Little by little, former Detroit Lions All-Pro receiver is starting to open up about his hardships during his playing time and his complaints about the organization. During his time as a player, he was quiet as a mouse, choosing to put his nose to the grind rather than create any unnecessary drama.
However, now four years into retirement, Johnson appears to have no problems revealing his true thoughts about his time in Detroit and his big problems with the Lions organization.
Of course, we all know by now that Johnson remains disgruntled about the money issue. The Lions asked Johnson to forfeit a portion of his signing bonus, which the former wide receiver clarifies as around $1.6 million in his latest interview. While the team was well within their rights to ask for that money back, it is a practice looked down upon, especially when dealing with players as talented as Johnson.
But in this interview with Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg, Johnson went into greater details about his discontent with the franchise.
Johnson clearly had a contentious relationship with the medical staff in Detroit. He smoked marijuana after every game to deal with the pain, and he alleges the team did not take a few of his injuries seriously.
One finger was bent at a 90-degree angle. He says the training staff told him to get it fixed after he retired.
“It’s not about the welfare of the players,” says Johnson, who in his career missed just nine games. It’s “just about having that product.”
One of his worst allegations is surrounding a strange situation when he suffered a concussion in 2012. After the game, he told reporters he suffered a concussion, but then the Lions trotted him back out there to clarify that he had misspoken. Here’s how Calvin describes the situation now:
“I knew I was concussed because I blacked out. I wasn’t seeing straight. And they wanted me to change my story.”
Former Lions center Travis Swanson appears to corroborate some of the medical malfeasance during that era:
100 percent true. They didn’t put me in front of a doctor for an entire week in 2016. https://t.co/jeM39eTIvD— Travis Swanson (@Tswan64) September 20, 2019
At this point, Johnson told SI he won’t even step into the Lions’ facility until the money is back in his hands, even though he admits he doesn’t need it. He has apparently told Matt Patricia that he’ll gladly help out the receiving corps, but won’t do it on a Lions field.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say I cheer for the Lions. I cheer for the players,” Johnson said.
As for team president Rod Wood, who said he has been in contact with Johnson before and wants to make Johnson’s relationship with the team a “high priority,” Johnson alleges those efforts have not been seen on his end.
“Johnson says they talked only once, when Johnson called the team to get some information for his accountant,” Rosenberg writes.
Then there’s the 0-16 season, in which Johnson claims some teammates saw coming. Quarterback Jon Kitna was not happy with the coaching staff.
“He left the meeting room one day, and he told the coaches and the whole team that we’re not gonna win a game if we go into the season with [this] system,” Johnson said. “Somebody should have listened. Because we were 0–16 after that.”
Johnson did say he loved one particular Lions coach: wide receivers Shawn Jefferson, whom he called the best he’s seen in the league. But even then, things grew sour when head coach Jim Schwartz didn’t renew his contract.
“Maybe there’s egos that play [into it],” Johnson told Rosenberg. “I think that was part of it.”
Finally, Johnson admits that the Lions’ poor play led, in part, to his retirement. When asked if he would’ve played more had the Lions been more successful, Johnson admitted, “I think there is a very strong possibility.”
UPDATE: The Lions have offered this official statement regarding Johnson’s claims about the medical staff:
Lions statement on the Calvin Johnson story (2/2): "The well-being of our players will continue to be an organizational priority."— kyle meinke (@kmeinke) September 20, 2019