Former Trojan wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson was back on campus Wednesday night to discuss his career path with students in Professor Jeff Fellenzer’s Sports, Business and Media in Today’s Society class.
The outspoken 11-year NFL veteran spoke to students candidly about growing up in poverty and transforming himself to a successful businessman after retiring from the NFL in 2007.
“When you grew up the way I grew up, the only way that you could survive and get to a certain economic wealth was either through music, athletics or drugs,” Johnson said.
Johnson prepped at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles before heading to West L.A. College from 1992-1993. He transferred to USC in 1994 and hauled in 66 passes for 1,362 yards and nine touchdowns in his first year wearing cardinal and gold. Johnson was named the offensive MVP of the Cotton Bowl that year, in which the Trojans topped the Texas Tech Red Raiders, 55-14.
In 1995, Johnson caught 102 passes for 1,434 yards and finished seventh in Heisman voting. He set USC records at the time and was drafted No. 1 overall by the New York Jets in the 1996 NFL Draft.
Most players would humbly brush off accomplishments such as these, but Johnson is no ordinary personality.
“These shoes are hard to fill, man,” Johnson said.
USC has been trying to fill his shoes ever since he left, but Johnson said he was not overly pleased with the state of the Trojan football team today.
“I believe that we have the premier football program west of the Mississippi, by far,” Johnson said. “We should never be 4-2. We should never lose to Boston College. We should never lose to Washington State at home. Never. End of story.”
Johnson was also quick to criticize the current state of the NFL, which is in the midst of controversies over mishandling cases of domestic violence, child abuse and player safety.
“I think some of the problems that came up earlier in terms of the domestic violence stuff, it’s been going on for a long time in professional sports or in the NFL,” Johnson said. “But they have never really addressed it to the level they needed to … They’re in the business of making money.”
Students in the class were taken aback by how upfront Johnson was, considering that he is now a member of the media, frequently appearing on Sunday NFL Countdown on ESPN.
“I learned that he’s extremely honest and very pointed,” said Chris Lopez, a sophomore majoring in business administration. “I expect from guys who I see in the media who talk a lot, like [Seahawks cornerback Richard] Sherman, that they don’t have the full perspective in mind, but I was surprised by how intelligent he was about all situations.”
Johnson had a lot to say about the relationship between athletes and the media, since he has had experiences in both fields. He recounted an incident when he was practicing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after being traded away from the Jets. He flipped off a camera being operated by a friend of his, but a reporter took the footage back to the news station and spun a story about him being angry about playing his former team. Johnson told the aspiring sports journalists in the class that there are grave consequences to attempting to make up storylines that might not be true.
Some of the student-athletes in the class related to what the former Trojan had to say.
“My favorite part was how real he was — just the idea that he comes in here and says the truth,” said sophomore communication major Max Browne, the backup quarterback for USC’s football team. “He was a student-athlete here once upon a time, so he knows kind of what we’re going through to an extent. Obviously, he was a much bigger deal than anyone in this class, but it was nice hearing it how it is.”