MIAMI — Tank Johnson’s criminal record is so comprehensive, it seems he would be more suited playing for the Cincinnati Bengals, not with the Chicago Bears getting ready to play in the Super Bowl tomorrow night.
Three times in the last two years, Johnson has been arrested for gun and/or assault charges, the most recent incident coming in mid-December.
But having served a one-game, team-imposed suspension and having been cleared by a judge to leave the state of Illinois, Johnson will start at defensive tackle for the Bears against Indianapolis.
“I hate the fact that I let the organization down,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t do me any good to regret it now.”
Along with his lack of regret, Johnson believes the media has blown the facts surrounding his incidents out of proportion.
“It’s the job of you guys to hype the hot story,” Johnson said. “I was the story that gave you guys ammunition to write about me. Sometimes you guys don’t have the fact or you fill in the blanks here and there. Idon’t think that’s right, but I don’t have any control over that.”
Just like they have with Rex Grossman’s on-field performance, several Bears have defended Johnson’s off-field behavior.
“Some bad things have happened,” defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. “He’s definitely not the person the media has made him out to be.”
Johnson made it through his rookie season unscathed criminally. But two years ago, he was arrested at a Chicago nightclub for possession of a handgun. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gun charge and was sentenced to 18 months probation and 40 hours of community service.
Last February, Johnson’s nightclub troubles continued when he was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest after reportedly verbally threatening a police officer who was ticketing a limousine driver hired by Johnson. Johnson was maced and subdued by several officers. The charges eventually were dropped.
Then, two months ago, police searched Johnson’s home in suburban Chicago on Dec. 14 and discovered six firearms (including two assault rifles), 500 rounds of ammunition and an undisclosed amount of marijuana. Johnson is likely to face a misdemeanor penalty. Days later, Johnson’s bodyguard, William Posey — who was at Johnson’s house when the police arrived — was shot and killed outside a night club.
Johnson was suspended by the Bears for their Dec. 17 game against Tampa Bay. On Dec. 22, he was placed on home confinement, preventing him from driving by himself or leaving the state of Illinois. A judge lifted that penalty to allow Johnson to play in the Super Bowl.
“I’m definitely grateful,” Johnson said of the judge’s decision. “He understood that this is my job.”
On the field, Johnson, 25, contributed 26 tackles in 14 games. The season-ending injury to Tommie Harris required moving Johnson from nose guard (lining up directly over the center) to the three-technique tackle position (lining up on the outside shoulder of an offensive guard).
“When Tommie went down, we tried to leave Tank at the nose and we tired to put a couple of other guys there,” defensive coordinator Ron Rivera said. “But we lost that athletic three so we moved Tank back there and found that’s he’s an athletic and explosive guy. He’s a little stronger and stouter than Tommie, and Tommie is quicker.”
Before his latest legal troubles, Johnson said he had matured in the way he prepared for Sundays.
“There comes a time in a man’s career where you either want to be great or you want to be in the league for just a couple more years,” Johnson said. “When I started seeing the older guys and how they prepared for games, that showed me it’s not a secret to be great. It’s just hard work.”
Despite his hard work on the field, it’s off the field where Johnson has struggled. Johnson has seemingly blamed everyone and everything — from race to the media — for his bad rap.
Still, Johnson realizes that ultimately, it will be up to him how his career pans out.
“Sometimes I feel like it’s unfair but it comes with the territory,” he said. “To whom much is given, much is expected. When you’re given the opportunity to be a talented player, you’ve got to hold yourself to a higher standard.”