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After opening up about family tragedy, Johnson finds ‘brothers' on Ravens

By Aaron Wilson, The Baltimore Sun Published: January 27, 2013

”Sidney is the same way. When she laughs, that's my sister inside of her. I try to honor my sister in everything I do, and I've dedicated the rest of my career to her. I push myself that much harder.“

When Johnson joined the Ravens in November 2012, he didn't volunteer any information about his sister's death. After eight years in the NFL, he has learned how to stay focused on his job.

After being released by the Raiders following the 2011 season, Johnson tried out for the Detroit Lions and New York Jets before signing with the Ravens on Nov. 13.

Five days later, Johnson played against the Pittsburgh Steelers and forced a fumble in the Ravens' 13-10 win.

A ‘powerful' speech

Johnson has had limited opportunities to make an impact on the field, but less than a month after joining the Ravens, he wanted to share his story with his teammates.

On Dec. 1, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher allegedly killed his girlfriend and then committed suicide in front of then-general manager Scott Pioli and then-coach Romeo Crennel. Four days later, Johnson asked Ravens coach John Harbaugh whether he could address his teammates. It was the one-year anniversary of his sister's death.

”Never in my life had I gotten up in front of the team, but I knew it was important and I felt the spirit,“ Johnson said. ”I let them know I was having a normal day when I got a call telling me my sister was dead. It was the same situation as Kansas City. I told them you never really know what a person is going through as a teammate outside of those white lines. When you leave these doors at work, you might have hell at home and then you go to work and put on a front.

“Unfortunately, Jovan Belcher didn't talk to anyone and he did something there's no coming back from. He needed a friend. I told the guys, if you need advice, go to each other as brothers and don't be afraid to ask for help. I said, ‘I don't understand what this world is coming to, but, as a Christian, I pray about it and ask for guidance and to be strong for my family.'”

Struck by his words, teammates approached Johnson to shake his hand, hug him and tell him how much they respected his courage to share.

“It was so powerful what Chris said,” Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta said. “I didn't know him at all and I immediately wanted to be there for him. I admire what he stands for. He's a great person. I'm proud to be his teammate.”

That sentiment about the soft-spoken newcomer still resonates in the Ravens locker room.

“Chris is a great guy,” cornerback Cary Williams said. “No one knows how they will react to a situation until they're faced with adversity. He stood up like a man. I can't say enough about how much I respect him.”

Standing in the team auditorium at the Ravens' training complex, Johnson said he was immediately affected by how his teammates reacted to his message.

“It was like a shock,” he said. “They didn't know me. I had been there for a few weeks. It's hard to break down and show your true feelings rather than hide them. They said my words touched them. I told Coach Harbaugh if just one or two people can benefit from what I spoke on, that means a lot to me. I couldn't reach my sister when she died, but I felt like I have to reach somebody else right now.

”Football helps take my mind off the hurt, the pain and the frustration. In Oakland, I almost broke down because I didn't have anyone to talk to. I felt like no one cared. Here, not everybody is a loner. You're not by yourself. These are my brothers.“

MCT Information Services

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