“Quite literally, I was frozen for two days,” said Ron Johnson of the death of George Floyd and its aftermath.
Truth is, he’d been living with pain even longer than that. Johnson, who’d played for the University of Minnesota Gophers and the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, who lived in the comfortable Twin Cities suburb of Chanhassen, had been pinned under the weight of a stone. What he now recognizes as depression.
In the past couple years, his grandmother and father had died. His wife had gone through a long treatment for breast cancer. There were bills. He found himself going to work and coming home and going to work again with little, it seemed, to define his days.
Then there was the issue of kneeling during the national anthem in the NFL. Some believed it was not only an affront to the flag, but also a sin, to engage in silent protest. “Show me where in the Bible does it say that,” said Johnson, a Christian. So it was deeper than depression, he admits. It was a crisis of faith.
Then came George Floyd.
Johnson does football commentary for KFAN Sports Radio, an iHeartMedia company. iHeartMedia is a partner of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. In the immediate aftermath of Floyd's death and the protests, he took to the radio and talked about how it felt. A dam had burst finally.
During that broadcast, he mentioned his 9-year-old daughter, Kamryn, and her friends were selling friendship bracelets from a tent in his yard to help raise money for Minneapolis charities at a time when they needed it most.
He joked maybe they would sell five of them. Then a listener called in to pledge $500.
It hasn’t really stopped since then – a mix of regular people and pro ball players (who are regular people, too, at the end of the day) standing behind his daughter.
“Just one simple word of mouth, one simple tweet,” said Johnson. “Some people who can’t donate will share it, so that’s great.”
They’ve raised a staggering $114,000 in a very short time.
It will take more than friendship bracelets to change the world, Johnson knows.
But this is something they can do. This is a start.
“She’s restored my faith,” said Johnson of his daughter. “She’s restored my hope.”