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Calvin Johnson uses Hall of Fame speech to advocate for pain treatment alternatives in sports

Johnson went through a lot of pain during his career. Now he wants to help future athletes manage their body better.

NFL: Hall of Fame 2021 Enshrinement Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Calvin Johnson’s Hall of Fame speech included a lot of what you hear from most acceptance speeches. Revisiting his favorite moments, taking plenty of time to thank the teammates, coaches, and family members who helped pave the way for his success, and a joke or two.

But there was one part of Johnson’s speech that was completely unique, and it was at the core of his entire message: pain management.

Johnson kicked off his speech talking about a back injury he suffered during his rookie season.

“It was so bad in the moment, I couldn’t feel my legs, and I thought my career would be over,” Johnson said. “But what most don’t know is the road to recovery from that back injury that year and the physical and mental pain I that played through went well into my career.”

Despite the injury, Johnson didn’t slow down. His second year in the NFL featured 1,331 yards and a league-high 12 touchdowns. A few years later, he would start the six-year Pro Bowl streak that lasted until his retirement in 2015. Johnson admits that rookie-season injury inspired him to be the best.

“Going into that second year, despite dealing with the pain and the back injury, I made up my mind that I was going to be the best, most dominant receiver in the NFL every time I stepped onto the football field.”

Mission accomplished.

Now that Johnson’s football legacy has been cemented, he’s working on his life legacy. Part of that, he hopes, is getting the NFL—along with other sports leagues—to adopt more modern ways to manage pain and subsequently move on from addictive options like opiods.

“For those who are out there suffering in silence, living in pain. For those who feel like there’s no hope for better days, with my partnership, I’m committed to helping people elevate their wellness,” Johnson said. “To the NFL, college football and all major sports, including the Olympics, it’s also time we recognize the potential of vital medicines, plant medicines, to aid and improve the mental health and quality of life for so many.”

Johnson, of course, has spent his post-playing career launching his company Primitiv, a cannabis research company. He even managed to fit a small plug into his speech.

“These plants, primitive in nature, provide an alternative to their destructive counterparts, opioids,” Johnson said. “And I’m proud to partner with Harvard University, Dr. Wilfred Ngwa, Johns Hopkins and other institutions to help address the global disparities and bring valid solutions to people everywhere.”