Tank Johnson is a player that I didn’t know much about. I’d seen him play, and knew that he was a talent, but I wondered what it was that made him always find trouble and jeopardize his football career. What made him tick? From the press reports and the opinion-makers I formed an image of what I thought the guy was like, but I didn’t really know. After I read this article by Seth Wickersham on Tank, I feel like I know the guy. His story is real now, it’s revealed on the everyday plane of human emotion. I never understood the thing he had for guns, but I always felt that if he wanted to play football, he should just get rid of them. For me, it was oh so easy. But after reading this article, and passages like the one below, I came to understand that guns were not just a hobby for Tank, they are essential to his existence.
He spent his off-days at the shooting range. Standing before a target, he cradled and caressed his Colt AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle the way a musician does a guitar. Then he strapped on his "eyes and ears" -- goggles and headset -- and craned his neck to see the world through a scope, holding his breath as his finger encircled the trigger. There was a dreamlike serenity in this silent calibration, until he softly squeezed and his rifle coughed short and sharp, spitting out casings like sunflower seed shells.
Only after heat hit his palms and the stinging cloud of gunpowder filled his lungs and adrenaline coursed through him -- only after a faint, tiny, gorgeous white cloud signaled a hit 100 yards away -- did Tank Johnson exhale. "It's like shooting a game-winning free throw every time," he says.
You get the idea. Shooting guns is Tank’s medicine. He talks about how he finally felt peace when he started shooting guns. His obsession for guns is like everybody else’s obsession with something. Some people like to workout, some like to drink, some like to write, some like to play golf, some like to do drugs, some like to hike in the woods. Some like to collect stamps, coins, or baseball cards, Tank likes to collect guns. And shoot them. Everybody has something that they like to do because it makes them feel at peace for those moments they are doing it, shooting guns is that for Tank.
Unfortunately for Tank, his obsession can be dangerous in the wrong hands. I have no intention of going into a long discussion about guns and the laws surrounding that, that’s better left to another day and another blog. The article points out that Tank was only in trouble for carrying a gun and then violating that probation by continuing to own guns. But the raid on his house and the shooting death of his friend in such close proximity gave the impression that Tank’s life was out of control. A frenzy of guns and shootings, when in reality, the story seems quite different. Now, just because I can see what is going on clearer doesn’t mean Tank wasn’t making some bad decisions along the way. He did, and he’s paying for it in a lot of ways.
There’s a battle now for Tank, you can feel it throughout the article. He wants people to understand that he’s not just a thug with guns. We, as a society, embrace certain stereotypes, we tend to classify people into large groups just because it’s easier. We do that to our detriment. But with the absence of real information, we can only judge what we know, and with Tank, I didn’t know much. Now, I do.
I said I felt like I knew Tank now at the beginning of this article. That’s not totally accurate. I don’t know him, but I can certainly understand him a lot better. I’m not viewing him through a stereotype any longer, through the prism of a media snapshot here and a crime report there. I see him now as an individual, a real person who is struggling to give up something he loves, for something that I guess he loves. That’s the one thing missing from the article, does Tank love football? Is he obsessed enough with football to live without owning guns? The article leaves that question dangling in the air over Tank’s head like the Sword of Damocles.
There was also a little football in the article, specifically about Tank the player.
No doubt [Jerry] Jones was also moved by what many scouts are saying: The 25-year-old Johnson is on the verge of becoming very good. In 13 starts last year, including the playoffs, he had five sacks and was a roadblock against the run. He's known for that quick first step, yet never watches the ball before it's snapped.
Instead, he stares at an offensive lineman's hands, knowing that when they stop twitching the hike is imminent. When he returns to the field, likely against the Giants on Nov. 11, Johnson will rotate with Jay Ratliff, hoping to improve the No. 11-ranked defense. Says Cowboys defensive end Chris Canty, "It seems like he's going to fit in well."
Do yourself a favor, read this article. And a big thank you to Seth Wickersham for writing something this thought-provoking and revealing about a person's true character.