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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Calvin Johnson Jr. is Ready to Mend Fences with the Lions

  • Calvin Johnson left the Detroit Lions on difficult terms.
  • He told Front Office Sports Today that he wants to be part of the team community.
Calvin Johnson arrives on the red carpet during the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022 Enshrinement at Tom Benson Hallof Fame Stadium.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Calvin Johnson Jr. only played in the NFL for nine seasons, but he was dominant enough in those years to be elected into the Hall of Fame after he retired.

Since then, he has stayed active through his Calvin Johnson Jr. Foundation and his entrepreneurial pursuits, including his cannabis company Primitiv, founded with former Detroit Lions teammate Rob Sims. 

Johnson’s relationship with the Lions was on bad terms for years over a dispute regarding money the team recovered from his signing bonus after he retired. While that dispute remains unresolved, Johnson has begun to warm back up to the team after team executive Mike Disner proactively reached out.

Johnson joined the Front Office Sports Today podcast to discuss his work on and off the field. Listen to the full conversation here and read excerpts below.

On why he retired after his age 30 season:

CJ: My body was at a point where it just wasn’t ready to go anymore. I couldn’t be out there and I didn’t feel like the same player that I was when I was in my heyday. Everybody thinks I’m in my prime at year nine, but I don’t know many people in their prime after playing nine years in the NFL, especially when the average was only two, three years.”

Had you been traded to a contender would you have kept going another year or two?

CJ: I don’t even think about it because I wasn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t even make any sense to even spend time thinking about it.”

On his relationship with the Detroit Lions:

CJ: We’re in the process of trying to mend fences. [Lions chief operating officer] Mike Disner has led the charge and reached out to me, which has led me to feel a little bit comfortable and even… bring it back together so I can get back into the fold and at the end of the day, just figure out a way to move forward. That’s what we’re in the process of doing now.

On why he cares about reconnecting with the Lions:

CJ: It’s not necessarily about the people upstairs or the administration. It’s more so about the players that are coming through that organization, and the leadership, the life skills, characteristics that I have exuded throughout my career. I feel like I could sharpen their toolkit sharpen their tools – put some things into their toolkit that can be used on and off the field. 

I’ve got too much to give. It would be a shame for me just to hold it all in. So with all of the experiences, experiences that I’ve had, I’m happy to share with those that are around me. And since I do live in Michigan, it would only make sense for the guys on that team to share in those experiences too.

On the Calvin Johnson Jr. Foundation:

CJ: The mission is to focus on youth and families in at-risk areas or at-risk youth and families, those that might need financial assistance, might be in tough family situations. We find those people that are in need, and we do things [like] give them scholarships to feed the homeless [and] other community initiatives. 

Those are the things that bring us the most joy because you feel that we’re able to help people right where they are, and honestly, most of the time it’s really just by acknowledgement.

On the NFL today: 

CJ: They’re obviously trying to make the game safer. When I was in the league, the second half of my career was when they really started to implement maybe trying to get rid of opioids because the epidemic was on the rise there and trying to limit concussions… but most of my career, they’re still celebrating the big hits, [they could get on a] segment that was on ESPN. We celebrated it too, but with knowledge things can change and we gain knowledge about what’s happening with our brethren and concussions and CTE. So it was a reality check for a lot of folks.

My mom didn’t let me play football till I got to seventh grade – that was probably a blessing in disguise, because you play football, there’s going to be concussions. A concussion is simply anytime your brain touches your skull. You don’t have to be running 20 miles an hour for that to happen. It can be a hit when you’re just a foot away from somebody, [or it could] just be you hitting the ground. Most of my concussions come from just hitting the ground.

On why he launched his cannabis brand, Primitiv:

CJ: I used cannabis while I played. It helped out with my recovery from sleep. Sleeping is everything. If I can’t sleep, you’re gonna feel like crap the next day. You can’t get the best out of your work the next day. So sleep was everything, but it was really when I used it in a different application when I did “Dancing with the Stars” and I used it in the form of a topical. 

I was about to quit the show because I was having a chronic swelling that I suffered from when I was playing. And you just can’t move when your ankles are swollen. So I tried it a couple of days later, my swelling went down and stayed down. That was the moment I was like, oh, shoot, like, there’s something to this, you know? And so if the opportunity ever, you know, was allotted to me, you know, I would definitely love to take a part in this industry because I’m a true believer in the healing power. 

On the hardest part of operating a business:

CJ: The biggest challenge is the people. You can set all your SOPs, your procedures, your business practices, you can have all that stuff tight. But at the end of the day, it’s people that are making some of these things happen. So it’s important to make sure your culture is tight, making sure that you treat everybody firm but fair. With that, we haven’t had a whole lot of turnover. Obviously, we’re a business, so we have had some turnover. 

But for the most part, the people in the business are what run the business. The people in the business can bring down the business, or they can help it elevate through the culture. And that’s what we’re just focused on, and just embedding a great culture.

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