Destruction of Trust
The news today about Jack Johnson's bankruptcy filing was shocking, but sadly, not that unusual when you delve into the history of pro athletes and massive salaries.
Let's start this off with a little experiment.
Go to Google. Type in the word "athlete", and wait for it to bring up suggestions on how to finish the phrase.
Now type a space, and add the letters "ba".
If your google is like my google, the very first thing that comes up is "Athlete Bankruptcies". It's a story that has been told over and over again.
Player makes it to the show. Player signs a big contract. Player has no idea how to manage all that money.
Player trusts the wrong people.
Player finds himself broke before he's even stopped playing.
Aaron Portzline wrote a heartbreaking article in today's Dispatch about Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson, and it follows that script to the letter - except that the tragic twist in his case is that "the wrong people" turned out to be his own parents.
If you've read the book Future Greats and Heartbreaks by Gare Joyce, you were probably part of the crowd following the stories of Derick Brassard, Jakub Voracek, and the Blue Jackets through the end of the MacLean era. But if you look carefully, Johnson is there too - in fact, Johnson comes up with his father.
Back in 2005, his draft year, many scouts were concerned about the way Johnson planned to keep playing at the University of Michigan even if drafted. Many wondered if he was putting the "big man on campus" life ahead of making it to the NHL. But Joyce spent some time looking into it, and explained how Jack actually really loved the experience of being a student - and how his parents, particularly his father, were encouraging him to make the most of that time.
At the time, it was a cute story, particularly when you had a look at how Johnson-pere was showing up at UM games, dancing around in the stands, and becoming almost as much of a fan favorite in Ann Arbor as his son. You got the sense of a very close family, and parents who were vicariously enjoying their son's success.
Now we know that they were enjoying a lot more than just his success - and Jack was paying the price on a lot of levels. One of the closest relationships in his life has turned toxic, and it's very likely that Johnson will suffer the financial and emotional effects of their betrayal of his trust for years. What appeared to be a very close relationship has been ripped apart, and those aren't wounds that will heal easily or quickly.
If he's spending time looking at his life, particularly since starting on the path to become a professional hockey player, and wondering how much they did for him, and how much they did to benefit themselves, that's only human. The mind has an amazing capacity to second guess itself after a major tragedy - and as much as we talk about how players have to leave personal problems behind them when they pull that Union Blue sweater on, that's not something that can really be "turned off."
This isn't something like an illness or a injury - there's no clear point where you can say "it's over." Even though completing the bankruptcy process will help Johnson with getting out from under the massive load of debt, and probably relieve a great deal of the financial stresses he's dealing with, it will take far longer to heal his emotional wounds - if that's even possible. For all the assistance that the team, the NHLPA, and the NHL are offering, the biggest battles he's likely to face are internal, though I do hope that he'll seek out the support of a professional counselor or therapist to go with the aid of his teammates and friends.
Has his play suffered from this? Almost certainly. Will it continue to impact his performance? Probably. Are we still going to get frustrated when we see a rough turnover, a bad pass, a mental gaffe? Yeah. But now that we know about the other battles he's fighting, it's a lot easier to understand, and forgive.