The Washington Post

How Chad Johnson fell due to the pressure of fame

Chad Johnson allegedly head butted his wife, Evelyn Lozada. (AP/Broward Sheriff's Office/AP)

Johnson’s arrest, subsequent release from the Dolphins and canceled reality show is a reminder that people can become so engulfed in chasing fame that they forget who they are and what is truly important. Johnson has dropped many passes; this time, he may have dropped his chance at NFL glory.

For all of his talent, Johnson was always a problem child, fighting with his coach, his teammates and even himself. In a 2005 interview with ESPN, Johnson was asked what has been his biggest obstacle. He simply responded, “Chad.”

Before he completed a semester at Langston University, he was expelled for fighting. Later, his Santa Monica College football coach, Charlie Collins, did his best to help Johnson quell his self-destructive behavior. When Johnson dropped out of the school and then later attempted to leave Oregon State University, Collins made him go back on both occasions to live up to his potential. Now, all of Collins’s work on Johnson seems to have taken a backseat to the high that is fame and the allure of thousands of people screaming his name.

Whether he was Chad Johnson or Chad Ochocinco, no one has questioned if he can make plays on the field. He led the NFL in receiving yards in 2006 and has been named to six Pro Bowls. But many have wondered about his maturity. At times he seemed to be more focused on being an entertainer than a football player. The blonde mohawk, golden grill and ‘Ochocinco’ moniker he donned a few years ago were gimmicks used to keep his fans interested and his rivals fuming. He thrived on the attention.

After being traded to the New England Patriots in 2011, the pressure was on. He was expected to deliver a championship after a stellar nine-year career with the Cincinnati Bengals and reach another level of success. Johnson did the opposite. With the Patriots, he only caught 15 receptions for 276 yards and one touchdown. His career looked as if it was over. But he got another chance. After signing with the Dolphins, his hometown team, and marrying Lozada, it looked like Johnson had finally matured into a new man.

Then the first episode of the reality television football series “Hard Knocks” premiered, featuring Johnson dropping expletives like pennies and acting like the egotistical, diva receiver he had been with the Cincinnati Bengals.

The fame and the pressure affected Johnson’s game and personality while in New England, and when he signed with the Dolphins, we saw him revert back to Ochocinco. He was relevant again, he had something to prove and he had the cameras on him everywhere he went. Maybe Johnson was giving us what we thought we wanted him to be in that premier episode of “Hard Knocks”: controversy, combativeness and defiance.

With HBO’s cameras following him everywhere, a looming reality television VH1 series with new bride Lozada, and the urge to prove himself after last season, maybe he finally cracked.

When Johnson left jail, he was encircled by reporters asking questions about his future with the team, his wife and his career. For once, he was silent. He always wanted the spotlight on him, sometimes begging for it. Now he has it at the darkest moment of his life.

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