In the fourth quarter of his 10-year NFL career – nine with the Rams and one with the Seattle Seahawks – former safety Johnnie Johnson was not only dedicated to the game, but also to what would become a major part of his life after the game.
"During the seventh year of my career, I had a vision of the coaching process that we used as world-class athletes being available to all sections of society," said Johnson, who was chosen in the first round of the 1980 NFL Draft out of the University of Texas. "From that vision, World Class Coaches (WCC) was born. I shared my vision with my life coach, and he suggested that I gain some business experience in some profession other than football. I chose real estate sales."
WCC is a personal and professional coaching company. Its mission is to assist and encourage people to achieve their potential and increase their performance capability.
"My last three years of pro football and six years afterwards, I sold real estate (in Orange County)," Johnson said. "And one of the greatest decisions that I made in my life, professionally, was to become a real estate agent while I was still playing pro football. The experience that I gained there enabled me to develop relationships that I still benefit from today on the real estate side.
"I had to separate Johnnie Johnson the football player from Johnnie Johnson the real estate professional, and that was not an easy task. But understanding the need of the customer has really provided me a great platform for what we do today."
In addition to starting WCC, Johnson also established the Moving Families Foundation (MFF) program.
"It seemed like every year there were players who had families who were relocating because of either a trade or being released, or whatever transition they may have been going through. And then when you look at the coaching, the same thing was taking place there," Johnson said.
"The original thought and vision (of the MFF program) began when one of my friends, LeRoy Irvin, went from the Rams to Detroit. And I'll never forget this, I asked him when he needed to be there, and he said, 'Tomorrow.' And I said, 'What about your family?' And he said, 'Well, I don't know. We'll have to figure that out.'
"So, knowing the impact that that had on his wife and those two young kids, I just said, 'One day I'm going to look to see if I can do anything to help the families, and, in particular, the kids, deal with the change of neighborhoods, schools and friends.'"
The MFF program connects families who are relocating with preferred real estate agents, school teachers, counselors, the local chamber of commerce, etc., to help ensure a smooth transition for each family member.
"The work that we do is through the normal processes. For example, extracurricular activities. One of our goals is for every kid who relocates to be engaged with an extracurricular activity organization of their choice," Johnson said.
"We don't care which one. It could be Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, it could be swimming, tennis, or it could be the choir or playing in the band. When a kid relocates and they re-engage with that activity in their new community, their new school, then that's a common ground where there are other kids with commonalities.
"It's just like me as a professional football player. When I went from the University of Texas to the Rams, you want to talk about culture shock. But the one commonality that I had where I felt most comfortable was any time I was around my teammates and the coaches. And that's what we look for with the kids, where they feel comfortable in that new neighborhood and that new environment."
Johnson continued. "What it is with the kids when they relocate, we kind of take it for granted. There are studies that have been done where we've seen it affect them from a social skills standpoint. Academically, we've seen it affect them. And even today with social media where people are so connected, still that's a great challenge for them.
"And it's an even greater challenge for the parents because there are just so many aspects of things. When they move into a new city, they don't know anyone. The number one thing that those parents say that they need is information. Information that can connect them to the resources that they need.
"We're able to close that gap to where you create the strength of the relationships with not only information, but with relationships that enables the parent to simplify the process. The kids are going to benefit regardless of their age.
"The greatest satisfaction I get is helping those in need. I just happened to have chosen an area where the need is so great because every year more than 10 million kids relocate throughout the country. And when you think of the parents of those kids, it gives me great satisfaction to know that I'm able to bring some peace."
Johnson's latest venture is as an author. He and Dr. Michael E. Webber, the Josey Centennial Professor of Energy Resources at the University of Texas, co-wrote the book - From Athletics to Engineering: 8 Ways to Support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for All.
"What facilitated it was after the George Floyd passing, I asked him if he would be interested in co-authoring the book with me," Johnson said. "I felt like we needed two voices, with my being an athlete, an African-American, and him being an esteemed white professor. Two different backgrounds, I felt that collaboration would be a pretty powerful message."
Published in April, what does Johnson hope readers will take away from the book?
"At the core is, we've come a long way when it comes to our beliefs and our habits and our attitude and expectations surrounding race," he said. "And there's two parts there. The constitution is very clear, and if we can create the alignment of what it means for justice for all. Equality for all.
"When we think of equality and inclusion, the true definition of equality and inclusion if you look in the sports world, on the field, on the court, tremendous progress has been made over the years. But when you look at other sectors of society like corporate America, places along those lines, we still have a lot of work to do.
"So, closing that gap surrounding our beliefs, habits, attitudes, and expectations, is truly what diversity, equality, and inclusion means for all. And when I say all, that's with a specific focus on people of color."