No. 88, caught a pass from quarterback Phil Simms on a fourth down that helped the team move on to a win in Super Bowl XXI 1987 — somebody introduced him to crack cocaine.
"There's no such thing as, 'I'm going to do this drug tonight and tomorrow I'm going to be fine,'" he said. "I'm standing here before you because drugs were stronger than I was. Much, much stronger."
The Super Bowl was his last game before he was released from the team. From that time on, he smoked crack every day until 2002, Johnson said. The $210,000 he had in the bank was gone within a year, and he eventually even stole from his beloved mother as he tried to recreate the first high over and over.
"I should have been dead five, six, 10 times over," he said. "You lose hope. Drugs make you lose hope. Please. Whatever you do, don't start."
Johnson touched the Super Bowl XXI ring on his left pinky finger, which he had once sold for a mere $250 to buy crack. Friends located it for him and offered to help him get it back years ago, but he said he was still using drugs at the time and figured he would just pawn the ring again. Last year, former coach Bill Parcells bought the ring back for him, and he accepted it during an emotional team reunion at MetLife Stadium.
Johnson said nobody had come to his high school to talk about drugs, though he wished they had. He said there were probably kids in the audience who already had tried drugs or even developed a problem. He told them he had been embarrassed about the problem, but they should not be afraid to ask for help.
"Just don't start. Please don't start," Johnson said.
Students crowded around Johnson after the presentation and he chatted easily with them while shaking hands, signing autographs and posing for selfies. When the freshmen had moved on to their next class, Johnson admitted he is shy, but is getting used to telling his story in public.
Lisa Cote Johns, co-founder of Community Speaks Out, struck up a friendship with Johnson on Facebook after seeing his story on ESPN. She met him in Florida last year and is helping him polish his speaking skills. She said she would be accompanying him to speaking engagements over the next two days at Stonington Institute and Lebanon Pines, which are both treatment centers, and Connecticut College.
If You Go
What: Steak Dinner/fundraiser for Community Speaks Out with former NFL player Bobby Johnson as the guest speaker
When: Friday from 5 to 9 p.m.
Where: Birdseye Cafe, 187 Jefferson Ave., New London.
Tickets: Tickets are $25 and can be purchased from Lisa Johns at (860) 908-3305, Ken Edwards at (860) 912-6817 or Melissa Ford at (860) 334-2751. An autographed football will be raffled, and Johnson will be signing autographs for $10 to defray travel expenses.
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